By Andrew Greenstein

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OAK CLIFF (1080 KRLD) — The Texas Theatre has been a staple in Oak Cliff since the 1930s.

“C.R. McHenry, known as ‘Uncle Mack’ to everybody, owned two other theaters on Jefferson, and he had this dream about building a movie palace outside of downtown,” says Mary Katherine McElroy, Texas Theatre operations manager.

McHenry partnered with four Dallas-area businessmen to turn his dream into reality.

It opened on April 21st, 1931 — appropriately on San Jacinto Day — and it was an instant hit.

“Opening day, they had to have an extra show, because two-thousand seats wasn’t enough,” says McElroy. “The first show was for kids only. The second show, they were letting people in, and they realized the auditorium was full well before when the show time was supposed to happen. So they went ahead and did the whole program, and they did it again for another full house later on that evening.”

The theatre was suddenly thrust into the worldwide spotlight on November 22nd, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald was captured at the theater.

At the time, he was suspected in the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit; police later connected him to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Police zeroed in on him thanks to an alert neighbor.

“The manager of the shoe store just up the road, Johnny Brewer, was in his shop on that day and saw this guy standing out in front of the store looking intently at shoes while cop cars were coming down the street and thought something’s not right,” McElroy says.

Given the hour of the day, it wasn’t all that difficult for police to spot Oswald, sitting three rows from the rear, five seats from the aisle.

McElroy says, “From what we’ve heard, about two-dozen people in the entire auditurium, which at that time would have sat somewhere between 14 (hundred) and 16-hundred people.”

When police confronted him, he would not go quietly.

“He, of course, stood up rather than sit there and say, ‘I didn’t do it,'” says McElroy. “(He) stood up and punched Officer (Nick) McDonald, who was the first officer to reach him, and then pulled a gun on him.”

A couple of years after the assassination, the owners of the theatre changed its appearance in an attempt to distance itself from one of the most tragic events in American history. Its vibrant designs and decorative wood railings were covered up with stucco — which is still up to this day.

In 2003, the theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places. And in 2010, a group calling itself Aviation Cinemas — a reference to Howard Hughes — signed on to manage the facility.

Today, the Texas Theatre not only shows popular movies, it also hosts live music and live comedy. And it invites you to come on in and experience the history and mystique.

“We want people to come and watch their new favorite Kurosawa film or discover a local brew at our bar here, come plan their next movie here,” McElroy says.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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