Cleveland’s Texan Theater to receive historical marker on May 15

The Texan Theater is a mainstay in the Cleveland community. The theater will be honored with a historical marker on May 15.

The Liberty County Historical Commission will honor the iconic Texan Theater in Cleveland with a county historical marker on Saturday, May 15, 2021, 10 a.m.  The public is invited and encouraged to attend the dedication for this Cleveland landmark. 

Records indicate Cleveland had a movie theater as a part of the business community as early as 1933.  The Cleveland theater was opened on Friday the 13th of January 1933 by the Long Theaters, a circuit-owned and operated by John G. Long of Bay City along with various partners.  The theater was located on Houston Street about one block west and over the railroad tracks from the present movie theater location. 

In February 1939, a 10-year renewal lease on the theater was negotiated between the owner, Mrs. Clara B. Anderson, and the Long Amusement Company.   J.G. Long and Glen McClain, theater officials, completed the agreement.  Long Amusement Company also purchased the sound and projection equipment, seats, and other items needed to build a modern movie theater.  Shortly thereafter, Long and McClain purchased property facing Houston Street for a 40 X 92-foot theater to seat 500 people. The $35,000 Texas Theater opened on another Friday the 13th, this time in October 1939. 

Cleveland elected not to participate in the President’s Ball in 1940 but instead took part on January 30, President Roosevelt’ birthday, with benefit performances at the movie theater.  The funds raised from ticket sales from several movie screenings that day were divided, one-half going to the National Foundation sponsoring the fight against infantile paralysis and the other half to a trust of the State Committee for delivery to permanent chapters of the National Foundation.  Liberty was among the counties scheduled for such a chapter for treatment of local children suffering from the disease. 

On April 16, 1940, famous country singer, Tex Ritter appeared on stage at the Texan.  The Texan celebrated its first anniversary October 12-24, 1940.  Three sets of dishes and a four-piece bedroom suite valued at $79.50 was given away to lucky ticket holders attending the theater. 

On Saturday, Jan. 20, 1962, the Texan Theater was gutted in an early morning fire, which also damaged the Cleveland Advocate newspaper and the Cleveland Grocery, both located in the same block as the theater.  The Texan owner estimated replacement costs at $100,000.  Cleveland Fire Department was assisted in the fight to save the businesses by firemen and/or equipment from Conroe, Liberty, Dayton and Livingston.  The theater then burned another three times in the next year and half, the last two times being a day and half apart in the late spring of 1963. 

On Dec. 13, 1967, Owen Properties, Inc. reported the construction of a new walk-in theater would begin the first of the year.  The new building would be all fire-proof construction.  The new theater was completed in 1969. 

Cliff and Peggy Dunn purchased the property in 1994 and held a Grand “Reopening” in April of that year, stating that they had established a family theater for the area and wanted people to feel it is “their family theater.”  There were new seats, new screen, and new surround sound in The Texan Theater. 

In January 1999, a letter to the editor in the Cleveland Advocate thanked Cliff Dunn for opening the theater and his heart to the citizens of Cleveland between January 19 and 23 with free admission to see “The Prince of Egypt.”  Mr. Dunn also served free popcorn to each family.  In 2004, the theater was restored to its original state and a lighted tower like the one from the 1930s replaced The Texan Theater sign.  That same year, the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce honored Cliff Dunn by naming The Texan, “Business of the Year” and a “cornerstone” of the downtown business community. 

Cliff, who died in March 2021, gave back to the community in numerous ways such as opening the theater for a special movie showing for the Senior Circle Friends as well as programs offered to the school district. Free passes were offered to new teachers in the school district.  These free passes were used in the classroom  as special awards and incentives for work well done by students. 

In 2012, the theater faced new difficulties.  Mr. Dunn learned that because of changes in technology, his old film reel projection system would soon become obsolete.  The cost to update would be $86,000, an impossible amount for the 80-year-old owner.  A “Save the Texan” campaign was started by local citizens which included dinners and auctions.  Community support quickly followed and $53,000 was raised for the new projection system. Cliff and Peggy Dunn paid the remainder, and the system was upgraded.

The Texan Theater, after many decades, stands as a testament to a tight-knit community and love of the simpler things in life, which make small, rural towns such a joy in which to raise families.  The Texan Theater offers first-run movies, refreshments, all at modest prices and is a fine example of community efforts to save and preserve wonderful, lasting traditions in small town America.  

For more information about this marker dedication, please email County Chair, Linda Jamison at lchc318@gmail.com.

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