Theaters at 1517 Elm: The Garden, The Jefferson, The Pantages, The Ritz, and The Mirror — 1912-1941

by Paula Bosse

garden-theatre_ca-1912_ebayThe Garden Theatre, ca. 1912

by Paula Bosse

The photo above shows the Garden Theatre, located at 1517 Elm, on the north side of the street, between Akard and Stone Street. It was opened in the fall of 1912 by partners W. J. Brown and R. J. (Ray) Stinnett (who also operated the Cycle Park Theatre at Fair Park). The Garden was a vaudeville stop for touring companies.

1912_garden-theatre_variety_sept-1912Variety, Sept. 1912

It was one of many local theaters which simulcast World Series baseball games via telegraph updates, in the days before radio and TV (I wrote more about this fascinating subject here).

1912_garden-theatre_101612Oct. 16, 1912

As seen in the top photo, the Garden Theatre sat between the Pratt Paint & Paper Co. and the Roderick-Alderson Hardware Co.

garden-theatre_1913-directory_1517-elm1913 Dallas city directory

The photo at the top was found on eBay, with the seller-provided date of 1912. Zooming in, one can see a placard in front of the theater advertising the appearance of the Hendrix Belle Isle Musical Comedy Company (misspelled on the sign as “Henndrix”) — for many years this troupe toured with a production called “The School-Master”/”School Days,” the very production seen here on offer to audiences at the Garden. (Read a review of a 1912 Coffeyville, Kansas performance of the troupe’s bread-and-butter act here.)

garden-theatre_ebay_det

In April, 1913 Brown and Stinnett split, with Brown taking the Cycle Park action and Stinnett keeping the Garden (and a handful of other theaters).

On March 8, 1915 the theater changed its name and reopened as the Jefferson Theater. As the ad below stated, “This is the only theater in Dallas presenting popular players in repertoire […] Not moving pictures.”

1915_jeffersosn-theater-opens_dmn_030715March 7, 1915

I’m not sure where the “Jefferson” name came from, but….

jefferson-theater_061115June 11, 1915

There were a few back-and-forths as far as operators and leases of the Jefferson, but in 1923, Ray Stinnett “sold” (or probably more accurately sub-leased) the theater in order to concentrate on his other (bigger! better! brighter!) venture, the next-door Capitol Theater, but he reacquired it in 1925 and renamed it the Pantages. (This has caused confusion, with some thinking it had become the Pantages earlier — the confusion is understandable, as the Jefferson was affiliated with the Pantages vaudeville circuit between 1917 and 1920, and during that time the word “Pantages” appeared prominently on the theater’s marquee, but it was still the Jefferson. See a photo from May, 1925, showing the Jefferson from the Pacific side here, after it had become a Loew’s-affiliated theater.)

The Jefferson became the Pantages Theater on December 27, 1928 when Stinnett opened the newly remodeled venue which offered vaudeville stage acts as well as motion pictures. (All images are larger when clicked.)

pantages-opening_122725Dec. 27, 1925

That incarnation didn’t last too long. Goodbye, Pantages, hello, Ritz. The Ritz Theater opened on October 14, 1928, operated by the R & R (Robb & Rowley) chain but leased from Stinnett. The first film shown was “The Lights of New York,” the first all-talking feature-length movie.

1928_ritz_101028Oct. 10, 1928

1928_ritz_101328
Oct. 13, 1928

1928_ritz_101528Oct. 15, 1928

Below, a 1929 photo showing the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Elm Street, the heart of Theater Row: seen here are the Ritz, Capitol, Old Mill, and Palace theaters (the regal Queen was a few doors west of the Ritz, at the corner of Elm and Akard).

ritz_capitol_old-mill_palace_photo_sherrodphoto from “Historic Dallas Theatres” by D. Troy Sherrod

A postcard showing the Ritz (and neighbors) a couple of years later, in 1931:

ritz_capitol_old-mill_palace_postcard_cinematreasures

But the Ritz didn’t last all that long either — a little over three years.

1931_ritz-mirror_120831Dec. 8, 1931

In 1931 the theater was acquired by the Hughes-Franklin company (as in Howard Hughes, the super-rich Texan who had an obsession with Hollywood). The plan was to renovate the building and rename it the Mirror, “a duplicate, in so far as possible, of the famous Mirror Theater of Hollywood. A feature will be the extensive use of mirrors in the lobby and foyer” (Dallas Morning News, Nov. 29, 1931).

mirror_motion-picture-times_122931Motion Picture Times, Dec. 29, 1931

The Mirror Theater opened at 1517 Elm on Christmas Day, 1931.

1931_mirror_122531
Dec. 25, 1931

Theater Row, 1936:

theater-row_mirror_march-1936

More Elm Street:

mirror-capitol-rialto-palace-melba-majestic_theater_row_night_big

The Mirror chugged on for several years as a second-run house, apparently less and less profitable as the years passed. On August 4, 1941 the theater burned down in an early-morning fire. The property owner, Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews, decided against rebuilding.

mirror-fire_variety_081341Variety, Aug. 13, 1941

Here’s the same view as seen above, only now the space next to the Capitol is a nondescript one-story retail building. (The Telenews, a theater showing newsreels, opened in November, 1941.)

telenews_missing-mirror-post-fire_capitol_postcard

Below, a photo from around 1942, the first time in 30 years without a theater at 1517 Elm Street.

theater-row_by-george-mcafee_degolyer_SMUphoto via the DeGolyer Library, SMU

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Sources & Notes

Top photo of the Garden Theatre is from an old eBay listing.

More Flashback Dallas posts on Dallas theaters can be found here.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.