Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Gem Theater

The Gem Theater

Out of curiosity I did a Google search for Gem Theaters, and was slightly surprised at the number I came up with. Gem Theaters can be found from Amarillo to Houston, and many places in between. They can also be found from California to Detroit. The picture above is from Kansas.
Jeanette wrote to say: “We moved to WF in 1933 and I grew up there until we moved to Dallas in 1948. I loved going to the movies and particularly love Wichita Falls history. Have written a lot about WF and still do on facebook. The Gem was owned by Mr. McIlheran and I went to school with his daughter Dorothy May. We double dated one time when I was a Soph. and of course got in free, but our dates did buy us popcorn and a Black Cow sucker. I remember seeing some Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu movies there. The Gem wasn't a very large theater but I went to almost all of the theaters in WF during those years except the Azteca and the Isis, which were for black patrons. Also remember seeing lots of serials at some of the theaters and of course the cartoons and news and short subject films. Regards, Jeanette Howeth Crumpler.”
Thanks Jeanette, I remember those movies also. Living across the street from the Gem Theater it became my first choice picture show in Wichita Falls. It was there, on Saturday mornings, where I thrilled to Lash LaRue, The Durango Kid, and some of the singing western stars like Roy and Gene. I also enjoyed The Bowery Boys when they were playing. I saw the Rocket Man serials there, as well as Captain Video and The Black Widow. I don’t remember much about the Gem. I do remember black children being sent up stairs, so I’m sure there was a balcony. The boys’ bathroom was to the left of the screen; I assume the girls’ bathroom was at the right of the screen. I remember a gentleman taking the tickets just inside the door – sometimes he may have been outside the main door. Once I wore a cap gun and holster, but he took it from me at the door, and thankfully gave it back when I left the theater. I mean how else could I help Roy and Gene shoot all the bad guys?
If the Gem was my first choice due to its closeness, then the Tower Theater was my second choice. They seemed to have the better serials: Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, etc., and equally fun double feature matinees on Saturday. I never went to the Majestic, and only went to the Ritz one time that I remember. I’m not sure how long the Ritz was actually in business. I went to see a jungle movie one day, and I believe it had a nude scene (and it wasn’t Tarzan’s Mate, which had the nude swimming scene with Jane). But evidently the Ritz didn’t have the right movies to attract kids on Saturday mornings. They probably didn’t get the choice films that the other theaters got.
The theaters were my main love from 1947 through 1950, even above comic books. The Tower and Gem provided many hours of pleasure for youngsters back then. Even the Newsreel was entertaining, and I remember they used to play the National Anthem before the shows started, and all of us would stand up – well, I think all of us stood up, I can’t be positive about that. But we were taught to stand up in school, so I’m sure we did in the theater.
If anyone has memories they would like to share, please send them to me and I’ll post them here. Or just leave a Comment.

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