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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Post By Bill Nash

Guest Post By Bill Nash

I never lived in Wichita Falls although I owe a great deal to it as my parents met there.  I did spend several Christmases there at my grandmother's house but as a very young child.

I'm not sure of the dates on many of these events. I heard them from my mom and even if she mentioned dates I don't recall them.  William McIlheran and many of his family were in the movie business in Dallas. According to an article from about 1923 that I found in the Dallas Morning News, he opened the first movie theater in Dallas in about 1909.  Other theaters in Dallas had included movies as shorts among their other variety acts but the Theatorium was the first dedicated solely to movies.  According to my mom, her dad, Robert Crisman McIlheran and her uncle Aaron Alexander McIlheran, purchased the Gem Theater for their dad, William.  William died 18 Dec 1928. At that point, Aaron moved to Wichita Falls and began to manage the theater although I believe he and Robert owned it jointly.  Robert was working for Universal Film Distribution in Dallas. They asked him to transfer to NYC. My grandmother did not want to move and Robert resigned, moved to Wichita Falls and assumed joint management with his brother Aaron.  In 1947 my grandfather died (I was only a year old) and Aaron resumed sole management but with my grandmother as co-owner.  She eventually moved back to Dallas.  In 1954 Aaron died and I assume his wife Dorothy took over management of the theater.  By then I was old enough to recall some family discussion about whether my grandmother was receiving her fair share of the income.  I'm actually not sure there was any income as the theater was eventually closed and fell into disrepair including a lot of water damage from a leaky roof.  I believe it burned down or maybe it was condemned and torn down.

Something my dad told me about the theater after my mom died.  The Gem Theater was the first one to admit both blacks and whites.  It was still segregated however with the blacks restricted to the balcony.  I don't know if this started before my grandfather owned it or not.

The picture I have is one I obtained from Mary Kearby at The Museum of North Texas History in WF. If you publish it you should give them credit.  There are actually two pictures, one annotated and one not but the same shot.


Bill Nash
Austin, Texas

(Pictures Courtesy of WF Museum of North Texas History)

No comments:

Post a Comment