CACTUS THEATER. The Cactus Theater is located in Lubbock’s Depot District at 1812 Buddy Holly Avenue. The theater, Lubbock’s first suburban neighborhood-oriented movie theater, opened in 1938. Lubbock businessmen Joe H. Bryant, M. A. Sanders, and Glenn Woody announced construction plans for the Cactus Theater in December 1937. Lubbock financier A. M. Leftwich constructed and financed the theater for $30,000 and then leased it to Bryant, Sanders, and Woody. Joe Bryant became the theater’s first manager. Billed as a family theater at a minimum cost, the facility opened on April 8, 1938, and featured Wings over Honolulu (1937). The building included new equipment, air-conditioning, 720 seats, and a marquee with 750 feet of neon. With the advent of television and drive-in movies in Lubbock, walk-in theaters suffered. Consequently, the Cactus Theater—a second-run motion picture theater—closed on May 6, 1958.
In the early 1990s Lubbock music promoter Don Caldwell organized a group of investors to form the Cactus Theater, Incorporated, and in 1993 the group purchased the Cactus Theater building from Wilburn Jones, owner of Greer Iron Works, who had used the building for storage. Very few reminders of the original theater remained except for the sloped floor, tiered balcony, and some of the eight-foot stage.
Theater renovation began in the summer of 1994 and was completed in January 1995. The main goals of the renovation were to promote West Texas artistic talent, create a comfortable venue for both patrons and performers, and to recreate the original look of the theater outside. Outside restoration included recreating the original marquee, neon, ticket booth, windows, entrance doors, and the Dr Pepper sign which was painted in 1939 on the south side of the building.
The inside of the theater now has a twenty-five-foot deep and fifty-foot wide stage with a grand drape and proscenium curtains along with numerous teaser and back drapes. Other changes that occurred include a backstage consisting of spacious dressing rooms and storage. The old projection booth is now used for spotlights. Seating capacity of the theater is 426, with 298 seats on the floor and 128 in the balcony. The auditorium walls are adorned with a John Russell Thomasson mural depicting a typical caprock canyon found on the Llano Estacado. John R. Thomasson also painted the spiral staircases to look like marble. In September 1994 the Cactus Theater, Inc., submitted an application to the National Register of Historic Places to designate the Cactus Theater as a historic place. The building was listed on May 8, 1998.
Since its reopening the Cactus Theater has provided various forms of live entertainment. Although the venue was renovated for live music performances, its first sellout was a screening of the classic movie Casablanca (1942). Screening of classic movies helped fill a schedule until a full program of live performances was developed. The Cactus Theater produces classic, modern, and locally-written plays and musicals. Live music performances include Nostalgia Nites, a concert series showcasing America’s legendary big bands, and concerts with Texas music legends such as Joe Ely, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the Maines Brothers.
CactusTheater.com (http://www.cactustheater.com/), accessed September 13, 2011. Don Caldwell, Telephone Interview by Curtis Peoples, April 25, 2007.