“The current Palace dominated Main Street for more than 50 years, beginning in 1937,” says Judy Johnson as she talks about the old theater and how the Palace Restoration Committee (a non-profit entity) is dedicated to bringing back the theater to the prominence it once enjoyed as the center entertainment for Childress and the surrounding area.
Right now, Main Street in Childress is in need of revitalization. The historic brick streets speak to the rustic character of the central business district. The downtown area is an eclectic mix of commercial buildings and renovations from different eras. Some
businesses have embraced the historic character of their buildings through new renovations while other spaces set empty and are beginning to fall in disrepair from years of neglect.
Currently, the theater faces west towards Main Street with a newly painted white facade and a multi-colored neon sign whose glow lights up downtown Childress in a fashion not seen for nearly twenty years. Recently hundreds of townspeople showed up
for a downtown fundraising event that featured the classic musical Grease. Ironically, the movie was projected on the building’s exterior because the project is in its infancy.
While there is still a considerable amount of work to do on The Palace in Childress, it’s a project whose time has come. As Johnson puts it, it is a connection to a simpler time in Childress. A connection that, despite all the technological advances of
the modern age, still has a place in small town West Texas.
“She [The Palace] is a monument to life and cinema: life in a small town in West Texas and cinema as a means of bringing the outside world to that small town. Restored, she can offer some of the simplicity, once taken for granted, to the many young families who now make Childress their home.”
“We used to go to the Palace and watch the Walt Disney movies back in the 1970‘s when I was a kid,” says lifelong resident Shelly Breeding. “As I got older, The Palace is where the high school kids went on dates. There wasn’t any hanging around town or driving around. You planned your week around what was playing at the show that weekend. Kids these days don’t have that luxury. At least not right now.”
Thirty miles in the next town north, The Ritz Theater in Wellington, Texas recently underwent a complete restoration and now serves as the cinema and live entertainment hub for the town of 2,200 people. When the project started, the building was nearly beyond repair and only the original walls remained. Over six years, the theater underwent an extreme transformation to bring it to its modern iteration. Now, the theater even creates enough gravity to draw people from further away to see the restored auditorium and lobby areas and enjoy the entertainment.
“People all over the Panhandle and even the state have come to enjoy and admire the Ritz,” says Gay McAlister, a retired teacher and one of the organizers who helped nurse the dilapidated theater back to life through her vision and leadership.
“The idea of restoration was actually put in place in 2001 when a group of citizens formed the committee, Historic Wellington, with the idea of restoring the Ritz and possibly other buildings,” she says. “Money came in from local groups, individuals and ex-students from all over the country who wanted this project done. It was not until 2004 when the Zephyr Foundation agreed to finance the cost that actual building began.”