When Paul Adair and Pat Brennan are through with it, the screen where Debbie met Dallas will be playing host to a new cast of characters.

The two film buffs are renovating the 1940s-era theater at 2830 Samuell, a distinctive, orange-brick building that for nearly two decades was home to the Lido adult movie theater.

Adair and Brennan have plans for something a little more high-minded – bringing back the classics. They also have restored the theater’s original name, the Major.

Instead of porn stars on the screen and who-knows-what going on in the audience, the pair want Humphrey Bogart and the Three Stooges flickering in vintage black-and-white before audiences in what would be Dallas’ only repertory theater for classic films.

“Everybody complains about the crud Hollywood is putting out these days, including me,” says Adair, 53. “So we’ve decided to do something about it. At least a little something.”

Adair and Brennan want to fill what they see as a void in the local film community that has existed since the Granada Theater became a combination restaurant/second-run movie theater in 1987.

Classic-movie lovers have had nowhere to go in Dallas in the meantime, except to video stores and occasional screenings at museums and SMU’s Southwest Film and Video Archives. And the TV screen just doesn’t do old films justice, Adair says.

Sometime this month, he and Brennan expect to change that situation.

“The demand is definitely there, from everybody I’ve talked to,” says Adair, projectionist for a General Cinema theater in Carrollton and a 27-year Dallas resident. “I guess the ball’s in our court now.”

Work on the aging theater is taking longer than expected, however. The opening was delayed several months after Adair and Brennan learned they would need new plumbing to bring the building up to city code. For the first time, the theater has hot running water.

There also was the small matter of cleaning up after the theater’s previous occupants.

“You would not believe some of the things we found in there from the Lido days,” Adair says. “It was disgusting. Crack vials, syringes – everything under the sun.”

But after the renovation is complete, Adair promises an experience classic-film fans won’t forget. The theater will be equipped to show movies in 16-, 35- or 70 millimeter, as well as 3-D.

The partners plan to show films nightly, with two evening shows and weekend matinees. Features will rotate on a half-week basis, the partners say.

Adair’s ace is a 11937 Hortson projector with a Xenon lamp, which he has on loan from friends. The projector will give classic films a sharper, crisper look, as close to their original feel as possible, Adair says.

The theater also will be able to show ’50s-era 3-D movies with a twin strip technique, in which two projectors run at the same time. Adair has the 3-D classic “House of Wax” in mind, although he has no immediate plans to show the film.

“It’s been a fun and costly experience,” Brennan says of the renovation. “It’s more a labor of love than anything.”

The roster of films also will include Three Stooges shorts, Dick Tracy serials and vintage newsreels.

It’s appropriate that classic films are coming back to the Major, Adair says, because it was a favorite movie nightspot in the late 1940s.

The theater was designed and built in 1947 by Phil Isley, who also built the Granada and the Crest in Oak Cliff. His daughter, Jennifer Jones, starred in the Dick Tracy serials and later married 1930s film mogul David O. Selznick.

Her photo hangs in the Major’s “Gallery of the Stars”, featuring movie stars from the ’30s-’50s.

Interest in the Major began to fade by the early ’70s, when owner Ramon Garcia Lence decided to rent it for adult films.

In 1989, the City passed an ordinance prohibiting adult films from being shown within 1,000 feet of a City park. The theater is across the street from Samuell-Grand Park.

Lence spent about $70,000 to renovate the building several years ago, Adair says. The theater played host to a 3-D movie festival and Garcia briefly showed old movie musicals and then Spanish-language films before giving up. The Major has been dark for almost a year.

“This project has been six years in the making, so we’re not about to go back now.”

Adair and Brennan have set up a hotline, 821-FILM, to provide updates on the theater’s opening and to collect information for a mailing list.


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.