WHEN THE ARCADIA THEATER opened on Greenville Avenue in 1927, it only played silent movies. Over time, its status changed from movie house to Spanish movie theater to concert venue to nightclub. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Duran Duran has graced the screens and stage at the local gathering place. Fifteen years after it was swallowed in a conflagration, here’s how some neighbors remember the Arcadia.  

Photography and Illustrations by Jessica Turner.

When Kyle Hall was younger, concert tickets were expensive, a treat for himself. So he was picky when choosing which events to attend, only splurging on a ticket to see his most favorite acts. 

That explains why he only attended one concert at the Arcadia. It was Simply Red in October 1987, early in the British band’s tenure. He had just graduated from SMU in the spring. 

“I was really happy that Simply Red was going to be playing at the Arcadia because I hadn’t been to a concert there before,” Hall says. 

He knew a little about the neighborhood and the venue’s history, since he grew up in Tyler, where the television stations and news sources were based in Dallas. By the time he came to Dallas for college, he already had a handle on the city. 

Hall can’t remember exactly how the evening progressed, but he assumes he and his friend, who wasn’t a huge fan of live music, grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and walked to the theater. 

“It had not been sort of artificially spruced up,” he says. “It had what felt like a real Lower Greenville Avenue vibe of the time, you know, not too shiny. And I was just happy that the interior hadn’t been altered a whole lot.”

Hall went to see Simply Red, but the opening act made a greater impression on him. It was Danny Wilson, a Scottish band  and none of its members were named Danny Wilson. At the end of the set, the band played “Mary’s Prayer.” Until then, the audience had been chatting, buying drinks, waiting for the main attraction. When they heard “Mary’s Prayer,” they “jolted to attention.” 

After the song, the lead singer thanked the crowd. Hall had witnessed Danny Wilson’s first performance this side of the pond. 

Simply Red lived up to Hall’s expectations, sounding just like the record. He made the most of the whole night in Lower Greenville. 

“I loved that it was a great mix of food and drink and music and strolling around,” he says. “It was a great place to spend time.” 

THE ARCADIA: A TIMELINE

1927
The Arcadia Theater opens.

September 1929
A culprit steals $265 from the theater. 

April 1931
The Arcadia is robbed of $830 in ticket receipts. 

October 1937
A gunfight takes place near the theater after police respond to reports of a robbery at the nearby Sears, Roebuck & Company. 

December 1940
A three-alarm blaze inside the Arcadia causes $175,000 in damage. 

April 1941
The Arcadia reopens.

May 1954
Two teen boys are arrested after setting off a stench bomb in the balcony.

November 1958
The Arcadia closes after another fire that causes $75,000 in damage. 

April 1959
The Arcadia reopens with new projection equipment. 

December 1959
A 19-year-old is shot five times and killed by her estranged husband as they sit in a car in the parking lot.

March 1973
Dallas police seize multiple reels of Deep Throat as the Arcadia tries to screen it. 

June 2006
A third fire marks the end of the Arcadia.

AUGUST 2013
Trader Joe’s opens on the former site of the Arcadia.

Jeff Downing was a regular at many Dallas event venues in the late 1980s. He went to the Arcadia, too, but not because it was part of his job. He just wanted to see the shows there. 

One time, he went to see Suicidal Tendencies. There was a space between the Arcadia’s stage and seats, about 20 feet deep, a breeding ground for mosh pits. 

“Normally I would just dive right in, but I was with her (a girlfriend), and she was jumping up and down and flailing about like everyone was, and she wanted to go up there,” he says. “And I warned her about just jumping into the pit up there, and she did anyway. And I remember it ripped one of her earrings out, and she was all upset.”

That concert, where Downing met his best friend who now lives around the corner from him, was the first of many he saw at the Arcadia. There was also Motorhead, the Ramones, Slayer, Danzig, Front Line Assembly and They Might Be Giants. 

Photo courtesy of Jeff Downing.

With its mosh pit area and few security officers, Downing says the Arcadia was a great place to see heavy metal concerts. 

“There weren’t people walking up and down the aisles with flashlights, telling you to get down off your seats. People were allowed to have a good time,” he says.

Those “good times” might be why Downing remembers the place being a little torn up. But he saw past its flaws. 

“I always appreciated the fact that it was authentic to the time it was built,” he says. “It was very retro looking, which to me is instantly interesting. To a lot of people, it’s not.”

The Arcadia stood out to Downing not just for its architecture, but also for the environment it created. 

“People were free to just enjoy the show for all the right reasons,” he says. “The sound was always great. You could always see things clearly. You could see the band clearly, and it felt very engaging because it was a small, sort of intimate venue.” 

Neighbor notes

“I spilled an entire scotch and soda on my boss’ wife there. He was the GM of Clearview at the time.” — Lance Russell Swaim 

“Shadowfax – opened with a tuba and a giant drum dressed in high school marching band costumes. I howled — it was awesomely hysterical and sooooo good!” — Elizabeth Doan 

“Little 16-year-old new-wave me did NOT know what to think of Jane’s Addiction when I saw them open for Love and Rockets in 1987. I mean, I had never heard anything like it. I was blown away!” — Pamela Reid 

“Only show I saw was a comedy showcase in the late 1980s that included the Guava Bomblets, a side project of Bowles & Wilson, and Victor Dada from Dallas, and if I recall correctly, Esther’s Follies from Austin and a comedy club in Houston that I’ve since forgotten the name of.” — Judy Kriehn 

“I started going to the Arcadia at age 9. I’d get dropped off by my grandmother for the Elvis double feature and I would stay all day!” — Patty Loiselle


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