Editor’s Note: In Collaboration with the Bartlesville Area History Museum, the Examiner-Enterprise has Revived the late Edgar Weston’s ‘Revisiting the Past’ columns that ran in the newspaper from 1997-99. Weston’s columns recount the history of Bartlesville as well as Washington, Nowata and Osage counties.
Theaters seem to develop in the plans and Minds of people and some continue to develop until they are a reality, but some remain in the planning stage.
The Crown Theater, built March 4, 1937, is on the site of the old Mueller Hardware Store at 318 S. Johnstone Ave. had its grand opening on May 13, 1937.
The largest, now elite theater in Bartlesville was planned by CE Burlingame and the Maire Brothers, owners of the Maire Hotel at 4th Street and Johnstone Avenue. They planned to have an elaborate entrance and marquee rising up to 70 feet that could be seen at a great distance across Bartlesville. The Architects drawings were quite elaborate and great plans were made in preparation for the beginning of construction.
The location was the Reliable Furniture Store site at 312-314 S. Dewey Ave. The Barryman Brothers Movie Company was to be a partner and share in the building cost. The timing was around 1940 and this Theater was to replace two other Theaters in Bartlesville, but what happened to this elaborately planned project?
A very interesting character that spent most of his life in the opera, the movie business was RO Taylor, who lived at 1937 S. Dewey Ave. in Bartlesville. He was associated with the Oklah Opera House from the beginning to the end.
Taylor worked on the first show on Sept. 22, 1907 at the Opera House and the last movie in the Arrow Theater on July 22, 1966. Taylor had a tremendous knowledge of the Oklah Opera House and a large collection of pictures of the “Stars” that performed there.
Taylor delivered gasoline for the Phillips Petroleum Company beginning with his retirement from the Arrow Theater. When he delivered gasoline, oil and grease to our farm, he would talk as long as he had time about the opera and theater.
Dewey was approached by the Wells Family of Bartlesville to build an air dome for Dewey. It was to have a stage where dramatic productions would be presented throughout the year and moving picture shows. The Wells Family were all Musicians and Baby Wells was to sing in the picture shows.
The location of the Dewey Air Dome was to be on North Delaware Avenue in the same block as the Dewey Hotel, south of the Thomas Brothers Store noted in the Dewey news on June 3, 1909.
The Dewey Air Dome isn’t mentioned further, but the Gem Theater was built in Dewey on Eighth Street between Delaware Avenue and Shawnee Avenue before 1912. Photographs remain that show the Gem Theater at that location operating in 1912.
Earle Freiberger purchased the Gem Theater in Dewey, after moving pictures, in color, replaced the stage shows. He was a showman through and through. He selected movies that would draw a full house. He added Pathe News, sing-a-longs and other Innovations that interested movie goers. He Hired young ladies, high-school aged teens as ticket takers and popcorn machine operators.
Earle could make a spiel like a Carnival salesman to get people involved in whatever he was trying to promote. He operated the Gem Theater for many years and was very well liked.
When Walter Bell took over the Gem Theater, they changed the name to the Capri Theater and began showing unscrupulous movies. Not only did he loose the respect of the community, church memberships Filed a petition in an effort to close the theater. After a brief legal battle, the Capri Theater indeed closed.
Bartlesville has produced many talented stars going back to Beatrice Clevenger, a Talented Bartlesville girl who reached the New York stage after winning a first award in “Expression” in local competition in 1909, and as a senior at Bartlesville High School in 1912, the first Prize in a “declamatory contest” for a dramatic reading in a statewide competition at Oklahoma A&M, now OSU at Stillwater. Miss Clevenger was featured in full page photo spreads in both “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar” Magazines during the height of her Popularity on Broadway. She married Russell A. Gair of Virginia. In 1958, he preceded her in death. She passed away in 1971 at Richmond, VA and both rest in the White Rose Mausoleum at Bartlesville.
Another star is New York’s Broadway, and in various other cities throughout the country is Gretchen Wyler, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. LG Weinecke of Bartlesville. Gretchen has starred in popular musicals in New York, with the St. Louis Municipal Opera and on regular television and radio shows. She began her dancing career in Bartlesville as a student of Mrs. LV Chancy and has maintained close connections with former teachers and friends in this city. She is well known for her television roles in “Falcon Crest,” “Designing Women,” “Friends,” “Dallas,” and “Private Benjamin.” She made an appearance here at the “All America City” Banquet in 1963. Gretchen had made a name for herself across America and has been a fine representative of Bartlesville. She passed away in 2007.
Another homegrown actor, Writer and director who made it big on Broadway and television is Joe Sears. Joe was born in Bartlesville and graduated from College High School in 1967. He is well known for his “Greater Tuna” series, including his highly acclaimed play and television broadcast “A Tuna Christmas,” which brought him a 1995 Tony Award Nomination as Broadway’s Best Play Actor. Joe returned to his home town and now lives comfortably in retirement.