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Ganado Cinema to receive $15,000 facelift

By BY ERICA RODRIGUEZ - ERODRIGUEZ@VICAD.COM
Oct. 28, 2009 at 5:28 a.m.
Updated Oct. 29, 2009 at 5:29 a.m.

An artist's rendering of what the Ganado Theater will look like after new signage and neon is installed.

GANADO THEATER TIMELINE

Feb. 1940 - Construction begins on the $12,500 project to build the Long Theater.

June 6, 1941 - Theater opens, seating 357 people. The first show to play is "Lady from Cheyenne."

1953 - Alvin Svoboda, a 15-year-old high school freshman, begins work as a projectionist.

1957 - Widescreens introduced. Wooden-back chairs added, reducing seating to 250.

1961 - Original movie theater sign and exterior neon lighting severely damaged by Hurricane Carla.

1977 - Svoboda leases complex from Long Theaters.

1980 - Svoboda purchases theater for $13,000. His first improvement is to add air conditioning.

1982 - Original exterior sign removed and given away to be sold as scrap iron.

1995 - First theater in area to add digital sound.

2003 - Sound amplifiers added behind the screen.

2009 - Subwoofer system added at cost of $8,500. Replica of 1940s exterior sign to be installed in late November.

IN THE BEGINNING

Cost of a ticket in 1941: 9 cents for children, 40 cents for adults.

First show to play was "Lady from Cheyenne," the story of a Western schoolteacher fighting for women's rights in Wyoming.

Alvin Svoboda never thought a job as a 15-year-old video projectionist would play out this way. "I said it'll never happen in my lifetime," Svoboda said.

The 71-year-old owner of the Ganado Cinema sits in a corner near the box office just before a movie premiere in the historic building.

Svoboda never dreamed he would see the theater restored as it was in his boyhood. Thanks to the Jackson County Historical Society and Svoboda's own contributions, the outside of the building will receive a $15,000 facelift. The society will restore the theater facade with a replica of the 21-foot neon sign and lighting in place in the 1940s. They hope to have the project completed late in November.

"That's going to bring back some of the excitement and glamour of old Hollywood," Svoboda said. "There's very few of us single-screen theaters left."

The building lacked the sign since 1982, when the original - rusted and damaged by Hurricane Carla - was removed and sold as scrap metal. The commission hopes adding the sign will help preserve the theater as a landmark.

"The Jackson County Historical Commission has a mission to preserve Jackson County heritage," said Frank Condron, commission chairman. "Heritage is found in our history, in our photographs, in buildings in our land. It's a historical marker and it's ours."

A step into the theater is like a step back in time. The crackle of popcorn and the aroma of sizzling hot dogs greet customers.

"The old theaters were unique in themselves," Svoboda said. "They didn't just make a carbon copy and repeat them."

This isn't the first repair Svoboda has made. When he purchased the theater for $13,000 in 1980 it was in shambles. Along with adding air-conditioning and fixing the roof, Svoboda outfitted the theater with new seating. His theater was the first in the area to install digital sound. He updates his equipment every two years.

Despite the renovations, Svoboda prides himself in preserving the old-timey character of the building.

"There's a feel about the place, a nostalgia, and we try to treat everyone like an old friend," he said.

The Ganado Cinema lobby is full of days past. Old movie tickets and black and white photos line the entrance like aging wallpaper. Ganado Mayor Clinton Tegeler hopes the restoration will add to the town's identity.

"For us to be able to bring something like that back, it just brings so much character," Tegeler said. "That's a rare thing."

The one-screen theater opened in 1941. It is the last known operating complex of a chain of 60 locations that once stretched from Nacogdoches to South Texas.

Today, patrons still choose the theater because of its quaint charm.

"It's more than just going to the movies," said Roberta Townsend, a Victoria mother who travels with her family of five at least once a month to the theater. "I even come here when I don't like the movie. It just has some charm and you are kind of getting out of town."

More than anything, Svoboda looks forward to seeing the reaction of the next generation.

"The young generation has no idea what the sign looked like," he said. "I think they'll be impressed."

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