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Historic Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre hosts 4 plays annually

By Elena Watts
Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.

Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre of Calhoun County.

Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre

What: 315 E. Main St.

When: For play dates and times, call 361-552-4082 or visit plmainstreet.org.

Tickets: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18

Theater Timeline

1934 - Humble Oil Co. sells the tract to H.C. Smith, W.H. Bauer and J.R. Clegg.

1936 - J.G. Long builds the original 226-seat Long's Theater.

1939 - Long enters an agreement with Smith, Bauer and Clegg to build a new 500-seat Long's Theater.

1945 - The theater sustains extensive damage during a hurricane and is remodeled afterward.

1945-1972 - Port Lavaca Theater operates in the building for 27 years.

1946 - Smith sells the property to Long.

1961 - The theater sustains damage from Hurricane Carla and is repaired.

1972 - The theater closes for the next 21 years, sits vacant and falls into disrepair.

1984 - Russell Cain buys the theater with the intent to convert it into a community theater.

1993 - Cain donates the theater to the Main Street Committee, and the refurbished building opens its doors as a community theater.

1993-present - Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre operates as a community theater.

1996 - Katie Ozanic paints a mural on the east side of the building.

2008 - The mural is refurbished by Solomon Gonzales of Alvin.

Source: "Looking Back on East Main Street, Port Lavaca" by Walter M. Spiller

PORT LAVACA - The 77-year-old Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre, which thrived during the 1930s and '40s swing era, was in horrible disrepair before it was refurbished in the 1990s.

Port Lavaca businessman Russell Cain donated the building to the Main Street Committee, which was tasked with reviving Port Lavaca's historic downtown.

The committee sold plaques engraved with donors' names and attached them to the 263 theater seats to raise money for building updates.

To change the balcony's image, its seats were sold to past Calhoun County fair queens. The balcony was once designated for Hispanics and blacks, said Teri Austin, theater board member in charge of special events.

Blacks were required to enter the side door and ascend a secret staircase to the balcony, while Mexicans could enter the front door, but had to go straight upstairs.

The side door is now locked and not used as an entrance for anyone.

Furthermore, neither group was allowed to use the theater restrooms. The gentleman who owned the service station in the theater's parking lot would leave his restroom open so they had a place to go.

"There is so much history in this theater," Austin said. "I can't imagine living in a world like that now."

The original incarnation of the theater was built in 1936. And over the decades, the structure has sustained significant damage from hurricanes and changes made by various owners.

Nowadays, the theater hosts four plays each year, which include dramas, comedies and a children's play that involves about 50 kids in various onstage and offstage roles. Performances are usually offered two consecutive weekends.

"We get as many children involved as possible," Austin said. "It is such an asset to our community."

Jody Weaver, an engineer for G&W Engineering, has directed all of the children's performances. The first play, "The Wizard of Oz," was 15 years ago, and the last was "Patchwork Girl of Oz" in June.

All three of Weaver's daughters grew up performing and working backstage in the theater. The middle child, Katy Bridges, 26, majored in dance at the University of Houston, where she also studied theater.

"It teaches the children to have self-esteem and confidence and to work with a team toward a common goal," Weaver said. "They build lifelong friendships, and many have told me it changed their lives, taught them they could go achieve their dreams."

The theater and its productions are supported entirely by volunteers, ticket sales, patron donations and fundraisers.

Volunteers peddle snacks in the concession stand, act on stage, direct the actors and run the show backstage, among other tasks.

Every July, the theater hosts Doin' It On the Deck, its biggest fundraiser. Live music, concessions and cold beverages at Nautical Landings Marina attract about 1,500 people. Past performers include Larry Joe Taylor, Roger Creager and Stoney LaRue.

The goal for 2014 is to book musical acts at the Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre in addition to live plays.

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