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The Kessler Theater reopens; stays true to its historical roots

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by Elizabeth Scotti

The Kessler Theater on West Davis Street in North Oak Cliff was the city’s most popular movie theater when it opened in 1942. But it sat vacant for decades after closing in the 1950s.  Today, the theater is back and as popular as ever. It now opens its doors to some of the biggest names in the music industry and has become the area’s go-to venue for live performances, ranging from folk music to techno.

Dallas resident Jude Natala, who visited the theater one night recently, said he has seen both jazz and folk performances in the past month.

“There is pretty much a night for everyone here,” he said.

Recent performers include Guy Clark, the Rebirth Brass Band, and Hayes Carll.

Dallas entrepreneur Edwin Cabaniss bought and revamped the 70-year-old theater in 2009. After a $1 million renovation the theater finally reopened in 2010. Since then, it has won awards including Best of Dallas Best Music Venue by the Dallas Observer, and the 2011 Oak Cliff Chamber Business of the Year by the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.

The theater’s marketing consultant, Amy Ero, said in an email interview that since the theaters reopening, “we’ve kept as much history alive as possible.”

The balcony houses some original chairs that Cabaniss, without knowing, bought online while looking for vintage theater seats. The seller happened to be a North Texas resident and the chairs were original Kessler Theater chairs, Ero said.

“With a little referb, they’re good as new,” said Ero.

Cabaniss could not be reached for comment.

The Kessler Theater opened in 1942 as a single screen movie theater. It also served as a place where locals could by war ration cards during World War II.

Legendary singer-actor-war vet Gene Autry purchased the theater in 1946 and continued to operate it as a movie theater and for holding religious services, until he sold it in the early 1950s. One of the theater’s current suites, the Gene Autry Suite, is named after the former owner.

The Kessler Theater has had many ups and downs over the years. It was hit by two disasters: much of it was destroyed in a 1957 tornado and then again in a fire in 1962. Today, it often sells out shows, and attracts guests from all over North Texas and as far away as Oklahoma and Arkansas, said Ero.

Will Finn, who lives in Oxford, Miss., enjoyed a recent night out at the theater with his cousin.

“I am in town for the weekend visiting my cousin and she said we had to come here to hear some great live music, so we did. I had a blast and I recommend going to check it out if you get the chance,” he said.

Cabaniss has delegated the theater as a mixed-use venue, featuring art, music, and community events. The theater is fully stocked with cutting edge equipment. There are seats for 300, plus standing room. Tickets typically range from $15 to $65. In addition to the nightlife, the theater also offers dance and music classes.

The venue can also be rented out for large events or can host smaller ones in the theaters exclusive private and semi-private suites. The theater is also known for its sound system and fully stocked bar.

“I had a great time when I visited the Kessler Theater. The bar was awesome and the acoustics were good too,” said visitor Zach Lommita after enjoying a Saturday night performance at the theater.

“We hope to continue on the same path we’ve been on — bringing live music to North Oak Cliff, being a good neighbor, showcasing new local and regional musicians, artists and being a creative center,” Ero said.

The Kessler Theaters normal business hours are Thursday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. You can catch up with the Kessler Theater’s latest news and events on Twitter @KesslerTheater and on its website at http://thekessler.org/.

 

Categories: Recent Posts, SMUSN, The Arts, Uncategorized
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