Mason's Odeon Theater Inspires Menard Community
Just as Mason’s citizens banded together several years ago to revive our unique Odeon Theater, so the Menard community is trying to restore their equally special Mission Theatre. The MISSION THEATRE RESTORATION FOUNDATION, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, has been created to bring movies, plays, and musical performances back to Menard. Below is an article that appeared in the Menard paper regarding the history of the Mission Theatre and the goals for its revival:.
There once was a time when Bevans Street was the liveliest spot in Menard. Cars were parked up and down both sides, the side walk was filled with people, and it was the place for young and old to congregate.
For 25 years, from 1927-1953 the show was the place to be. If you were a child you went on Saturday afternoon to watch Tom Nix or a Gene Autry serial. If you were a teenager you wanted to see Erol Flin. Old timers came from miles around to see Will Rogers and all ages came to see little Shirley Temple. The smell of popcorn filled the aisles. The lights were bright on the marquee. The prices were 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for kids. And always there, putting up posters, holding out his hand was Henry Reeve.
To tell the story of the Mission Theatre you must start with the story of the man-Henry Reeve was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and attended Quaker schools. Later he attended Choate and played football there. He overcame a life time of deafness through the use of hearing aids. He was interested in acting and had bit parts in New York where he worked as a sports writer. After a young first marriage, that did not last, he decided to start a new life in California. He was on his way to work in the movies when he found Menard. When he arrived in Texas in route to California he pointed his finger at a Texas map and said, with his eyes closed," Wherever my finger stops that is where I will stop, and I will stay for two weeks and find out what Texas is like." Well his finger hit Menard. He arrived with his Yankee accent and very strange clothes and was greeted rather skeptically. He was hired as a ranch worker by the late H.H. Wheless, who remained his lifelong associate and dear friend. Well after that, he went to church one Sunday and saw Sophie Luckenbach Mears singing in the choir and that was that. He began courting the pretty young widow and two weeks turned into 37 years. When Mr. Wheless purchased the Star Theatre from C.E. Mauldin in January 1923 and, he asked Mr. Reeve to be his business partner. It was located across from what would be the Bevans Hotel, currently the Menard Manor. In April of 1923, Reeves became the sole owner, though he and Mr. Wheless continued as partners in an insurance agency. It was January 27, 1927 when disaster struck and the Star Theatre was destroyed by fire. No one in the crowd was hurt and within a week there was a make shift theatre operating in a tent located in the lot next to what would be the Bevans Hotel. Phenomenally, within the next 5 months the grandest theatre building in the area was built on Bevans Street. With the financial aid of his father-in-law Fritz Luckenbach, Mr. Reeve saw the Mission Theatre open to the public the night of June 15, 1927. It was a glorious opening night with a full house there to see "See How They Run". Later in 1929, the magnificent Bevans Hotel was built in Menard. These two buildings seemed to boom with progress. The Theatre showed nightly and made the transition to sound at the same time the large cities did. It also boasted as fine a stage as San Angelo’s big new theatres. During the depression, shows were limited to two nights a week. Business was really tough. So the Reeves had to make some decisions. They decided to open the show more nights a week. One of which was a Sunday matinee. There was a big up roar in Menard about showing movies on Sunday. Soon the community received a letter from the Reeves reassuring them that the shows would not conflict with church hours and would pass a rigid censorship screening. Soon good business started to return. Mrs. Reeve sold tickets and Mr. Reeve supervised the lobby and projection room. The Mission stage was the scene for many memorable events for Menard people. There were dramas during the 30’s performed by local people that were so good that they were invited to appear in neighboring towns. Talent shows, dance recitals and beauty pageants were annual highlights. Wrestling matches, more performance than sporting events, were monthly features. Ray Whitney (who co-wrote "Back in the Saddle" with Gene Autry) and other cowboy singers were crowd pleasers. Every school child looked forward to Christmas and the big free show. They were treated, along with a visit from Santa, a sack of goodies from the local merchants. In 1939, the San Saba River flooded the town including the theatre and all the seats had to be replaced. When other Texas towns were struck by disasters, tornados, fires and floods, benefit performances were held at the Mission Theatre to aid them. In the early 1940’s, during the war the theatre stage was used to hold Bond Rallies. Visiting Hollywood names urged the people to buy war bonds. Henry Reeve served many years as president of the Texas Theatre Owners. During the war he served as the Texas War Bond Chairman and was also twice National War Bond Chairman. In this capacity he made speeches across the United States, received many citations, and appeared 3 times in front of senate committees in Washington, D.C. Despite his national and state activities, his first interest was the city of Menard. He campaigned for the restoration of the Mission de San Saba, the building of the hospital, and community swimming pool. In 1953 the Reeves closed the theatre when they opened The Mission Drive- In movie north of town. On April 5, 1959, 36 years and 4 days after he went into show business in Menard as the owner of the Star Theatre, Henry Reeve passed away. The marquee at the Mission Drive-In announced the movie of the day was "The Last Who-Ra".
In 1971, Don Wilkinson purchased the Mission Theatre and renovated it. For several months they showed movies again.
Through arrangements with the Reeve family and Mr.Wilkinson, the building saw a new entertainment program in 1972 when Menard Civic Theatre was organized. The group used the theatre as a site for their productions until 1979.
The flood of 1980 caused extensive damage to the floor of the old building. Leaving only the exposed dirt. In July 1990, heavy rains caused the roof to collapse over the main auditorium section of the building.
The building remained exposed to the elements for a number of years during which the building came to the Menard Industrial Development Corporation. After digging out the trees that had grown up out of the exposed dirt floor, the Development Board replaced the roof to prevent further deterioration.
Then just a few months ago, a group of like minded individuals came together and decided the time had come to make a change and organized the Mission Theatre Restoration Foundation. Our goal is to restore the theatre. We would like to show movies, plays, and host musical entertainment, much like the Odeon Theater in Mason. It will be a long process, but we are determined to make a difference in our community.