New buildings continue to pop up in downtown Corpus Christi, but a local landmark has stood on Chaparral Street for 90 years.
On Christmas Day 1929, Corpus Christi streamed into the city’s newest cinema: the Ritz. The $ 450,000 building on the corner of North Chaparral and Taylor Streets, owned and operated by the R&R Gulf Amusement Company, features Spanish Renaissance architecture that gives it the appearance of an outdoor courtyard Heaven to sit.
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At 1:00 p.m. a full house saw the first show of “It’s a Great Life” with the Duncan Sisters. Guests were also offered additional features such as “Climbing the Golden Stairs” and “The Toreador”, known as “All Talking Comedy”.
The popularity is decreasing
When the film house opened in 1929, it was one of the largest in the state and featured the latest in film technology.
In the 1970s, the crowds left downtown to shop and chat in the central and southern parts of the city. One-screen movie houses were out of date. Audiences wanted more films and more screens.
United Artists Theaters, the owner of six other theaters in town, announced in August 1972 that the Ritz would finally close on August 29 at 11 p.m. The last film was “Return of Sabata” with Lee Van Cleef.
Revival of the Music Hall
United Artists had discussed demolishing the theater when it closed in 1972. The second act of the theater was still pending.
Joe Poses and Dave Miller opened the venue as the Ritz Music Hall on July 24, 1974 with a rousing concert by Jerry Jeff Walker and his Lost Gonzo Band. The enthusiastic crowd lined up at 5:30 pm to hear his progressive country music before the doors opened at 7:00 pm
The St. James Group opened the concert before Jerry Jeff performed (clean-shaven and sober, a record in itself, the reporter noted). Walker later brought out Hondo Crouch from Luckenbach, Texas, and the two played “Will the Circle be Unbroken” as an encore for the avid concert goers.
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Despite its popularity, the owners of the music hall refused to extend the lease with the builder in December 1975 when they were unable to remove the seats to convert the theater into a club and increase capacity.
New owners and disputes with theater companies
New owners took over the music hall in March 1976 and again began booking music acts such as BW Stevenson, David Allan Coe and Ronnie Montrose. The theater began performing live plays in 1979.
In August 1981, two local theater groups get into an argument. The newly formed Encore Theater Corp. group agreed to an oral 6-month lease with the Ritz builders. But that included 10-year-old theater company Performing Players Corp. which the theater had used monthly since the end of 1979.
The Encore Theater group continued to perform in the room throughout the 1980s, including the premiere of Ken Kruse’s “The Battle of Corpus Christi” by local playwright Ken Kruse in honor of the city’s 200th anniversary in 1986. The troupe’s final performance “Gypsy” was in the theater in November 1989; They left the venue the following spring.
Current revitalization work
In December 1990, TRT Holdings officials announced the company’s plan to purchase the theater along with the downtown Wyndham and Marriott hotels.
The theater stood empty until January 5, 2006 when charitable heritage positive action, also known as the Corpus Christi PATCH and directed by Monica McLeod Sawyer, hosted the first event for the Ritz Revival.
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In 2010, TRT Holdings owner Robert Rowling donated the building to PATCH, and in 2012, Del Mar College students involved in technical drawing classes along with instructor Bob Klepac donated time outside of class to create a digital one Create architectural rendering of the restoration.
Last week, the city’s Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone committee agreed to accept Ritz’s recent fundraiser for Raise the Roof, which raised more than $ 100,000 in cash, pledges, and in-kind donations, backed by a $ 100,000 grant Combine dollars.
Next up at the Ritz is the second annual Que Bueno Taco Festival on Saturday, September 14th in downtown Corpus Christi. You’ll celebrate the city’s creative culture with art, music, and of course, tacos.
Allison Ehrlich writes about activities in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller Times.