Wednesday, 22 October 2014


The Poncan Theatre was built in 1927. 

My uncle Pat took us on a tour. We’d been before, but only when he was doing a play there. He was pretty excited about the place then, so you can imagine how nice it was to be the Director, and he could give us the whole tour. We also learned about the ins and outs of running an operation like this. There are a lot of different groups to keep happy: board members, sponsors, volunteers, not to mention actors, directors and I don’t know who all. Sounds like it requires far more patience than I'm likely to ever have. 

It's at its romantic best at night,but then it's tough to get good photos.

Also, a building this old needs constant attention. The interior is something Italianate and seems like a theatre prop itself, never mind what’s on stage. 

It sounds like a juggling act to me, but he seems really happy with it all. Short of perhaps becoming a world famous, rich movie or stage star, I’m thinking this is perhaps his dream job.

I was in heaven poring over celebrity photos of the 1920s and 30s. 

Helen Ferguson; never heard of her, but she was a beauty - and check out her stationery!

Pat pointed out a number of the wonderful old movie posters, unusual in that they are double printed to look better in the lit boxes. 

I so loved Loretta Young when I was a child!

There are hundreds of such posters – mostly more modern ones – up in the attic. No one seems to know what to do with them.

Another amazing feature was what Pat called the ‘Black Stairs’. I expected to see stairs painted black, but instead it was a perfectly ordinary staircase rising from a separate front entrance door, now used by the radio studio that rents an upper floor. 

This photo of Ginger Rogers sure makes me think of |Meg Ryan (with different hair, of course).

He showed us the special closet used for a ticket office and the twelve seats in the balcony allocated for persons of colour. The twelve seats were the same as all the others, just that section at the back on the left side was the allocated space.  

1932: Edmund Lowe

Bill was aghast that they would go to the expense of building a separate entrance and stair well for the purpose segregation, and for no more profit than one could make from twelve tickets. 

A 1931 comedy...

Clearly the principle was larger than the profit motive. It’s completely crazy, but that was how things were back then. I can't eve begin to imagine what life in in that time with that frame of mind would have been like.

Another 1931 film: pre-code, as in before censorship!

We also got to see the attics and the storage cupboards, full of old costumes and props, posters and popcorn boxes, old films and projectors, amazing stuff. Pat needs a load more volunteers ready to do odd jobs if he’s ever going to shift some of these things, so it’s likely to all be there when we next visit. I saw some amazing purses that had been donated…. And a great view of the stained glass window from the inside. So that's the part I remember from my photos. 

This is more of the official version:

The Poncan Theatre had to make the transition between live performance and the ‘new talking pictures’. Built by the Boller Bros of Kansas City who were known through out the mid and south west for their theatre design and this Spanish Colonial Revival was their specialty.  Several of their theatres, including the Poncan, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The interior similates a ‘romantic outdoor Mediterranean courtyard’. Theatres such as this were very popular in their day because they helped audiences escape their everyday life and took them to exotic places.

One more poster; you know this lady, Gloria Stuart, even though you may not recognise her. 

Costing $280,000 to build, the theatre initially had special lighting effects and equipment used for vaudeville, singing, opera, drama and dancing in addition to silent movies. There was also a $22,500 Wurlitzer organ, two concert pianos and an orchestra.

The manager was Fred Pickrel, formerly of the Pathe Exchange in OKC. Because of his former position he was able to bring to Ponca City, a town of only 16,000 people,  the latest newsreels direct from New York, Chicago and the west coast, delivered twice weekly via airmail.

In 1929, because of the popularity of ‘talkies’ the theatre was wired for sound. The Great Depression hurt the ticket sales of theatres across the nation, but in the 1930s the Poncan featured Bank Night.  In addition to the film viewing, tickets included movie goers in a lottery. As you had to be present to win, the pool sometimes reached over $600 and not only did if fill theatre seats, sometimes the crowd had to stand outside to listen for the winning ticket.

Gloria Stuart played Kate Winslett's older self in Titanic!

Television again challenged ticket sales in the 1950s and the Poncan was remodeled, enlarging the marquee, replacing seats and updating the curtain. Musical instruments were sold. Still, it carries the grand atmosphere of the interwar years and continues to delights audiences with its dream inspiring decor.

Do you have any amazing historic buildings in your area?

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