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The Palace Theatre: A Brief History

Story of the Palace Podcast

Listen to the story of the Palace on a Podcast

Produced by Patricia McMullen, Storm Vance, Bobbi Graves, Morgen Hughes and Andrew Garrison for Stories from Deep in the Heart, a project of Texas Folklife (www.texasfolklife.org)

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The Palace, located at 810 South Austin Avenue in Georgetown, Texas (about 25 miles north of Austin), was built in 1925 by A. C. Moore of Bartlett, Texas. A grand opening in February of 1926 brought silent films to this new community gathering place, followed three years later by the wonder of "talkies." The first showing of a film with sound in November of 1929 was so successful that the Williamson County Sun reported "...the new theatre was marked by record-breaking attendance, standing room not even being available Monday night." (Sun, November 15, 1929)


Circa 1937
   
The buff brick exterior of the original building became the present Art Deco facade in 1938 during remodeling done by Mr. & Mrs. O. A. Englebrecht, who owned the theatre from 1927 until 1968. The stucco exterior of 1938 brought a major distinction to the Palace: it is reported by the Georgetown Heritage Society to be the only building of the Art Deco period found in Georgetown. "A Palace of dreams! That was what the local movie house represented to young people in Georgetown... Without the Palace, it is hard to imagine what would have sparked the creative and questing urges of thousands of youngsters who grew up here during the Depression, World War II, and the drought-plagued 50s." (Williamson County Sunday Sun, editorial page, Dec. 23, 1990). When the Palace could no longer compete as a movie theatre and was forced to close in late 1989, it became the oldest continuously operated movie theatre in the same building in Williamson County.
   

In December of 1990, a group of concerned citizens founded Georgetown Palace Theatre, Inc., a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, to save this historic theatre for Williamson County. In just one week, this group met the challenge of raising $10,000 for operating expenses and equipment. These are the Gold and Silver Charter Members whose plaque hangs in the Palace lobby. Those who participated in the task of cleaning up the building became known as The Palace Guard. In a little more than 90 days, the Palace Theatre was given back to the people of Williamson County through the cash donations, volunteer efforts, and hard work of fewer than 300 concerned folks.

Annual donations by individuals and business sponsors in the Williamson County community maintained the day-to-day success of the Palace venture from 1991 to 1999. Over that nine-year period, hundreds of volunteers were involved in performing, directing, selling tickets, preparing and distributing posters and flyers, ushering, working on clean-up chores, helping with mail-outs and fundraisers, and serving in various roles on the Board of Directors.

For the sesquicentennial celebration in 1998 of both the City of Georgetown and Williamson County, a Palace tradition called You Can't Do That, Dan Moody! was born. From a book by the same name written the previous year by Ken Anderson (then Williamson County District Attorney), Tom Swift (then Artistic Director for the Palace) joined with Mr. Anderson to write a stage play. The play was produced by the Palace and performed in the Williamson County Courthouse in the very courtroom where the original trial of several KKK members in 1923 was successfully prosecuted by Dan Moody (who later became governor of Texas). In fall of 2009, the fifth Palace production of this play will be performed in the recently renovated Williamson Co. Courthouse. It will be co-produced by the Palace and the Williamson County Museum.

 

In November 1998, the Board of Directors, with the help of an influential Steering Committee, launched a capital campaign, Palace 2000, to restore and transform this historic landmark to better meet the growing civic and cultural needs of Williamson County. The campaign raised about half the money needed, a bank loan was arranged for the remainder. The primary goal of the renovation project was to recapture its historic 1938 Art Deco design, while making it a safe and handicap-accessible facility for the entire community. The theatre closed in July of 1999, and the grand re-opening was held a little over two years later on October 6, 2001.

A couple of tough years followed for Georgetown Palace Theatre, Inc. With a debt of more than $800,000 in an economy struggling through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the beloved Palace was almost lost. Many volunteers put forth a valiant effort to hold on, and by the end of 2003, the right community leaders had come to grips with the problems. A new Board of Directors took over on February 1, 2004. This Board was framed around 15 citizens who were financial "shareholders" - that is to say they were guarantors of a portion of the mortgage held by Union State Bank and had a vested interest in the success of the Palace. All of the previous Board directors were invited to stay on, and a few did so.

This was the turning point for the Palace Theatre! In their very first month as a Board under the leadership of Doug Smith, the new directors raised more than $40,000 at a fundraiser. And as the fiscal year 2004 began (July 1), the new Board hired the current Artistic Director, Mary Ellen Butler, to produce the season, direct the plays (or find other directors), and design and manage theatrical summer workshops for children and teens. The 2007-08 Season was a banner year; but, with the economic downturn across the country, the 2008-09 season could be less successful from a financial standpoint. The challenge for the Board of Directors and the Artistic Director is to gross enough money to pay for all productions and still pay monthly operating expenses and to keep the renovation/restoration bank mortgage (and the tin barn purchase mortgage) current. PATRON DONATIONS AND PRODUCTION SPONSORSHIPS ARE STILL NEEDED ON AN ONGOING BASIS!

The Palace Board of Directors brought on in 2004 has made other important gains and acquisitions. in 2004-05, a fund-raising campaign, begun with a challenge grant of $25,000, brought in almost $100,000! This money was needed to pay off lingering debt from the restoration. With this campaign, the Palace stage was named in honor of Frances and Angus Springer, beloved theatre teachers.