The Palace Theatre marked time in Fredericksburg for most of the 20th Century. The grand old movie house was a part of the fabric of the community.
In 1926, John Stahl, operator of the Palace Theatre in New Braunfels, purchased Klaerner’s Opera House, Dance Hall and Confectionary on Main Street in Fredericksburg. The new owner brought in chairs and a screen and converted the opera house into a movie theatre.
One of the earliest films shown at Stahl’s Palace Theatre in Fredericksburg was a Harold Lloyd silent comedy called “Hot Water,” but two-reel westerns called “oaters” were crowd favorites.
Early westerns shown at the Palace included “The Flying Horseman,” starring Buck Jones; “Man in the Saddle,” starring Hoot Gibson, Faye Wray and Boris Karloff, and “Somewhere in Sonora,” starring Ken Maynard.
In 1928, Stahl announced plans to build a new Palace Theatre on the site of the old one. Demolition began in the summer of 1929. During construction, Stahl showed his movies in a rented building on Llano Street.
The new theatre opened Dec. 23, 1929, four weeks after the stock market crash. The building, with Art Deco-style front, had the latest bells and whistles, including a “Movietone” projection system. Movietone was a technique that recorded sound directly on the film, insuring that the moving pictures and the sound were always in sync.
Equipped with Movietone, the Palace could show “talkies,” although many people believed talking pictures were a fad that wouldn’t last.
The first film at the new Palace was “Sweetie,” a talkie starring Jack Oakey and Helen Kane, the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop” girl.
In the 1930s and ’40s, many children in Fredericksburg belonged to the Popeye Club, named after the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor. Members could see a movie, usually starring Shirley Temple, every Saturday morning for 10 cents.
The Palace presented live performances as well as movies. On Jan. 28, 1930, legendary singer Jimmy Rodgers played the Palace.
In the summer of 1948, the Palace hosted the Hill Country Jamboree, broadcast live on KNAF 1340. Acts included The Texas Tune Wranglers, The Singing Waiters and The Nebgen Sisters.
Marty Robbins chose the Palace as the site for the state premier of his movie Ballad of a Gunfighter on Sept. 6, 1963.
On Dec. 10, 1963, the Palace hosted a live folk music show called a Hootenanny, sponsored by the Jaycees with proceeds to help needy children at Christmas. Several acts cancelled, including the Red River Ramblers and The Night Riders, citing the recent assassination of President Kennedy.
For years, city officials announced the winner of the First Baby of the Year contest from the stage at the Palace. It seems the tradition started in March 1928 when the Palace began showing photographs of local newborn babies on the big screen. The audience voted on the cutest baby. First prize was $5 in gold.
Over the years, the Palace hosted community events, town meetings and concerts. The Palace was a precinct polling place for city, county, state and national elections.
You could witness the changing tastes of America by the kind of movies shown at the Palace.
Abbott and Costello, Westerns and Disney animated movies dominated the 1950s.
The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, Elvis Presley, James Bond and beach movies were popular in the early ’60s. In the late ’60s, Hollywood began making movies with more provocative content. Fredericksburg wasn’t always comfortable with the trend.
On May 18, 1971, local law enforcement officers confiscated the movie, “No Blade of Grass,” shown the night before at the Palace, after parents complained of its language and risqué subject matter.
Over time, people in Fredericksburg forged lifelong relationships at the Palace. Couples went to the Palace on their first date. Parents took their children. Grandparents took grandchildren.
Then, changing economics caused the Palace to close in 2000.
Now there is a new movie house with a bar, seats as comfortable as my recliner, rip-roaring audio-visuals and other amazing amenities.
I have good memories of the Palace although I wonder how I was able to sit through a whole movie without a glass of wine.