Crighton Theatre History:
70+ Years of History 1934 -2005
The Early Years....
When oil was discovered in Montgomery County in 1934, Conroe Mayor Harry M. Crighton sold his drugstore and went into the oil business. His success in the oil business and his civic pride influenced his desire for a grand theater. In 1934 he hired architect Blum E. Hester to build a movie palace similar to the great Majestic Theatre in Houston using native stone like that of the capitol in Austin. "Stars Over Broadway" starring Pat O'Brien was the featured attraction on opening night, November 26, 1935, in the highly touted and acoustically perfect Crighton Theatre. Students from the Abel School of Dance also performed. Tickets were 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. In order to accommodate vaudeville shows, Hester's design allowed scenery to be flown in the 40 feet of space above the stage. However, vaudeville was on the decline and the Crighton never hosted this form of entertainment. Air conditioning made the Crighton extremely popular during the hot Texas summers. The Crighton flourished for many years but as the drive-in theaters and modern wide screen theaters became popular the audiences grew smaller. The Crighton Theatre was finally closed in the mid-sixties.
In 1976, Frank and Hallie Crighton Guthrie, the owners of the Crighton Theatre, began exploring the possibility of donating the theatre to the County. After discussing the idea with Chuck Stealey, their financial administrator, they asked Stealey to present the idea to Bruce Scott, then president of the Conroe Chamber of Commerce.
The Guthries' only stipulations were that the Crighton name be maintained, that the theatre be primarily used for the performing arts, and that the Little Theatre of Conroe be the resident theater group. The Montgomery County Foundation for the Performing Arts (The Crighton Theatre Foundation) was formed to accept the gift of the old Crighton Theatre on behalf of the residents of Montgomery County.
Upon touring the site the interested parties were shocked at the condition of the building and even wondered if it would be worthwhile to attempt the renovation. The orchestra pit was filled with stagnant water, dead pigeons, rodents, trash and debris. The once beautiful frescos were covered with sound proofing material. The exquisite tiled floor in the lobby was broken and much of the plaster artwork was chipped and broken. But thanks to the vision of architect Harry Devlin, everyone was convinced that the theatre could be restored to its original grandeur.
Rigby Owen took on the massive task of raising the $500,000 needed for the restoration. The Little Theater of Conroe donated $20,000 towards the initial construction and $25,000 to pay off the mortgage. Additional pledges of $ 15,000 from each of the three Conroe banks; Allied Conroe Bank, First National Bank, and First Federal Bank, and a pledge of $30,000 from the residents of Panorama convinced Owen that the goal could be achieved.
The new Walden Country Club offered its facilities and services at no charge to host a major fund raising event Peter Duchin and his orchestra entertained. Formally attired guests were invited to open their purses generously. At first count about $250,000 was pledged. Owen asked guests to dig a little deeper. Remembering their wonderful and sentimental nights spent with friends and loved ones at the old theatre, they pledged $365,000 by the end of the evening. We were on our way and had done it with no grants and no government money.
It is noteworthy that at the same time on the lower level of Walden, another fund raiser was being held. This fund raiser included Hollywood celebrities and stars from the TV series, M.A.S.H.. It had started with a celebrity tennis tournament that afternoon. Their goal was to raise $250,000 for the Diabetes Foundation.
Without help from outside of the community, Conroe had raised $365,000 in one evening. The residents of Montgomery County had come through but they still weren't finished. After the fund raiser at Walden, they continued to provide financial support by purchasing 330 theatre seats for $200 each. The fund raising was a huge success but there was still a lot of work to be done.
The entire community got behind the effort. They shoveled trash and cleaned out the filth that had accumulated over the years. In order to provide facilities for the Little Theater of Conroe for rehearsal areas, costume and prop storage, workshops and dressing rooms, the Hicks Building was purchased. This building was to be attached to the Crighton Theatre building to allow more flexibility in producing shows. The Hicks Building was in even worse shape than the Crighton. Walls were removed, ceilings were replaced, and hundreds of dead birds, rats, bugs, roaches and their droppings were shoveled out by residents from all parts of the community.
Theater designer David Nibbin of Dallas was hired as the technical contractor. State-of-the-art lighting and sound systems were installed. A committee headed by Lucinda Owen and Cynthia Devlin selected the carpeting, seats, wallpaper, and coordinated the overall interior design. However, the original artwork presented the greatest challenge in restoring the theatre to its original glory. Pam Boyer, Sheryl Boroks, and Mary Beth Black, with Sundance Studios, volunteered their considerable talents and time at no charge. They took on the challenge with a passion and developed a hand rubbed technique that produced results even more beautiful than the original paint. All of the work was donated or performed at cost. Except for the blue ceiling with its twinkle lights and some changes in the lobby, the theatre was restored to its original grandeur. "The Crown Jewel"
The result was a theater representative of a Venetian Garden. The spectacular accomplishment was referred to as "The Crown Jewel of Montgomery County" by the local press. With the restoration complete, the opening "Gala Week" festivities were held. The Houston Symphony with local singer Leslie Guinn opened the festivities on January 25, 1979. The Conroe Chorale along with the Jan Pierce Dance Studio and Bill Wilson's Orchestra performed on January 27. The Tidelanders, a men's barbershop chorus, performed the night of January 28. On February 1, 2, and 3, the first theatrical performance by the newly named Crighton Community Playhouse (formerly the Little Theater of Conroe) was presented. "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia", a spoof about a small Texas town, seemed appropriate.
Over the last 15 years, more than 100 stage productions by the Crighton Players and numerous professional performances by the Montgomery County Performing Arts Society and The Sounds of Texas Music Series have been held in the restored Crighton Theatre to the delight of the residents of Montgomery and the surrounding counties.
In 1999, the city of Conroe determined it was of utmost importance that all of downtown be restored. The restoration began with all newly bricked sidewalks and new lampposts. The Crighton Theatre would remain the centerpiece of downtown. Building facades are being restored making the experience of "going to the theatre" even more exciting. With your help, you can continue the glorious history for the Crighton Theatre - The Crown Jewel of Montgomery County