A nod to the past: Law firm renovates former Arcadia Theater, keeps several design elements

Published on Sunday, 31 August 2014 23:43 - Written by Kelly Gooch, kgooch@tylerpaper.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in an occasional series of stories about renovation projects that have taken place in and around downtown.

A theater theme abounds at the Martin Walker law firm office building.

From a film canister and projector to movie seats and pictures, there are plenty of old cinema keepsakes throughout.

It all points to the history of the building, at 121 N. Spring St. that once housed the old Arcadia Theater.

The Arcadia opened Oct. 15, 1925, and showed the very first “talking motion picture” in Tyler on Feb. 13, 1929, according to information received from the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

The theater had 585 seats and was one of many theaters lining that street at the time.

The theater had a small lobby and small balcony and closed its doors in 1992 after a brief run showing classic films.

A coffee shop operated in that location from 2005 to 2007.

Attorney Reid Martin said the Martin Walker law firm purchased the building in February 2013 and subsequently started renovating — a project that took less than a year to complete.

Beverly Abell, city of Tyler Main Street Department leader, previously said the theater property is one of quite a few renovation projects, from residential to commercial to multi-use, that have taken place in and around downtown and has been nominated for Best Interior with the Texas Downtown Association’s President’s Awards program.

Patrick Deen, owner of Tierra Roja Energy Services, helped with design work.

In doing the project, he said the goal was to retain some of the design elements that were in the old theater and to try to maintain the volume of the building.

Deen said the goal also was to try to make it a functional space and create a space that not only could be used for offices but also for other events downtown.

“It’s nice to be downtown as lawyers of course, and with this type of exposure, it’s nice for us to have a place here where people get to see our name every day,” Martin said.

“But we were really interested in the downtown revitalization that’s going on and trying to help with that. (Attorney) Jack (Walker, III) and I are both from Tyler. We both went to Robert E. Lee (High School) and grew up here and came back to raise our families and practice law, so it’s kind of a neat fit for us.”

As part of the renovation, walls were put in at the front of the building.

Martin said the walls close off the area where coffee was made and sold, and close off where the coffee shop restrooms were. Smoked glass also was put in at the front, and some commercial kitchen equipment is still found in what is now the law firm’s break room.

Since the previous owners redid the front part of the building, the law firm didn’t have to do a lot of things there, Martin said.

However, the firm did find some old theater items, such as a film canister, which are incorporated into the front area.

Hanging on walls throughout the building are pictures from the Smith County Historical Society of the Arcadia Theater.

In the main office area, there is an original projector from the 1930s, as well as two movie seats from the original theater.

According to background information, stage shows also occurred at the Arcadia. Martin said the law firm decided to turn the stage into a conference room, which features a picture of the courtroom scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the back wall. Floors also were leveled as part of the renovation, he said.

Upstairs from the conference room is where popcorn was made when the building was a theater, he said.

He said the Arcadia Theater was the only theater in downtown Tyler that made popcorn, so workers there would go out the back door and take popcorn to other theaters.

The area where popcorn was once made is now a bar.

There also is artwork upstairs.

Martin said the upstairs is used for parties and other functions, and he has been letting local artists display their artwork on that level.

Skylights also were installed to bring in natural light, and doors were added upstairs, he said. Through the doors are another conference room and more office space.

Martin said the newly renovated building overall is a unique place to work for lawyers and staff and plays a role in downtown revitalization.

“I think it’s important that our downtown in Tyler be revitalized,” Martin said. “Even though everything’s moving south, I think it’s important that you have a strong downtown presence, and I think there are a lot of people down here that are doing it. … I just think that helps keep the history of Tyler known to the people that are living here.”

He added, “For repurposing old downtown buildings, I think this was a perfect fit and a pretty unique thing to do with an old movie theater.”


This report includes excerpts from Tyler Morning Telegraph archives.