MINEOLA — Throughout 93 years, many great movie stars visited Mineola through its Select Theater.
Barbara Musgraves and Sharon Chamblee were an integral part of finding the film's director, Mark Eversole, and preserving the historic structure.
He crossed paths with Ms. Musgraves, who worked for six years to get the train to stop in Mineola. At a railroad meeting, she mentioned the theater to the semi-retired writer and documentary film producer, and he agreed to do the film pro bono.
“There was a certain appeal about the theater,' Eversole said. “I've never done one on a theater and the more I talked to the people, the enthusiasm became infectious.
“The thing that struck me was there was common thread among the pride, the spirit and the enthusiasm,” he said. “It was just over and over and over. … You talk to one or two, and then you talk to 40, and there is the same thread throughout. I thought that was wonderful.”
Ms. Musgraves said the theater, opened in 1920 by Maddie and R.T. Hooks, is deeply engrained in the lives of Mineola townspeople.
The showplace was built in 1920, and the Hooks remodeled it in 1948 to what it looks like today, Mrs. Chamblee said.
Martha Holmes, 52, was practically raised in the cinema. Her father, James Dear, was a longtime presence in the theater.
Deer began working at the Select as a teenager, and after he returned from World War II, he was promoted to manager, Mrs. Chamblee said. He remained the manager until 1961, when he and his business partner, Truman Thomas, purchased it from the Hooks. The pair kept operations going until they both retired in the early 1980s.
Mrs. Holmes said when she was growing up, the theater was the only place to see movies in the county, and it became a large social hub for people to meet and mingle.
The single screen showed two movies a week as well as news reels. There also was a wooden stage in front of the screen that was commonly used by the community for hay shows and children's plays, she said.
There also were special events, and Mrs. Holmes remembered fondly when animal documentaries would be played. She said in those days, television programming such as National Geographic and Animal Planet did not exist.
“They might be on Wednesday or the middle of the week, and the whole theater would be packed with kids and families to come see the documentaries on animals and different wildlife, and it was a big deal,” she said.
Probably the hardest part of having your father own a regular entertainment spot was dating, Mrs. Holmes said.
“My dad had this flashlight that he would stick in the back of his pocket, and if he thought (misbehaving) was going on … he would flash that flashlight,” she said. “I thought no one would ever want to date me because they didn't want the flashlight on them. Everyone feared my (dad's flashlight).”
Deer and Thomas donated the theater to the Lake Country Playhouse, a nonprofit group that puts on theatrical productions, and the show has never stopped rolling, Mrs. Holmes said.
Today, the theater showcases a different current film each weekend. The Lake Country Playhouse also showcases plays four to five times a year and hosts periodic musical events. The next one “Rebel Yells” is slated for the weekend of April 19 to 26.
Once it transferred ownership to the Lake Country Playhouse, the group diligently worked to restore it to its 1948 glamour. Mrs. Chamblee said the carpet was replaced in the 1980s, and the walls were repainted near the 1990s, she said.
Reproductions of the original seating were installed in 2001 to replace damaged and worn-out seats.
Extensive bathroom renovations were finished in 2008, and this year, a new digital projector was put in, Mrs. Chamblee said.
Many renovations were funded through the philanthropic organization The Meredith Foundation, which Dear was the executive director of for more than two decades, Mrs. Holmes said.
Once the documentary about the theater is shown to its premier audience in Mineola, Ms. Musgraves said the organization plans to submit it to independent film festivals, starting with the California Film and Wine Festival in April. It also could be used for marketing, tourism and educational purposes.
Eversole said it is impossible to watch the film without feeling the energy, enthusiasm and love of the town.
“It's a reflection of the town,” he said. “It's just a building, (but) the people have an energy. … (There is) something about Mineola, (there) must be something in the water.”