Above: In DHS art student Gay Ku Paw’s vision of a restored Star Theater, the building’s Art Deco features would be highlighted. She was one of four students whose works were selected as part of a possible movement to restore the theater on the corner of Porter Avenue and 7th Street.
When Chelby Rhoades, a junior at Dumas High School, drives by the old Star Theater on the corner of Porter Avenue and 7th Street, she sees a crumbling building with plywood Band Aids that hide holes in the wounded glass front. Peeling paint reveals the façade’s brick bones that were never intended to see the light of day, and the metal siding from a long-ago renovation is falling away, as if the building were rejecting it and anything else not true to its Art Deco origins.
But Rhoades’ great-grandmother, Delma Corbin, would have seen something else when she worked at the Star Theater decades ago. When it was built in the 1930s, it was a state-of-the-art theater, a haven for Moore County people weary of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Movies helped them escape, if only for an hour or so, a shattered economy and the dirt and sand that blasted them during the storms. The theater Corbin worked in long ago would have appeared lavish in a town only decades old with a handful of buildings of architectural significance, and her great-granddaughter might be part of a movement to save it.
DHS art students in Selenda Hightower’s class recently expressed their ideas through drawings of what the restored Star’s façade could look like. Four of the students’ works were selected as finalists, each containing details that will be gathered into one final drawing Hightower will complete. Rhoades, Draco Mendoza, Gay Ku Paw and Leslie Mendoza envisioned a façade lighted with neon and embellished with stars, its Deco features highlighted with paint.
“I was inspired by a building in Odessa,” Leslie Mendoza said of her drawing. “It has a lot of neon inside and has big letters. It would be fun to have something like that in Dumas.”
Leslie Mendoza added large letters that spell out Star Theater on the top of the building. She envisions a restored theater with minimal embellishments that wouldn’t compete with the large letters. The design is balanced.
Rhoades said Las Vegas inspired her, as she added neon flamingos and neon tendrils above the theater’s entrance. She highlighted the building’s Egyptian features, a common motif in Deco architecture, and brings out the original tile over two shops that anchor the building. Those shops were covered with metal siding when the building was renovated and turned into a bowling alley.
Draco Mendoza and Ku Paw drew the Star as they envisioned it at nighttime. Ku Paw added lampposts and restored the theater’s sign, as did Draco, who said he grew up watching a lot of old movies and saw the buildings’ decorations. He concentrated on bringing out the theater’s Deco elements.
“It’s really important that we try to save the theater because Amarillo talks about how they have the Cadillac Ranch,” Draco said. “But we have the Star Theater.”
Ku Paw also would advocate for a restoration.
“It’s more important to remodel than to destroy,” she said.
Rhoades, who has something of a tie to the building through her great-grandmother doesn’t want the building to be razed and turned into something as bleak as a parking lot.
“We need to save it,” Rhoades said. “It would be a beautiful building and would be noticed by people driving through town. It would bring money into town.”
Just as it did 80 years ago.