A 'Jewel' In the Rough, or Dilapidated?

Friday, March 9th 2012, 7:25 pm
By: News 9

A piece of Oklahoma City's history is in jeopardy, its fate hanging on a city council decision.

Oklahoma City's Jewel Theater is all that's left of the once-bustling black business district along NE 4th St.  It was opened in 1931 by Percy James, one of the district's early entrepreneurs.  The James family also owned other theaters and the old Jay-Kola soda company that lasted until the 1960s.

Arthur Hurst bought the Jewel Theater in the 1970s after it had closed down.  He planned to restore it but never did.  He remembers the good times he had at the Jewel as a kid, like getting a movie ticket and popcorn both for just fifteen cents.  He can also talk about how "The Ten Commandments" forced some changes at the theater.

"They had to build a larger screen," said Hurst.  "They had air conditioning put in it."

These days Hurst sees the old theater as an old friend, one that he drives by every day.

"I ride by and check on her two or three times a day," laughed Hurst.

But Hurst knows the Jewel's fate is no laughing matter.  Just recently he received a letter from the city of Oklahoma City inquiring about the condition of the old theater.  He's since had conversations with a city inspector.  City council will discuss the theater in its meeting next Tuesday to determine if the building is dilapidated.

"I need to pick up the pace as far as gettin' it restored," said Hurst.  "It kinda puts an emergency thing on it."

The Jewel Theater is on Oklahoma's Historic Register as well as the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn't make it untouchable.  In fact, being on the National Register offers little to no protection when a local entity like the city is involved. 

Hurst and his daughter are working on getting non-profit status for the old theater in order to apply for grants to restore it.  Hurst knows time is running out for his old friend, but thinks that tearing it down would be a terrible mistake.

"I think it would be a big loss," said Hurst.  "Not only to the neighborhood, but to the city also."