Eric Standridge is a historian and author who focuses on Oklahoma's history, with an emphasis on LeFlore County and Poteau.
Theater Origins in Poteau
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, there was a number of entertainment options in Downtown Poteau, Oklahoma. The first theater in Poteau was very Shakespearean in style. Called the Air Dome Theater, this was an open air theater that drew in people from miles around.
Besides theaters, Poteau also had a number of pool halls and other entertainment options. One of the best known of the time was the Poteau Opera House, which was located in the bottom floor of the McKenna Building. Ironically, the upstairs area was home of the Indian Territory Federal Courthouse, where Judge William H. H. Clayton presided for a time.
During the early 1900's, around 1910, what would come to be known as the Victory Theater was established.
The Comet Theater
First build around 1910, what would come to be known as the Victory Theater started life as a vaudeville stage. Known as the Comet Theater, this was the largest theater in the area.
Moving Pictures come to Poteau
The Comet Theater was to be short lived. With the popularity of moving pictures, the vaudeville stage no longer captured the public attention. In an effort to remain competitive, the owners constructed a smaller building next door and moved in a moving pictures theater, which took over the name of the Comet Theater.
After the new Comet Theater opened, the old vaudeville stage was closed and converted in to a new, state-of-the-art theater, complete with second floor balconies. While construction was going on, World War I broke out. Prior to the end of the war, the old Comet Theater reopened under the name of the Victory Theater. The building that was next door was gutted and sold, which then became a drug store.
The Comet Theater in Poteau around 1910
The Victory Theater and President Kennedy
The Victory Theater in Poteau continued to gain popularity. During World War II, it was a favorite destination point for troops stationed at Ft. Smith. During that time, the furthest that they were allowed to go during leave was Poteau.
Nearly 20 years later, the area surrounding the Victory Theater became host to one of the countries most celebrated presidents. Prior to President Kennedy's dedication at Big Cedar, Sen. Kerr had all of the official government cars lined up downtown. Flags representing every state were flown from masts drilled in to the sidewalk. Most obvious of all was the Victory Theater. The theater was decked out in U.S. flags and had the giant marque that read "Welcome President Kennedy".
The Victory Theater Fire
During the 1960's and 1970's, the Victory Theater reached it's high point. By the mid-70's, the aging building had seen over 60 years of service and was showing wear. Still, it had outlasted the Ritz Theater and the Kemp Theater. After the Drive In theater opened, it still drew in people from all throughout the area. It had gone through desegregation and weathered that storm. But it was due for some major upgrades.
The end of the Victory Theater came in 1981. At this time, a small fire broke out in the back of a nearby bar.
Larry Young Young recalls the fire, "It started in the back of the bar. Spread to theater. Spread rapidly through theater through some old windows on the second floor... Spread to 2nd floor of Wright's Drug Store. It was stopped by flooding Wrights. Not much fire damage in Wrights, but total loss from water. Fire spread west to Holtons building. Got so hot in the alley behind bar that Holtons Hardware paint Dept caught on fire. Remember the ammunition in Holtons exploding."
The fire quickly spread through the adjacent buildings. All the firefighters could do was watch as historic building after historic building was engulfed in flames. As the fire reached Holton's Hardware, ammunition sold in that building began to ignite, sending people diving for cover.
In all, almost an entire city block was destroyed by that fire.
Following the fire, a group of local business men banded together to rebuild the heart of downtown. Today, Dewey Plaza serves as a sad reminder of one of Poteau's most iconic landmarks.
Learn more: Get The Birth of Poteau
- The Birth of Poteau: A History of the Early Days of Poteau, Oklahoma: Mr. Eric L Standridge, Mr. Geo
The Birth of Poteau: A History of the Early Days of Poteau, Oklahoma [Mr. Eric L Standridge, Mr. George B Shaw] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The Birth of Poteau is a tale of one of the most fascinating towns in Eastern Oklahom
© 2015 Eric Standridge
Lin from USA on November 16, 2015:
It is amazing how a building can have such an interesting rich history. Thank you for sharing.