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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Coming Attraction: New life for an old landmark on North Main

New Isis Theatre

Downtown Cowtown at the Isis

2401 N. Main St.

Fort Worth 76164


According to J’Nell Pate’s Fort Worth Stockyards book, the building traces its roots to a medicine show at the stockyards. Louis Tidball, a North Fort Worth banker, took over the medicine show when the owner was unable to pay off a loan. A film show that was part of the medicine show was a part of the medicine show and Tidball then built the original building in 1914.

The Fort Worth Stockyards may soon have a new old attraction for the hordes of tourists drawn to the center of Cowtown’s heritage.

The long-vacant New Isis Theatre on North Main Street is scheduled for reincarnation with new features and a new name: Downtown Cowtown at the Isis.

“I believe that my entire life’s work has been leading me to this theatre,” said Jeffrey Smith, president and founder of BendOverBackwards LLC, which is planning the restoration. “I am extremely passionate about this project – it is truly a labor of love for me – and I am in it for the long haul. This is where I believe my efforts are different from those that have looked to complete this process before.”

Smith said his company, BendOverBackwards LLC, is in the process of acquiring the 11,780-square-foot building “as we speak.” The Tarrant Appraisal District lists a market value of $438,170 for the location. Aledo investor Larry White Jr. had purchased the building in 2014.

Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University in theatre arts and communications and for more than 35 years has been a theatre teacher, administrator and principal of a high school, and worked as a consultant and advisor to architectural companies in the design and building of performing arts space, said a news release about the renovation.

The original Isis Theater opened May 21, 1914, with a showing of two films, one of them the 1913 movie A Mixup on the Plains, directed by William Duncan and starring Florence Dye and Charles Wheelock. The original building at 2401 N. Main St. burned in 1935 and was rebuilt the following year, taking in two additional lots.

The original building – 18 feet by about 61 feet – was designed by architect Ludwig Bernhardt Weinmann. His grandson, Arthur Weinman, is the chief architect overseeing the renovation. Weinman said he’s “delighted to be working with the current owner on restoration and rehabilitation of the former New Isis Theater.” His grandfather changed the spelling of the last name during World War I.

Weinman wrote and submitted a National Registry of Historic Places nomination for the theater but the Texas Historical Commission has delayed acting on it, he said.

“The building is in ruined condition inside after the roof was lost. The THC has delayed acting on the nomination until the approved restoration and rehabilitation are complete,” Weinman said. “The (1936) expansion included former telegraph office, drugstore and rooming house buildings. Their exterior walls can be seen outlined on the interior bare south wall of the theater.

“The expanded theater seated 950 with what was described as the largest screen in Fort Worth. The restored theater will seat between 450 and 500 guests, [and] will host live musical and theatrical performances at the end of the week with historic western movies shown during the weekdays,” he said.

Some of the projection arc equipment has been found in the theater and original 1914 stencil and painted patterns have been found on interior walls under three layers of subsequent remodels, Weinman said. All will be removed for new period correct interior restoration.

The proposed renovation will result in preservation and modernization of the one-of-a-kind Art Moderne theatre that will include bar, concessions and a private event space in place of the old mezzanine, the news release said.

“I am so excited to bring this unique multi-purpose live entertainment facility back to life and add to the authentic Stockyards experience. The New Isis was once a vibrant part of the fabric of our community, and an important part of our shared past. I can’t wait to share it with new generations,” Smith said.

Weinman’s National Registry document said that the theater sold to L.C. Tidball three or four years after it opened and Tidball operated it for 54 years.

A GoFundMe solicitation launched in September raised little money, but Smith said it was never really publicized and was created quietly “to let folks know we were coming.”

“I believe that as we have turned the corner in our development of the project, we will be able to promote more of an awareness of the campaign’s existence and its purpose,” Smith said. “We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to our project, and many have offered to help out in other means.

“We are hopeful that we can streamline those efforts into simple contributions moving forward,” he said. “Our intent is to create a wall of honor for all of those who have contributed to our efforts to bring this beautiful building back to life.”

Opening is projected for late 2018.

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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