An Oklahoma City landmark that entertained generations of moviegoers in the city’s black community is crumbling, but organizers of an upcoming music festival hope to help.
On Saturday, the Jewel Foundation Blues Festival will feature Grammy-winning recording artist Clarence Carter and national blues act Mel Walters, as well as local favorites Garrett “Big G” Jacobson and the Kalazh Band. The festival aims to raise funds to restore the Jewel Theatre at 904 N.E. Fourth.
Built in 1931 by Hathyel and Percy James, the Jewel Theatre was one of three movie theaters in the city’s thriving black business district.
“The Jewel was a beautiful place, a marvelous theater,” said Bruce Fisher, administrative programs officer for the Oklahoma Historical Society.
During segregation, blacks who ventured to mainly white theaters typically were forced to sit in the balcony. But the Jewel Theatre offered an opportunity for black patrons to see the latest films without degradation of having to sit in a specific section or endure racial epithets.
After nearly 30 years in operation, the Jewel Theatre closed in the 1960s. Arthur Hurst bought the building early in the following decade. A retired hairstylist and truck driver, he had fond memories of seeing The Ten Commandments, Alfred Hitchcock thrillers and Korean War newsreels in the movie house.
“Fourth Street was pretty lively,” Hurst said. “It was always exciting to be down there, especially on the weekends.”
His plans to reopen the theater as a vintage movie house never materialized, and the Jewel slowly deteriorated.
Although the theater was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, in March of this year the Oklahoma City Council passed a resolution declaring the building dilapidated.
The nonprofit Jewel Foundation seeks to raise funds to renovate the theater, beginning with a new roof.
“We want to restore it, not only as a movie theater,” said Valerie Hart, the foundation’s president, “but as a place for the community and kids to come and get some tutoring done, or some music or acting lessons.