That “Haltom” sign has looked lonely for years. Sitting atop an 85-year-old brown-bricked building on East Belknap Street, the bright red marquee hasn’t changed since the opening of The Haltom Theater, Dec. 7, 1941, also known as the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Haltom Theater became a popular spot in this Fort Worth suburb despite the opening’s misfortunate timing. The movie house’s heyday lasted through the 1950s before dwindling in the 1960s. Someone transformed the structure into a furniture store and video-rental shop in the 1980s. Those businesses played out about 15 years ago, leaving the structure vacant and forlorn.
The still-handsome red sign served as a reminder of old glories and a beacon for a group of five investors who are envisioning a revival.
“This has been a labor of love,” said Chaz Buchanan, who began revamping the property in July along with his parents, Richard and Judy Buchanan, and friends Janice Ashley and Darnell Smith.
To establish the new business, the investors say they put up about $250,000 of their own money, secured $60,000 in community development grants from the city, and have spent hundreds of hours renovating the interior. They’ve done most of the construction work themselves.
“We put our blood, sweat, and tears into this,” Chaz said. “It’s a beautiful investment. We can’t wait for this building to open. It’s been around for nearly 100 years, and we think it will be around for another 100 years.”
The business made sense to them for many reasons: They love movies. Building things. Preserving history. Making money. Having a sense of purpose.
Haltom Theater’s latest incarnation will be unlike any other North Texas venue that comes to mind. The space is divided into three main sections. A theater with a surround sound audio system will show movies on a 30-foot screen on Mondays through Thursdays. On weekends, the theater will transform into a live venue featuring bands, acting troupes, comedians, and, once a month, wrestling.
Wrestling nights will feature “at least two big-name talents,” Chaz said, along with local wrestlers in a professional ring.
For movie nights, the theater will have about 300 seats, many of which will be removed before live events to make room for about 800 spectators.
Another room will feature a full bar with Wi-Fi.
Yet another room will serve as a buffet-style family restaurant with a salad bar.
On a recent afternoon, I dropped by the theater and found three of the five investors using power tools and stirring up dust as they readied the theater for its opening. Initially, they hoped to open by the Dec. 7 anniversary, but work has taken longer than anticipated. Now they are shooting for March.
Wooden booths with leather-covered seats were recently installed in the restaurant. In a corner of the room, three rows of theater seats were lined up, still waiting to be bolted to the floor. A small theater is being built in that room as well.
“We can do Saturday morning cartoons for the kids,” he said. “Football Sundays. People can sit down and watch on a big screen.”
That means customers will be able to have dinner, watch a movie, and see a band –– or wrestling –– without ever leaving the building.
A large field behind the building will be paved into a parking lot for 250 vehicles.
The investors have varied backgrounds to rely on for expertise. Chaz Buchanan is a Dallas-based filmmaker. His father is a construction company superintendent, and his mother is a teacher.
Ashley and Smith owned and operated the Dodge City Dinner Theater in Canton for years until a massive fire in 2015 destroyed the building and many others.
Haltom Theater is one of several old movie houses in Tarrant County currently being pegged for renovations, including the Hollywood and New Isis venues. Chaz isn’t surprised.
“When you talk about old historic buildings, they have such an allure and art deco stylings that are timeless and classic,” he said. “There are not many historic buildings left in the Metroplex. When you have a chance to go to a historic building, it makes the experience that much different. It almost feels like you are going back in time. We are going to have the best of both worlds.”
The building’s basic structure, foundation, and roof were in good shape, he said. The owners are gutting and rebuilding almost everything else. They removed the ugly drop-ceilings to expose the original wood rafters.
Haltom City officials issued grants to the theater in hopes of stimulating more growth in the area. The Texas Department of Public Transportation rebuilt intersections near East Belknap and U.S. 377 not long ago, opening new spots for potential development.
“The Haltom Theater has a lot of history there,” said Rex Phelps, assistant city manager. “It is part of the fiber of what Haltom City is all about.”
City officials showed their faith in the owners by investing about 25 percent of the city’s $200,000 annual economic development grant money to the theater.
“They have put a lot of sweat equity in that place,” Phelps said. “They’ve come a long way in a short time. We’re excited about it.”
So is Chaz Buchanan.
“It’s unfortunate that some people don’t see Haltom City for what it is, which is a beautiful community of people who are really tight-knit and care about their city,” he said. “We are on the ground floor of a possible rejuvenation of this little area right here in the next five to 10 years to have a booming arts district.”
He envisions something along the lines of the Bishop Arts District, a collection of boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, bars, and theaters in North Oak Cliff in Dallas.
“What we ultimately want to be is the place for entertainment in the Mid-Cities,” Buchanan said.