At a time when politicians and pundits are talking about change and moving forward at every opportunity nationwide, there is a growing movement in nearby Cleveland to keep a part of the past from being bulldozed by progress. The Texan Theater in downtown Cleveland opened in January 1939, and thanks to owner Cliff Dunn, it looks much the same inside and out. Unfortunately, the Texan will be closing soon unless supporters can raise $86,000 to upgrade its equipment to show movies in digital format, because movies will no longer be available in the 35 mm format the theater’s equipment has used for decades. Over the past couple of years, Dunn says it has become increasingly difficult to get movies in the old format, and some movies were only available in digital, leaving him without the option of ordering them. The $86,000 may sound like a lofty goal without much time, but those determined to make it happen are confident and already have benefits planned.
The iconic theater is one of the last remnants of a bygone era, when small town movie theaters were locally owned and operated, and showed one movie that usually changed weekly- a time when parents felt safe allowing their children to go there alone, and it was still affordable. Much of the reason people are joining forces to keep The Texan open can be attributed to their loyalty to Cliff Dunn, who is also one of the last remnants of that more innocent era.
Dunn has kept the prices for first-run movies at $5 for adults and $3 for children, with the most expensive concession item only $3 for an enormous bucket of popcorn. Dunn says he loves what he does and is not interested in making a fortune from it. He has further vowed to keep his low prices, if he is able to convert to digital and remain open.
Each week, the 80-year-old owner personally records the phone message announcing the movie and movie times, along with ticket prices and the name of the upcoming movie. Dunn also cheerfully greets people at the door each night taking their admission and sometimes works the concessions stand as well. Many parents still feel safe dropping off their children to catch a movie, which Bob Steely says is probably due largely to Dunn’s ritual of standing outside the theater after the movie until every child has been picked up and is safely on their way. He is known for his kindness and generosity, and is considered by many to be as much a fixture in Cleveland as his theater. Many of the children became familiar with the theater through school field trips when Dunn showed movies free of charge to the school districts or children, at his own expense.
Steely, one of Dunn’s closest friends and biggest supporters, is leading the charge to save The Texan. He and Dunn have a morning ritual of meeting for coffee and starting the day with a nice visit. It was over coffee Dunn told Steely he had learned the industry’s shift to entirely digital movies was coming much sooner than originally anticipated and he was unsure of what to do. Steely was distraught at the news and relayed the information to his wife, Carolyn.
It was Carolyn Steely, who happened upon a USA Today article about people in another small American town trying to save their theater from the same fate through fundraising efforts, and went to her husband.
“She said, Bob – this is what we need to do for Cliff,” Steely said.
They believe God made Mrs. Steely notice that article, which was something she would never have read normally, so they would realize there was still something they could do to help Cliff Dunn keep his theater open.
Bob Steely says there are two good reasons to save The Texan. One reason is the theater itself, opening the year World War II began and a part of the city’s history and generations of people’s memories.
The other reason, Steely said, is Cliff Dunn. The entrepreneur, who is the friendly voice on the theater’s phone and the friendly face at the door, also has an extraordinary history. He was one of five children, born to a share cropper who died of a heart attack in 1935 when Cliff was only 3. It was around the time of the Great Depression and families with both parents were unable to make ends meet. Dunn’s mother could not handle five children alone. She left the youngest three, including Dunn, at an orphanage. No one adopted him, and around the age of 11, Dunn ran away and lived on the streets of El Dorado, Arkansas. Somehow, the boy survived until he was old enough to enlist in the United States Air Force.
Updates on fundraising efforts and other information can be found on the “Save The Texan” Facebook page. Please find that page, click “like” and share it.
To learn what movie is showing at The Texan, call 281-592-6464.