Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Once and Future Mission

Early days of The Mission Theatre, Dalhart, TX
I was intrigued recently to see my hometown of Dalhart, TX, mentioned frequently in ‘The Dust Bowl’ (2012), the PBS documentary about life on the ravaged American prairie of the 1930s. This topic and All Things Great Depression is one that I’ve generally avoided over the years because it’s, well, depressing.

I had greatly short-changed my education.

As with any Ken Burns production, there’s much to learn and admire. The film weaves a compelling story that makes a fitting companion to ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1940), and not just because narrator Peter Coyote sounds a lot like Henry Fonda.

One of the key things I learned while watching 'The Dust Bowl' was that The Mission Theater (spelled "Theatre" on its old sign) hosted the world premiere of ‘The Plow That Broke The Plains,’ (1936) a U.S. government-produced documentary created to enlighten the public about the effects of improper farming techniques.

This film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, and can be seen in its entirety several places on the web, including, below and also here.

It was interesting to discover this bit of history just a few months after I last stepped inside The Mission, to inspect the results of its conversion into the new home of the Dalhart congregation of Hillside Christian Church.

The building’s redesign was impressive. Though I was sad to see my old hometown lose its movie house, it was exciting to get a look at what its new mission would be.

After the tour, I had the opportunity to speak to the pastor, who made it clear that he, too, understood and appreciated the venue’s history in the community. I was ecstatic when he informed me that they planned to project family-friendly films for the public, on a screen even larger than the one the theater had previously used.

Below are some of the photos I took during the visit. But first, check out the following links that show what the theater looked like just prior to the building renovation.  

Final Google street view before renovation
A profile of the Mission Twins at

A view from across the street in its final months as a movie theater.

A last look at the projection booth.

Several awesome pre-renovation photos from an area photographer.

Inside-out views from

And has a before and after of the front of the building.

Here are my photos of the building after renovation (click to enlarge):

Entry of the church from the front

The kitchen area, looking toward the front of the building, where
young moviegoers used to call their parents to pick them up
Old film reels now gracing the walls along the staircase
A view of the kitchen and upstairs
from the center of the building

A view from the balcony, formerly the projection booth
An old door from back of building,
re-purposed for the upstairs balcony