Located on the southwest corner of Main and Davis Streets in
Lavaca, the Gem Theater was quite an operation.
The building was first owned by Charlie and Lou Moore. A general store operated by a Mr. Moore and Mr.
Ingram ran in the building for several years.
The store changed hands many, many times until Mr. Lacey Berkley bought
out the stock from the last renter, Mr. Vin Farmer. Berkley ran a grocery store there himself for
several years, renting it for twelve dollars a month. After a year, Berkley purchased the building.
In the 1930s, Berkley was approached by Clint Dunn who wanted
to curtain off the back of the store and run a movie theater. Dunn used to show silent films on the side of
the livery stables down the street.
Feeling adventurous and spurred by the idea of talking moving pictures,
the men moved feed sacks and grocery goods to the back of the store and then
they were in business. Customers sat on
benches and, many nights, the building was so crowded that they had to sit on
the floor. Business was so good, in
fact, that they moved the store to the building next door so they could use the
entire building as a theater. They
opened the doors two days a week on Saturdays and Tuesdays, showing a different
film each day. The admission price was
Sometimes kids would sneak into the movies by hiding in the
sacks and shelves of the store behind the curtains before they moved next
doors. The kids would quietly sneak from
behind the curtain and sit in the floor in the front when the lights were
dimmed and the movie began. Berkley was
on constant guard. Several citizens
recall that Berkley caught one of several boys on night who had stolen their
way into the theater. Berkley gave him a
spanking with an eighteen-inch piece of boot strap leather in from of the movie
The theater was bought out eventually by Carl Dozier. The theater was very popular for patrons in
and around Lavaca. Chores were
done. Pop bottles were sold. Chickens were stolen and sold. If there was
any way to make a dime, it was done to pay the admission to the theater.
The death toll for the Gem Theater and other small town
theaters was the popularity of television in the 1950s. Someone once said, “People quit coming to the
movies when the movies started coming to them.”
In its last four years of business, the building was used as a
karate club, a fabric shop and a western store.
Berkley sold the building to Leon Brown in 1972. Leon sold it to Roger Cook for $3000 just a
few months before the building was torn down. A branch of the Farmer’s Bank is
now standing in its place.
There are many more tales of mischief, fun and romance that
could be told in Lavaca and the Gem Theater was a big part of most of them.