Tuesday, July 07, 2009
by Carrie Bradshaw-Buckley
ADA - As the grand opening of the newly renovated McSwain Theatre approaches, many local residents are reliving the anticipation associated with the theatre during its heyday.
“Going to the McSwain was something everybody looked forward to,” said Ruby June (McSwain) Scott. “It was a big family outing.”
Mrs. Scott, a Chickasaw elder, said seeing “Gone with the Wind” at the McSwain is one of her favorite memories of the theatre.
She remembers snuggling under a blanket as she rode in a horse-drawn wagon from the family farm south of Ada, to downtown.
Foster McSwain, Mrs. Scott’s first cousin, first opened the theatre which bears his name in 1920.
Mrs. Scott was born in 1918 and began going to the McSwain with her parents when she was seven or eight years old. The family, like the rest of the theatre patrons, would always dress in their finest attire for a night out on the town.
“The shops used to stay open later on Saturday because people from the surrounding areas used to come into Ada, go to the McSwain and celebrate the day.”
When Mrs. Scott and her future husband were courting, he would come all the way to her house (near present-day Kerr Lab Road) from Latta either by horse or wagon. The couple would then head to the McSwain to see a show.
Another long-time Ada resident, Billie Floyd, recalls how the McSwain became a hub of entertainment in her life and the lives of other area residents.
“The McSwain was the place to go,” she said. “It was where everybody went on their dates.”
Before she was old enough to go to the McSwain with her beau, Mrs. Floyd and her friends would ride their bikes to the McSwain and park them in the racks in front of the theater.
“After you bought your ticket, you weren’t allowed to enter the theater until the previous showing had ended.”
Instead, she said, patrons would sit in the plush mezzanine and wait for the movie to begin.
She recalls ushers, armed with flashlights, who would escort movie goers to their red velvet chairs. Cartoons and weekly news reels were shown prior to every movie.
Both children and adults were expected to be on their best behavior.
“You had to be dressed, you wouldn’t dare wear jeans,” she said. “And you had to sit straight up in your chair.”
Foster McSwain would often host giveaway promotions, such as coffee pots, waffle irons and even televisions.
“On the night of the drawing, there was always a huge crowd.”
When Mrs. Floyd got a little older, the McSwain turned from a venue for family entertainment into a place for a romantic night out.
“Couples would walk together up from East Central to the McSwain,” she said.
“A lot of them would sit in the balcony for extra privacy—until the ushers came along!”
Mrs. Scott’s daughter, Mary Ruth Barnes, has similar memories of the famed theater. She is anxiously awaiting the re-establishment of the facility as a hub of entertainment for Southeastern Oklahoma.
“The McSwain has a heritage that won’t stop,” said the Ada resident.
“The theater is a landmark,” she said. “But unlike other landmarks that are easy to pass by, this landmark is very alive.”
Scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25, the grand opening will feature the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party ’09 tour with country recording artists Mark Wills, Jeff Bates, and Trent Willmon.
Tickets go on sale July 6. For more information on tickets or the McSwain Theatre, visit http://www.mcswaintheatre.com/ or call the McSwain office at (580) 332-8108.