McSwain restoration to bring back glory days

Monday, July 14, 2008

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Ada - Extensive renovations designed to restore the McSwain Theatre to a look similar to its glory days in the 1920s are nearing completion.

"I'm excited because it is going to be so elegant," said theatre manager Judy McLellan, Jae L. Stillwell as she is known to McSwain patrons.

Prominent Ada business man Foster McSwain built the theater in 1920.

Mr. McSwain decided to make the theater business a career after he saw his first motion picture in 1910 in Enid.

He worked as a projectionist for a short time before buying the Orpheum Theater in Enid in 1911.

Shortly after coming to Ada in 1917, Mr. McSwain bought the Liberty Theatre, located at 116 West Main. One year later he purchased another Ada theater, the Majestic, and changed the name to the American.

He built the McSwain approximately one year after purchasing property at Main and Townsend.

Prior to the opening of the McSwain, the March 30, 1920, issue of the Ada Evening News anticipated the opening of a "splendid theater."

The local chamber of commerce had planned "to sell the house at fancy prices on the opening date in appreciation of Mr. McSwain and his accomplishment," according to a July 13, 1920, article in the Ada Evening News.

Those plans were postponed because a "first class road show" could not be booked at that time of year.

Instead, the silent film "Suds," starring Mary Pickford, was the first movie screened at the theater when it opened July 19, 1920.

In its early heyday, tickets to various Vaudeville acts and movies would cost patrons 15 to 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.

The McSwain Theatre continued to host events and screen movies into the 1980s.

In 2002, the Chickasaw Nation purchased the theater and began supervising its operation. The Nation is also spearheading the current renovation effort, intended to restore much of the original look of the Spanish mission style building.

Renovation efforts include fitting the historic theater with modern amenities including an elevator and accessibility for handicapped patrons.

Among the plans is a first-floor and balcony seating area that will accommodate 560 patrons. A re-designed stage area with state-of-the-art sound and lighting is also in the works.

The second floor will contain an additional viewing area with a large video screen as well as an art gallery. The third floor will be used for office space.

The annex building, located directly east of the McSwain, will house a 1950s style soda and malt shop, dressing rooms, prop storage and will allow access into the main buildings' art gallery and offices.

Top of the line interior amenities have been selected for the McSwain, including Oak woodwork, high-quality tile and granite countertops are set to adorn the surfaces of the theater.

Aside from the cosmetic improvements, the renovation includes construction that will restore the structural integrity of the buildings.

The famous "McSwain" Main Street marquee is also undergoing a preservation process and will possibly be displayed at another location. Removal of this sign is one element required in making the southern façade look as much like it did in the 1920s as possible.

"I think that everyone will appreciate the renovation and effort that has gone into the McSwain and I hope that it will remain one of the most memorable buildings in Ada," said McLellan.

Work on the heating and air vents, electrical wiring and plumbing have recently been completed. Also nearing completion are the interior wiring and the plumbing on the annex next door.

Renovations are expected to be completed in late summer. A grand re-opening for the theater is tentatively scheduled for December 2008.