The Odeon Theater, built in 1928, is the longest continually operating theater in west Texas. The building is located on Mason's beautifully refurbished courthouse square in a National Historic Register District. Mason was the home of one of the original forts guarding the Texas frontier settlements during the mid-nineteenth century. The Odeon was the site of a special premier showing of the Disney movie " Old Yeller" based on the book by Mason native Fred Gibson, and the worldwide premier of a second movie "Savage Sam" based on one of his books. Mr. Gibson spent most of his life in Mason. From this small community his books, and the movies based on them, have been spread throughout the entire world in many languages
In 1994, the then building owner had plans to level the sloping theater floor and convert the building to uses other than movies. Many local Mason residents could not stand to see this happen to a structure with such a colorful historic past without exerting a concentrated effort to maintain the theater. In fact, the school children of Mason were among the first to question the closing and future use of this building and to express a need and desire for a theater. This was the impetus for the project and for the formation of the Odeon Preservation Association (OPA).
From the beginning, one of the main goals of OPA, beyond renovating the Odeon, has been to provide local entertainment and cultural facilities for the youth of Mason and its surrounding areas. The Odeon was the only movie theater in a four-county area around Mason. Travel distances for movies, live theater or musical events were too great for most youth to go to big cities for regular weekend entertainment. Local wholesome weekend entertainment facilities for Mason youth were greatly needed. Many of the fund raising would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and volunteer efforts of these teenagers and their friends.
Citizen interest and motivation extended beyond the preservation of the theater alone. Mason County is located in a rural area of Texas (1990 population of 3,423), isolated from many cultural events because of distance. Thus, citizens see the Odeon not only as a movie house, but also as a facility to provide other cultural exposure for Mason and area residents, both youth and adults. Theater, dance, and music performances otherwise available only at a 100+ mile distance can be presented in this building. Availability of a performance space will foster the formation of local acting and musical companies. Mason's German, Anglo-Irish, and Spanish heritage will find voice and be preserved through presentations already being discussed. When renovated, the structure will be completely accessible to people with disabilities, and will provide cultural opportunities otherwise unavailable to people of limited economic means. (Mason is considered an economically disadvantaged county, with a large segment of its population at or below the poverty level.) The project will also provide an economic boost to the community by employing local labor for the renovations.
The Odeon building was purchased by the Odeon Preservation Association (OPA) in 1994, made possible with a loan from Mason National Bank. To repay the loan, OPA had over a dozen various fund raisers which included a BBQ dinner, silent auction, Halloween spook house, garage sales, Mason High School band concert, car washes, drawings, and dances. OPA has also had individual contributor/sponsor contributions from over 400 local and non-resident individuals and businesses. In addition, volunteers, including many youth of Mason County, spent many unpaid hours putting on these fund raisers and also cleaning up the interior of the building.
The building, while largely intact, was in need of some repairs. The exits, rest rooms, seating, and electrical system needed to be modernized to meet current fire/safety codes. The heating and air conditioning systems needed to be replaced. The sound and projection systems were usable, but inadequate for long term goals and live performances. The stage needed to be enlarged for live theater productions. Long range goals also included the addition of a building to be constructed adjacent to the stage for dressing rooms and storage. A feasibility study for the remodeling of the Odeon Theater was completed in May, 1995, by Chartier Newton & Associates, Architects, funded from grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts and Texas Rural Communities, Inc.
The OPA planned to complete the project in as timely a manner as possible. Of course, the availability of funding was paramount in structuring a time table for re-opening of the building for entertainment purposes.
As a special project for Mason's Roundup Weekend in July, 1995, the face of the building and the marquee were repainted, and most notably, the neon lighting was restored. Tony and Jennifer Greer, owners of Special Effects Neon Sign Company of Lubbock, spent two long days in 100 degree heat replacing all of the neon lighting on the building and marquee. This project began with an on-site visit to the Odeon early in the spring. The work was then continued in their workshop in Lubbock, where the system was designed from scratch and glass tubing was blown and bent before being carefully transported to Mason for installation. The neon has been restored to authentic late 1940's appearance. A single addition has been made in the form of a circle which highlights the theater's 1928 emblem near the top of the building. This special project not only was a very visual example that progress is being made on the Odeon renovations, but now gives OPA a marquee for communications with Mason residents.