Long Theatre

Polk Avenue and 4th Street,
Keyes, OK 73947

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dallasmovietheaters on September 13, 2019 at 4:19 am

The Long Theatre opened May 31, 1947 with the film “Trail Street.” Historically, the theatre opened as Hollywood’s Golden Era was ending and the TV age was about to begin. An oil boom post-War both was the reason the theatre was established and would help the theatre survive as population increased by almost 90% by decade’s end and added another 60% by the end of the 1950s. But that growth was followed by population declines which were among the reasons the theater’s viability became more challenging. The theatre eventually closed and the town’s population began a descent taking it to around its pre-oil boom size.

bwellsok on July 15, 2018 at 6:27 pm

A gofundme has been setup at https://www.facebook.com/184954942217755/posts/195453434501239/

bwellsok on July 15, 2018 at 2:06 pm


bwellsok on July 15, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Editor’s Note: The following story was compiled from the memories and journals of Bill and Sylvia Long’s children, Ferol Riggs, the late Betty Aaron and Billie Grabeal. The story was written by Kristi Grabeal Hayes, granddaughter of the late Bill and Sylvia Long.

KEYES, Okla. — Lewis W. “Bill” Long lived the American dream and wanted a better life for his wife Sylvia and daughters Ferol, Betty and Billie and brought a small piece of Hollywood to the tiny Oklahoma Panhandle town of Keyes. The old, abandoned Long Theatre that sits quietly on Fourth Street and Polk Avenue is undergoing some major repairs with the hopes it will once again delight movie-goers of all ages, thanks to the hard work and determination of owner Blake Wells.
You can even get a sneak peak of what to expect in the future at the theatre on Saturday, July 7 when the Long Theatre will shine once again … but more on that later. The Early Years In early fall of 1946, an unexpected early blizzard hit the Oklahoma Panhandle, killing 175 head of newly-purchased cattle. It was then that Bill Long realized that farming and cattle raising was not the only way of life. Oldest daughter Ferol Riggs said, “We were living on the farm 15 miles esat of Keyes when dad began pondering the idea of opening a theatre in Keyes. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Keyes was a growing town out in the middle of nowhere. They were building a huge helium plant northeast of town. The oil companies were drilling for oil and gas wells everywhere,” said Ferol. “People began moving to Keyes to work. Dad was looking to build there because it was growing so fast. I remember in the summer of 1945 or 1946 dad, mom, Betty and I went to Oklahoma City. Dad was looking for a place to buy the bricks for the theatre. We looked at several places and dad finally made a deal with one of the places to buy the brick for the theatre. We made other trips to Oklahoma City to buy different things he needed.” With much anticipation the 422-seat theatre opened on Memorial Day of 1947 and was named the Long Theatre. The first movie was “Trail Street” starring Randolph Scott. Adult tickets sold for $.50, children for $.25 and a sack of popcorn sold for $.10. The theatre sold over 100 pounds of popcorn on opening night. One unique feature of the Long Theatre was the “cry room.” This room permitted parents to take their crying babies into the little room and it enabled them to continue to see and hear the movies without disturbing other viewers. Many other theatre owners in various parts of the country came to see the Long Theatre and added this feature to their own theatres. On the north side of the building was a little sandwich and ice cream shop, known as The Sweet Shop. Sylvia, and later Ferol, managed the shop and several high school girls worked there. Some of the biggest events at the Long Theatre was the personal appearance of Monte Hale, a western movie star, who performed on stage. Rex Allen and his horse Coco also made a stop at the theatre. Bill further etched his place in history and opened the 54 Drive-In Theatre in Guymon in October of 1948. This was a marvel to the Panhandle as this was the first drive-in theatre to be built in this part of the country. Bill stayed in Guymon to operate the drive-in. Daughter Betty drove each night to manage the concession stand, driving a car that she purchased with her popcorn money. Sylvia and Billie moved to Guymon in November of 1949 and Betty remained in Keyes to manage the theatre. When Betty went off to college in September of 1950, Bill and Valarie Miller were employed to manage the theatre. After Betty graduated she returned home and took over management. Leaving the City In 1957, Bill, Sylvia and Billie moved from Guymon to Keyes and operated the theatre. Billie became the popcorn seller until she married Rex Grabeal in 1964. Bill and Sylvia operated the theatre until his death in 1973. Billie remembers when her parents announced they were moving to Keyes. “I was so upset with them because they were taking me away from everything … my friends, dance classes, piano classes. My life as I knew it was gone,” said Billie. “I guess my parents knew what they were doing because it later turned out to be the happiest and best part of my life. I have so many special memories of a place that will forever be very close and dear to my heart.” “I don’t know how my dad managed to do everything he did. He would get up, get everything ready for the evening showing, eat breakfast and then head out to the farm. He wouldn’t get back until at least 5:30 p.m. and would then work at the theatre. He was an incredible man and I never heard him complain about working so much. He was doing what he loved and loved bringing happiness to the community.” Billie said he would have to travel to Oklahoma City to purchase the films and they were delivered by Beaver Express. Living upstairs above the movie theatre was both good and bad. “When I would wake up each morning I could still smell the aroma of the popcorn that we popped the night before. Instead of eating a normal breakfast like most people, I would run downstairs and grab a bag of popcorn and a Coke or candy bar before rushing off to school.” “Going to school in Keyes was quite an adventure. I was a city girl. I had never played basketball before and played a musical instrument. In Guymon, girls weren’t allowed to play sports. That all changed when I moved to Keyes. Living in a small town was so different. You knew everyone and I got to meet so many people that came to the movie theatre.” Billie said she loved living above the theatre and enjoyed spending time with her cousins, nieces, nephew and friends. “Sometimes we took our shoes off and walked on the arms of the chairs and used to have bike races up and down the aisles. We would also play hide-and-seek in the dark theatre. That was very scary sometimes” Billie said movies were such a big deal in the 1950s and up. “Before TV, families came together and enjoyed a night out. Life was so simple back then.” Billie said the most memorable movies were “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben Hur,” “Gone With the Wind,” all of the John Wayne movies and several others. “The westerns, biblical and war movies always drew a huge crowd. I remember dad brought back ‘Gone With the Wind’ at least three different times and we always had huge crowds.” “How I miss those special, innocent times growing up. I was so fortunate to have lived the life I had. I wouldn’t change anything about it. Thank you to the entire community of Keyes for letting a city girl be a part of a wonderful community that I will always call home,” said Billie. Fond Memories Granddaughters Wanda Oswald, Wilma Nelson, Rose Marsh and Brenda Owens all have many fond memories of being inside the movie theatre. “I have so many wonderful memories of the theatre. The sweeping, riding our bikes, walking on the arm rests in the dark, the smell of the popcorn and how Sylvia would walk down the aisles and pop people with her cane to keep their feet off the chairs,” said Wanda. “Others include watching Eddy Nash and others checking and splicing the film, sitting in the ticket booth with my grandfather and him showing me the importance of keeping the bills straight and facing the same direction.” “I loved seeing the colorful neon light go on the marque letting people know the theatre was open,” said Wanda. “When my grandfather fell ill, my husband, Jim Oswald, and I, helped run the theatre for a short time. We learned so many things about the business at that time. For example, bids would be placed on movies in order to run them and the reels would be rewound and taken to Oklahoma City. It’s hard for me to really pick out one favorite memory because I have so many. I had the best grandparents anyone could ask for. The Long Theatre was truly my second home.” “I remember that Punky (the nickname his grandchildren gave Bill) taught me how to roll the change. Another job I had was filling the coke and candy machine. I used to love to sit up by the sign and watch the teenagers drag main. Since I was the oldest grandchild, I nicknamed my grandparents Punky and Granny. That stuck with everyone,” said Wilma. “My earliest memory is when I would spend the weekend with my sisters Wilma and Wanda and aunt Billie at the theatre. Being about five or six, I used to think the theatre was huge and spooky when it was dark. I loved playing with our dolls in the cry room and pretended selling show tickets in grandpa’s chair,” said Rose Alee. “One Sunday while cleaning the theatre after church, I was cleaning the aisles and found a roll of money with a rubber band around it. I started yelling and waving it around. We had no clue how much money was there until Punky counted out $50. Punky told me it wasn’t my money and that he would put it in the ticket booth for two weeks to see if the person claimed it. Waiting was the hardest thing. After the two weeks, he said no one claimed it and gave it to me. I remember buying shoes for myself and my two sisters. Recently, I found out that the person did claim the money but my grandpa never told me. He was simply amazing. His teaching inspired me to teach my children and grandchildren patience and giving back what does not belong to you.” Brenda said, “I remember visiting Punky and Granny at the theatre. They would always put us to work by cleaning the theatre. That place was a mess. Popcorn was everywhere and the floors were so sticky from all the spilled pop. We did get to keep any loose change we found. I know that often Punky would put his own money on the ground so we could find it. I’ll never forget the smell of that popcorn or the smell of Punky’s cigars burning upstairs in his office. He always has a cigar in his hand or pocket.” “After their death, my family moved here. My mom (Betty Aaron) got the American Theatre going in Guymon so that was my job after school. I would work the ticket booth and the concession stand. I still had to sweep the aisles which was about as much fun as it was when I was younger,” said Brenda. Later Years Edelvis Hoch later operated the theatre under the supervision of Betty, who later moved back from Wyoming since Sylvia was in poor health. Sylvia died in 1980. The Long family sold the Long Theatre in June of 1984 to Raymond Smalts. Mrs. Smalts donated the building to the City of Keyes. It has since been sold to Blake Wells, who has spent countless days and hours cleaning out the old theatre. Also attempting to make his own mark on history, Wells is trying to refurbish the old theatre and has announced that an outdoor movie will be shown at the Long Theatre on Saturday, July 7 at 7 p.m. Although there is no admission charge, a donation box will be set up and all proceeds will go towards community development in Keyes. The public is invited to attend the event. As Bill used to always say, “Rain, snow, sleet or shine … the show must go on.”

khayes on November 29, 2012 at 9:29 am

Please keep me informed of whatever you find out.

khayes on November 29, 2012 at 9:28 am

I would love to see that happen.

keyesprincipal on July 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

There is still a glimpse of hope for this place. The owner wants to renovate it to the original art and deco style. Historical / arts grants, partnerships, and funds are being researched at this time but a structural report and funding will eventually determine her fate.

khayes on July 6, 2012 at 9:04 am

My grandfather was Lewis Long. My mother, Billie Long, grew up in Keyes and lived above the theatre most of her life. I just got back from a visit to Keyes. It was very sad to see the state of the theatre. From what I understand they are going to tear it down.

Silicon Sam
Silicon Sam on May 28, 2010 at 6:37 am

Corner of Polk Ave and 4th St.

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 28, 2010 at 3:20 am

The Long Theatre was the first movie house in Keyes, which, according to a May 10, 1947, Boxoffice item, was a town of 227 when the 250-seat theater opened that month. Lewis W. Long was the owner of the house. The Long Theatre was still in operation at least as late as 1964, when it was mentioned in the February 3 issue of Boxoffice.

kencmcintyre on October 12, 2008 at 10:53 am

There are some photos of the Long Theater on Cinematour.

xxx on May 23, 2006 at 2:08 pm

Hollywood stars Vera Miles and Jack Hoxie both lived in Cimarron County, Oklahoma. Below is a screen bio for cowboy actor Hoxie.