Dowling Theatre

2110 Dowling Street,
Houston, TX 77003

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Dowling Theater - Auditorium

The Dowling Theatre opened by mid-June 1941. Seating was given at 796.

The theatre closed around 1959. It was destroyed in an arson attack by a homeless person in 1962. From the looks of a photo taken in the late-2000’s, there is just a shell of the theatre left. The roof has completely collapsed. Since then the remains have been demolished.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 14 comments)

fs805 on March 10, 2013 at 10:29 am

fs805 fs805 on March 10, 2013 at 10:16 am (remove)

I question the statement that the Dowling theater closed in 1955. I was still in Houston until 1959 and it was open. My dad was part time manager even after I went to school in ‘59. It was some time in the early to mid 60s that it closed. He would tell me various things about how he was managing the theater part time as well as his business.

There were several theaters serving the African American community. The Dowling was one and it opened in 1941.

Whatever book had that statistics you mention about the closing and the interior photo do not agree with my experience and memories. I know memories can play tricks, but having had the opportunity to attend the theater every Saturday to see the cowboy westerns and the serials that ran 8 – 16 weeks, those are experiences that are indelibly engrained in my memory. I will resume the quest to find the interior picture of the Dowling theater. Please accept the fact from a person that has had first hand experience in the dowling theater, that it had a balcony. Any photo that does not show the interior with a balcony, is not the interior of the Dowling theater. It would be useful to know how the photo being represented at the interior of the Dowling theater was believed to be the Dowling theater and not some other theater. If hauled in to court and sworn to tell the truth, I would state unequivocally that the photo represented on this site is not the interior of the Dowling theater. I cannot tell you what theater it is, but I can tell you it is not the Dowling theater.

ronluck707 on March 11, 2013 at 11:22 am

The Dowling theater did have a upstairs balcony and also the theater was destroyed by teenage arsonist.

fs805 on March 12, 2013 at 7:01 am

The opening date of the Dowling theater can be narrowed down. Growing up, I was told that when my dad, at work at the theater, was told I had been born he ran through the theater shouting “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” This would mean the theater was open by mid June 1941, based on my birthday.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on March 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

As we are pretty sure the Dowling Theatre had a balcony, I am wondering if the photograph of the auditorium could be the smaller Park Theatre, which was also an African-American theatre, opened around 1939 on Dowling Street? It has its own page on Cinema Treasures.

fs805 on March 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I think the Dowling theater closed in the early to mid 60s. I left Houston for school in ‘59 and my dad was back as a part time manager. During this time, he also operated some service stations. He had some of the service station credit card charges in the manager’s office.

I remember him telling me that he asked one of the firemen if they could retrieve the charge invoices so that he would not suffer the loss. They did. I was in school at the time so this would have been in the 60s.

ronluck707 on March 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

The Dowling theater was destroyed by a homeless teenage arsonist about 1962-1964. I also want to use 1960 -1964. This statement i stand on and is correct. the guy was apprehended, photoed in the chronical or maybe the Houston Post at the time. My vague memory is thinking he was living inside the theater after closing and was discovered. A statement by the arsonist at best i can remember to news paper was that he was homeless and had no place to stay. he became revenguful and set theater on fire. Also my vague memory is telling me we went to same school Dodson elementry. Just for record i reside at the end Gray street and railroad tracks across from Dodson elementry.

fs805 on March 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm

The drug store was Wooten’s. They had a great grill too. I used to get hamburgers there while spending the day at the Dowling theater with my dad.

Between the theater and the drug store was Howard Young’s radio and TV shop/store.

The only reason I mentioned the 60’s dates, I don’t agree with the statement that the theater closed in 1955.

If you have any additional questions, ask. I’m getting forgetful. I went to Blackshear, then Yates.

On that side of Dowling, the theater was the center of activity. For a while, a Taylor shop (Kyle’s) on the left and to the left of that Taube’s variety store for a while. I also worked in the variety store during the holidays putting toys together.

At the end of the block, the theater had a very large billboard on the side of the building used to advertise coming attractions.

At one time the theater used a flatbed truck with a Bogen amplifier that could be powered by AC or directly off of the truck battery. It had a turntable on top for playing 78 rpm records. This truck was used to drive down the streets advertising coming attractions.

I remember this because I’ve always been interested in “technology” stuff and I was impressed and my dad was proud that they had this for advertising. The speakers were by University. This was the first time I had ever seen outdoor speakers up close.

This reminds me, my dad said that at one time they had stage shows at the Dowling after the movie at night. The movies usually ended between 10:30 and 11:30. Going to midnight was very unusual.

fs805 on May 24, 2013 at 6:21 am

The photo of the interior of the Dowling theater with the balcony as described earlier has been posted. If you look carefully, on the left, you can see the rail going up to the balcony. There is a similar set of stairs on the right, but is washed out in this photo. You can see the aisle on the right.

The projection booth was generally entered on the left side of this photo. The two projectors projected their images through the two lower openings on the right. The two openings diagonally above and to the left were used by the projectionist when starting the next projector.

If you compare the photo I’ve posted with the photos available at and notice that the interior has walls that are offset every so many feet. You will also see the emergency exit on the right side when looking from the stage/screen where this interior photo was taken.

When you look at the photos (3rd & 4th) from the above link, you will notice the exterior walls are slightly offset that is consistent with the interior photo. Compare the edge with the sky. You can also see the physical change in the construction material of the wall.

If you look carefully at the last photo, you can see a hole in the wall on the left side when looking from the non stage/screen end of the theater. This is consistent with the placement of the emergency exit as seen in the posted photo.

Generally at the Dowling theater, the “Front” of the theater was considered the screen end while the back was the entrance to the auditorium. I guess the assumption was that you face forward to the front, the screen.

Denalano on March 11, 2017 at 9:47 pm

I will never forget watching Spartacus at the Dowling. Kirk Douglas was attacked by a hawk and lost an eye. That was the coolest scene ever. It must have been 1960. I was about 7 years old and walked there with a friend from alameda and palm street. I eventually bumped into Mr. Douglas when I was a sailor aboard the USS Nimitz when he was filming The Final Countdown. He said “yo” to me!!!!

fs805 on May 6, 2022 at 3:34 pm

The comment that the photo was taken in the late-2000’s cannot be correct. The walls do not show the stereo speakers installed when CinemaScope capability was added. CinemaScope was introduced in 1953. The theater was renovated about that time. This would make the photo earlier than 1953.

My dad managed the theater full time from 1941 until the mid 1950s. After he left, a few years later, the manager that took over died and he was asked to help out. He managed it part time until the fire.

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