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The Grand Rebirth

Stamford theater makes its own history

In grade school and college, I didn’t enjoy being taught history, even though I had great teachers. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love a good story and history that I can really experience and get my hands on. The beaten path is not my stomping grounds—off the beaten path is where my fascination lies. I love visiting places with a story.

Our January 2018 Texas Co-op Power story The Small-Town Big Screen Revival took you to the Lance Theatre in Rotan and the Grand Theatre in Stamford, two local relics whose stories had fallen silent except in the vivid memories of those who frequented the establishments during their glory years. While dust gathered on the seats, faithful patron-historians dreamed of breathing new life into the theaters, envisioning a night in which the neon marquees would once again beckon folks to the show. While efforts to restore the Lance are still underway, the Grand Theatre is thriving once again.

Built in 1936, the Grand Theatre hosted plays until it was converted for films in the 1950s. The theater flourished for a few decades before changing ownership several times, closing and eventually falling into disrepair. When a previous owner donated the Grand to the Development Corporation of Stamford, community champions knew they had their chance to bring the theater back to life. In doing so, the Grand’s rebirth has sparked a renewed sense of community in Stamford.

The beautiful, handmade snack bar is a work of craftsmanship many modern venues lack.

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With the Grand’s reopening in November 2018, families have enjoyed inexpensive nights at the movies right down the street instead of having to make a trip to Abilene or elsewhere. The theater has the elegant but quaint look and feel of a cinema from the vibrant golden age of film but with the latest digital film and sound technologies delivering a state-of-the-art experience.

Jason Mullins, a local volunteer who is as passionate about his role at the theater as he is about movie news and trivia, operates the projector. The venue’s comfortable leather seats rock and recline and were custom-made to hew to the distinct slope of the floor. Ground-level seating can accommodate 300 moviegoers and provides Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant access. The spacious balcony has room for 50 patrons.

While the seating, decor and moviegoing experience at the Grand are certainly impressive, the stories and memories housed within its walls are where its real riches lie. Suzanne Haterius-Fusaro, the Grand’s general manager, shared a few of the stories that make the theater a priceless piece of living history.

Haterius-Fusaro and Jason Mullins pose in front of the Grand’s state-of-the-art digital projection equipment. “In the old days, the film would break during the middle of a film,” Haterius-Fusaro said. “With this digital system, we don’t have to worry about that.” The films arrive in cartridges—similar in size and shape to VHS cassettes. “We just pop it in the machine and hit play!”

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“People can sponsor seats in honor of someone, as a memorial, etc.,” she said, gesturing to a specific chair. “The Grissoms came here on their first date,” she said, adding that when Janan Grissom found out the theater would reopen, she paid to sponsor a chair in the spot where she and her husband sat on their first date. Grissom gave it to her husband as a Christmas gift.

“My parents met here in 1955,” Haterius-Fusaro said, pointing out the chairs her brother, “Pancho,” sponsored in their memory. “The chair that says ‘Pancho’—that is my brother’s nickname—my sister and I sponsored in honor of him. His father passed away in WWII but, as a boy, Pancho was the chaperone for my mother and father’s dates here. He loved going to The Grand and getting lost in the elegance of the stars on the silver screen.”

“Pancho,” Haterius-Fusaro’s brother, whose father was killed in WWII, considered himself to be his mother’s chaperone. He was there when Vivian and Milton met. Suzanne and her sister sponsored this seat in honor of their older brother.

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Speaking of those who are memorialized in the theater, Haterius-Fusaro said, “I figured I’d just line folks up—even though they’re no longer here, they would have enjoyed sitting together.” Another set of sisters sponsored a chair at the Grand as a living memorial to their mother. “Every chair has a story here.”

The story of the Grand has been picked up by the Abilene Reporter-News, as well as newspapers in Dallas, Austin, Temple, Big Spring and even as far away as Idaho—bringing compliments, comments and curiosity from near and far.

While the Grand’s history likely won’t be captured in any history textbooks or classes, it is displayed here in grand fashion—pun intended.

The plaques on the seats give a small nod to the relationships that blossomed here, memories of which can now live on through generations to come. Those stories and being able to revisit days gone by are what makes the Grand truly special.

Search for @grandtheatrestamford on Facebook or visit its website, grandtheatrestamford.com, for showtimes. You also can call (325) 773-2222 or email grandtheatrestamford@gmail.com for more information. The Grand is located at 118 E. Hamilton St. in Stamford.