The Plaza Theater
Plaza Still Pleasing After All These Years
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Plaza still pleasing after all these years

Original owners strive to keep theater's charm
By Marice Richter

CARROLLTON - When the Plaza Theater first opened in in Downtown Carrollton, moviegoers had to line up early to get a seat. With its bright neon sign shining like a beacon on the old Dallas Highway, the Plaza beckoned folks from miles away.
That was in 1949, before television became the national pastime. The Plaza was new and modern - and the only movie house for miles around.
"Carrollton was the commercial center back then," said Plaza owner, John Lowrey. "Farmers Branch basically had nothing, Coppell had nothing and Addison had a filling station.
"If you want to see a movie, you came here or you went to Dallas or Lewisville or Grapevine, and that was a long way."
A lot has changed in four decades, but not much has changed at the Plaza. And that suits Mr. Lowrey and his wife, Mary, the original owners, and their regular customers just fine.
IN those days of Corporate owned movies, multiplexes, the Plaza, with its one screen, is an anomaly. But to regulars such as Carol Polk, who comes with her family almost every Friday night no matter what is showing, the Plaza has something the competition doesn't: charm.
"I love the ambience here," she said, "Where else can you go where they still play that theme to the Wizard of Oz or a Summer Place before the movie starts"?
The theater shows contemporary films but it is, indeed, a remnant of a bygone era. The Lowreys maintain it that way because it keeps their customers happy. With so much competition, customer satisfaction is their top priority.
"Four or five years ago, our old wooden front doors had rotted out and needed to be replaced," Mrs Lowrey said. "We decided to modernize a bit and put in glass doors.
"Well, our customers nearly died. They wanted everything to stay just the way it was," she said. "We learned our lesson, and now we don't change things."
The Lowreys have always run the Plaza as their major source of income. It is the oldest business in Carrollton under the same management and the oldest business on Carrollton's downtown square, Mrs. Lowrey said.
The square wasn't a quaint little shopping district filled with antique shops and ice cream parlors when the Plaza opened. Back then, the square bustled with activity. The bank, grocery store, furniture store, car dealership and dime store were all located there.
In fact, the downtown had a movie theater before the Plaza. It was opened by Mr. Lowrey's uncle and bought by his widowed mother in 1938. The Lowreys dismantled the equipment and moved it when they build the Plaza.
Mr. Lowrey's mother, Vera, 92, was also actively involved with the Plaza. She sold tickets until about two years ago.
"She finally said, "You've got to quit work sometime,' "Mrs. Lowrey said.
Now, Mr. Lowry sells tickets during the week, and Mrs. Lowrey runs the concession booth. On weekends, Mrs. Lowrey sells tickets, a hired helper sells the concessions and Mr. Lowrey works as the troubleshooter.
The projection machine, which is now modern and automatic, still needs to be threaded and that is always Mr. Lowrey's job.
The Plaza was built in the same era as the Inwood in North Dallas and a little later than the Casa Linda and Lakewood theaters in East Dallas, Mr. Lowrey said. Typical of movie houses of that period, it has a balcony and a "Cry room," a sound proof area where parents could sit with noisy children and let others enjoy the film.
The cry room isn't used anymore, but the balcony is opened for especially popular films. The house no longer fills up all the time, but business is still brisk on the weekends.
With 729 seats, the Plaza for many years was the biggest auditorium in the area. So it was rented for Carrollton High School graduation ceremonies and for seminars.
In recent years, it has attracted the attention of movie producers. Oliver Stone filmed a scene from Born on the Fourth of July there, and some scenes from a made-for-TV movie also were shot in it.
Mr. Stone put up two large theatrical masks that the Lowreys decided to keep hanging on either side of the screen.
In the Plaza's early days, the Lowreys did something that most area cinemas did not do - they opened their door to blacks. Those were the days of state-mandated segregation, so black customers had to sit in their own section.
"Nobody else in North Dallas would admit blacks," Mr. Lowrey said. "Only the Majestic downtown had a balcony for them."
Also in those days, the Plaza showed only first-run films and changed them three times a week. Weekends always brought a double feature. Now, because of the high cost of acquiring films, the Plaza has switched to become a sub-run house meaning that it shows movies that have left the first-run circuit. Admission is $1.50 or $1 for weekend matinees.
The Plaza now changes it film every Friday. There is one showing on weekdays, two on Fridays, and matinees and evening showings on weekends.
"We do best with family films and that is what we like to show," Mrs. Lowrey said. "But we have shown some of the R-rated films like Basic Instinct.
Often it takes two months or more for the Plaza to get a major release, but regular customers don't mind the wait. Many of the Plaza's customers are older people who prefer a single-screen theater or families with children who can't afford the price of a family outing at a first-run theater.
"Those places are too big and too noisy," said Betty Richart of Carrollton, who with  her husband, Ron, is a Plaza regular. "We do have to wait until a movie we want to see gets here, but it teaches us patience."
The Lowreys have discovered, surprisingly, that their younger customers are especially taken with the movie house.
"There are whole generations who have never been in a single-screen theater," Mrs. Lowrey said. "When they come here, they seem to really enjoy the experience."

The Dallas Morning News - Sunday, September 26, 1993
Submitted by Betty Lou (Stanley) Dennis


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