FREDERICK — Nine decades ago, the Ramona Theatre opened in downtown Frederick, just days before the infamous stock market crash of 1929.
Through the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, the second World War, and America’s journey into the new millennium, the theater has remained a center of culture and community in southwest Oklahoma.
The Frederick Arts and Humanities Council will host a 90th birthday celebration Sunday afternoon for the theater, including a free screening of the 1929 hit film “Broadway Melody.” Following the film, guests can enjoy light refreshments in the Lois Long Center next door and share their favorite memories of the theater.
“There are a lot of sentimental feelings here in town about the Ramona,” said Dana Greer, “because a lot of people remember that’s where they got their first kiss.”
Greer serves as president of the Arts and Humanities Council, which purchased the theater in 1983 and spent years restoring it to its original glory.
“All the money was raised locally,” Greer said. “We had a lot of spaghetti dinners. ... and a lot of volunteer hours went into it.”
They have since hosted live performances, weddings, funerals, pageants and talent shows, annual breakfasts with Santa Claus, to name a few.
When the theater opened its doors on Oct. 24, 1929, it was called “The Showcase of the Southwest.” The theater is an example of the Spanish Colonial building style that was popular in the Southwest in the 1920s.
Architect George Kadane designed the theater, whose “plush auditorium was atmospheric with electronic twinkling stars and brenograph rolling clouds illuminating a midnight-blue plaster sky,” according to the theater’s website.
“The original acoustics were almost perfect,” Greer said, “and they’ll tell you when you’re on stage ‘Don’t say anything bad about your friend in the balcony, because they’re going to hear you.’”
Frederick banker Barney Beard financed most of the theater when it was constructed. The theater is named for his daughter, Ramona Beard, a young girl who loved attending events at her namesake. Ramona eventually moved to California and lived a long life, into at least her late eighties, according to Greer.
Ramona Beard might be gone, but the theater that bears her name continues to delight locals and visitors.
“It’s a real gem for the community,” Greer said. “Everyone who comes to visit is blown away by the beauty of the theater, especially in a town this size.”
Greer said she certainly doesn’t maintain the theater alone.
“We have a good deal of support from the community,” she said. “We’re very proud of that.”
Will the Ramona Theatre stick around for another 90 years?
“I certainly hope so,” Greer said, “but we’re going to need some younger ones to come on out and help.
“The years keep ticking and the Ramona is still out there doing her thing.”