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Ridglea Theater about to complete a dramatic comeback

If you go

The Retro Ball will take place Oct. 20 at the Ridglea Theater. Tickets are $225 per person. A table of 10 is $3,000.

On Oct. 21, the Ridglea will host a singalong screening of the classic The Sound of Music. Individual tickets are $20 to $25, and a table of 10 can be reserved for $500.

To learn more, call Historic Fort Worth at 817-336-2344.

Posted 9:01am on Friday, Sep. 14, 2012

The Ridglea Theater is almost ready for its close-up.

Workers milled about Thursday morning, laying tile, cutting wood and hammering nails as the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year, is prepared for its first official event since Jerry Shults took ownership in late 2010.

Historic Fort Worth will host the inaugural Retro Ball on Oct. 20, ushering in a new era for the vintage movie palace. The event, which is open to the public, will feature a re-creation of the Ridglea's Dec. 1, 1950, opening night, complete with a red carpet, look-alikes of '50s movie stars, live music, food and much more.

The party features a "Ridglea Theater Returns" theme and is chaired by Kristi Wilson, great-granddaughter of the Ridglea's founder, A.C. Luther. It promises to be a "very sentimental evening," said Suzy Coleman, special-events coordinator for Historic Fort Worth. "Being from Fort Worth and having been in this theater many, many times, I'm so glad it's here."

Shults is likewise thrilled that the Ridglea's first official event will be tied to the building's history.

The first concert at the Ridglea since New Year's Eve 2010 is set for Oct. 25, booked by the national agency AEG Live, and features Australian indie-pop band the Temper Trap.

"I couldn't think of a better way for a coming-out party, so to speak, for the theater," Shults said of the Retro Ball.

"I think it's a perfect beginning use, because Historic Fort Worth has been very instrumental in giving me guidance on how they would like to see the project being used, how they would like it restored."

The Dallas-based Shults, who owns the Gas Pipe chain of smoke shops, bought the Ridglea from Dallas investment company FixFunding in December 2010. That followed a tense six months when Bank of America was on the verge of acquiring the property, tearing down 90 percent of the structure and turning it into a bank branch.

Shults worked closely with the city and nonprofit organizations like Historic Fort Worth to ensure that the building would be protected in the future against demolition.

Before the Ridglea's glitzy night out, there will be a few more days of dust flying and key items being installed -- such as seats in the balcony, massive curtains in the main room and a concession stand in the main lobby.

The restoration and renovation process has taken more than 18 months -- the Ridglea's initial opening date was Sept. 18 -- but Shults is happy with the theater's progress and estimates that "90 percent" of the restoration should be complete within two weeks.

"We've got the complete terrazzo floor [in the main lobby] and the [lobby] mural's been completely restored -- those two items alone were over nine months of work," Shults said.

"I'm really proud of being involved with the project, particularly because we were able to restore the marquee, the mural and the floor, which, quite honestly, I didn't know if it was possible or not. There was so much trauma to the floor."

For Sam Austin, the project's architect and son of a Ridglea Theater projectionist, watching the past come rushing back has been deeply rewarding.

"It's not often that an architect gets an opportunity like this, to work on a project that has some personal meaning," Austin said.

"The old building itself is significant, but my connection makes the work that much more meaningful. I've really enjoyed seeing it come back together -- we're getting there and we're getting there pretty quickly now."

As for those who pay for the privilege to walk down the red carpet Oct. 20, Shults feels confident that the Ridglea will once more transport its patrons to a world of classic beauty.

"I'm hoping that [visitors are] totally in wonder and awe about the architecture of the building," Shults said.

"I hope they get a sense of embracing the past, and ... embrace a treasure, not only to Fort Worth but the state of Texas and the United States. It's really a gift to everyone who comes in here."

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram's pop music critic.


Twitter: @prestonjones

Reviving the Ridglea

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