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Sharing memories: After decades of movies, Shawnee's Hornbeck closes today

News-Star staff
The Hornbeck and Penthouse in downtown Shawnee.

It’s the end of an era for Shawnee and several generations of moviegoers as today is the last day of business for a nostalgic downtown movie theater.

The Hornbeck Theatre, 125 North Bell, will close for good at the end of business Tuesday, Sept. 29.  The formal announcement to officially close was made last week by owner/operators Jones Theatres, Inc. and AMC Theatres. 

Ronny Jones, owner, said the long six-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 virus, as well as availability of appropriate programming titles due to Hollywood’s shutdown in production, are the reasons for the closure, but the Cinema Centre 8 and Movies 6 locations will remain open and in business.

“It’s like losing a family member,” Jones said of the decision to close the downtown Hornbeck. “The Hornbeck has been part of Jones Theatres since 1954. I’m confident that many, many people will have stories to tell about attending or working at the theatre.”

And that was definitely the case as news of the upcoming closure prompted many to share comments and memories about the Hornbeck on the News-Star’s Facebook page.  The theaters, and original screenings first seen there, hold a special place in people’s hearts.

Here are a few of the memories shared:

Yvonne Harmon

I remember standing in a line that went down to Main St. to see Star Wars.

Jackie Carpenter-Denny

As a kid went to go watch "The Legend of Boggy Creek" and I kept thinking that he (the monster) would come out of the door next to the bottom of the movie screen. I was scared to death for the movie to end. Kept my eye on those doors most of the movie.

Kelly Moore

I love the Hornbeck. It was always a really special time when my college friends and I would drive downtown and catch a movie there. I also appreciated the year Ronny worked with the men of Zeta Pi Lambda at OBU and we hosted a huge block party behind the theater called Freshman Frenzy. It was a great time and a wonderful memory!

Brian K. Burrough

Sad to hear. This was my first real job. I was an usher/ticket taker. I truly enjoyed working with Francis. At that time one of the very few that got his humor. My mother (a concessionist) and father (projectionist) met while working there. I hated going into the back to get the letters to change the marquis. Little spooky back there.

Jason Charvat

Also during that remodel of the penthouse we found an old wallet under the carpet. Had a guys little card diploma in it and had been there since the 60s or seventies based on the ticket I can’t remember exactly. They were able to find him and return his wallet. Was a super cool thing I thought.

Shelby Taylor

I would come down from okc when I was a little girl and come here with my grandma and cousin who lived here. Now I live here and have gotten to take my oldest son! It was his first movie theater experience ever! Definitely sad it won't be around anymore

Traci Prough

Nooooo, it was so fun going there. I went there a few times during my 12 years here in shawnee and I loved the scenery of an old movie theater. Wish more were like this. We will miss this place.

Clarissa Mcelvany

I grew up close to the Hornbeck. So my friends and I took many trips there. And while my kids were growing up, we took many more trips there. Really sad to see it close. Many fond memories.

Benjamin Scraper

Daaannnggg, gonna miss watching movies there. Penthouse too. So many memories.

Like Gibson's just down the way, I'm gonna miss the smell of popcorn when I walked in. Newer movie theaters just aren't the same.

Coral Van Dyne Grell

I remember my grandma saying, “Do you want to go to the dollar show,” which is what we called the Hornbeck. She always took me and my siblings there! It’s one of the best memories I have with her. It’s sad seeing this place go because it helps me remember her.

Bryce Vonda

In the 60s and 70s spent many of our Saturday afternoons going there. I saw my very first show at The Hornbeck.

Fonda Loftis

A big part of our childhood is closing. It was great growing up in our day 50’s and on. Fun times.

Mandy Hughes

I remember seeing E.T. there when I was a kid. All of us kids walked out sobbing afterwards, lol! That, and Gremlins are the ones I remember seeing there the most. God, I’m old!

Becky Gibson

The classic movie before the Christmas parade. I'm sad.

Daisy Monks

I just can’t believe this. It’s definitely been a huge part of my life and I made sure my kids went there too. I think the first movie I remember seeing was Amityville Horror when I was really little. My parents took me with them and thus started my love for horror movies. My favorite movie I saw there was Xanadu and of course all the Indiana Jones and Superman movies. Man I really hate this.

Kathy Graham

My grandparents took me to many movies there in the early 50’s - Ma and Pa Kettle, Disney, etc. Took my son to his first movie there in the 70’s - Song of the South.

Kaitlin Heon

My husband Michael Heon and I used to go on so many dates there when we first started dating in high school.

Phyllis Rigney

I saw my first movie there when I was a little girl. It was a field trip from school. We saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I’m 58 now.

Chester Hendershot

2020 is the worst! There goes my childhood!

Kimberly Lakins

We've watched so many movies here! Affordable! We can take the family and not have to take out a loan! I'm so sad!

Norman Wagner

I literally grew up in that theater. That was one of my very first jobs I had. I was known as Norman the doorman. The Jones family were very nice to me and I always remember Francis and how kind he was to my children when they got to go to the movies. It's a sad day in Shawnee history to see that close there will no longer be a cheap form of entertainment for children. This was also home to the Cannes Film Festival that took place every Christmas. My heart goes out to the Jones family as I'm sure this was not an easy decision to have to do.

Cathy Moreno

Aww! My parents both grew up in Shawnee in the 30’s and 40’s and they saw movies there in high school. And when my grandpa was sick and passed away in 1964 when I was in 4th grade and my family was in Shawnee for several weeks, I got to go there several times with my aunt’s neighbor’s granddaughter. My best memory was seeing “The Three Lives of Thomasina” and being terrified that night when a big old Oklahoma thunderstorm came over just like the one in the movie and scared this little girl who lived where it doesn’t storm much. Makes me sad.

Crystaline Elliott

Nooooo. I loved this place. My parents took me when I was a kid and I’ve been taking my kids. My 6 year old daughter saw her very first in theatre movie experience here. So sad to see such a cool place go.

Larry T. Cartwright

The first movies I remember watching in a theatre were at the Hornbeck. We lived in rural Seminole County, and it was a family event to load up and drive to Shawnee for a movie. I saw Empire Strikes Back, Temple of Doom, and E.T. in that theatre. After joining the Air Force and spending 24 years away from Oklahoma, my family and I retired and moved to Shawnee in 2019. I was looking forward to the nostalgia of once again watching a movie there; but now it looks like that won’t happen, and that makes me sad.

Christia Hallinan

I used to be a manager there, and at CC8 years ago, nothing like the older projectors. True workhorses. Lots of good memories going there as a teen, and then with my kids, I was looking forward to taking my grandbaby after all this madness ended. I guess that is something we won't get to share. Sad to see it go, so much history. Such a loss.

I'll never forget Mr. Jones was the nicest boss in the world.

Rayeann Simpson

I remember when my husband proposed to me, way back in 1976, we went to a show at the Penthouse....and I was telling everyone I saw about our engagement! Whether I knew them...or not!! Lol. GOOD MEMORIES!!

Joe Hock

Would love to see them open for classics during the holidays! Or have a retro movie night!

Shelley McLin

I worked there in 1981 when I was 15. Chariots of Fire was playing. Never saw the movie. Popped a ton of popcorn drenched in butter flavored Wesson Oil. Francis worked the ticket booth. My mom had to take me and pick me up because I couldn’t drive yet lol. I’m kinda sad.

Cheri Quinnett Grundmann

Two memories pop into my head. First one - going to see Gone with the Wind with my father. I think it was the only time we did something together without my four brothers and mother. Second, our English class going to see "Taming of the Shrew" with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Fun getting out of the traditional classroom and going to the theater in the afternoon.

Lynn Newman-Walker

I have so many fabulous memories from there. The first time I was allowed to go to the movies without Mom, Dad or sisters. It seems like my friends and I went every Saturday. We watched John Wayne in a million movies. We saw Planet of the Apes and 2001, Close Encounters. I remember going to what was probably a 30 year anniversary rerelease of Gone With The Wind - an amazing film to see on the big screen. I also saw Lawrence of Arabia there. So many different movies, so many pieces of my growing up. It's sad.

Stacy Cramer Moore

My spouse used to work nights. This was back when you rented movies. I could go to the Hornbeck cheaper than renting a movie so I would go all the time by myself. I went to The Green Mile and these three big macho guys sat behind me (complete with seats between them). They start kind of making fun of the movie. By the end, they are crying like babies. I remember those cowboys sobbing. That's what movies are all about.

Owners made an announcement last week for the closing, and for the final week of operation, two favorites from 1985 were chosen to play in the two auditoriums. Steven Spielberg’s “The Goonies” and “Back to the Future.”

A Brief History of the Hornbeck Theatre

The Hornbeck Theatre, 125 N. Bell, opened in downtown Shawnee on July 10, 1947. Owners of the theatre were Griffith Theatres of Oklahoma City, OK. and partner/manager Shawnee Mayor Adam Hornbeck. Designed by Dallas architect Jack Corgan, the 1100 seat theatre was decorated by Jan Hornbeck, Adam Hornbeck’s daughter, who went on to become an interior designer in California.

Streamline modern lines, cove lighting and a luxurious mezzanine as well as cry rooms were part of the original Corgan plan. Corgan designed numerous theatres throughout the southwest after World War II, but the Hornbeck was one of his best and longest surviving theatres.

At that time Griffith and Mayor Hornbeck also operated the Bison, Criterion, Starlite Drive-In and Tecumseh Drive-In in Shawnee.

Jones “Homefolks” Theatres---as it was called then---was the competition operating the Ritz and Jake Theatres, both on Main Street, as well as the Crest Theatre in Stillwater, as a competitor to Griffith’s Stillwater theatres.

By 1952 Griffith Theatres had become Video Independent Theatres, a company comprised of owner/managers in each community. In 1954 Johnny H. Jones and sister Ruby Jones bought Adam Hornbeck’s interest in the Shawnee theatres and became partner/managers with Video in a joint venture in Shawnee. With this set-up the Crest in Stillwater was relinquished to be part of Griffith’s Stillwater theatres.

The first order of business for the new Jones Theatres/Video Independent Theatres operation was to install the new wide screen technology---CinemaScope---in its theatres. By the summer of 1954, the Hornbeck boasted CinemaScope as well as four track magnetic stereophonic sound. As screens got wider, sound became directional for a theatre experience that couldn’t be matched on television of the day.

In 1972, Ruby Jones sold her interest to nephew Ronny Jones. Father and son, Johnny and Ronny formed Jones Theatres, Inc. In 1973 the Hornbeck closed for six weeks and was completely remodeled changing the 400-seat balcony into a separate auditorium---named the Penthouse---which opened December 13, 1973.

The twin theatre could now offer a family attraction on one screen as well as more mature fare on the other. Families could come to the same complex and see different movies.

In 1984 Video Independent Theatres was bought by Martin Theatres of Georgia, which later became Carmike Cinemas. In 2016 Carmike’s interest was purchased by AMC Theatres. Jones Theatres, Inc. still operates the Cinema Centre 8 at 3031 N. Harrison, and Movies Six at Shawnee Mall with AMC affiliation.

The other two Jones Theatre Shawnee locations will remain open. The Cinema Centre 8 at 3031 N. Harrison and Movies 6 at Shawnee Mall are operating with Cinema Safe protocols in place. Distancing, masks, sanitizing between shows and other practices are adhered to throughout the day to keep guests and staff safe.