Meridian Star

Local News

January 18, 2010

Reviving a local theater

The dimmed lobby is filled with nostalgic movie theater paraphernalia, and even the air inside the Temple Theater smells like it is from a bygone era.

Antiquated calliopes and group portraits of Shriners from the past eight decades line the office, making it easy to imagine patrons and a movie theater staff in the 1930s chatting idly before a premier begins, filling the high-ceiling room with their words and the rising smoke from their cigars and cigarettes.

Inside the ballroom is the space often used for major events in the city, including the mayoral swearing-in, weddings and graduations. Word is that Elvis Presley once spent the night in this very room.

That's where Roger Smith, owner of the theater for the past year, is in recent days. Smith moved all the way from Arlington, Texas, to purchase the Temple Theater, the building of which began in 1923. He bought it for $500,000, the same price the Shriners paid for the theater's construction.

But Smith isn't exactly a wheeling and dealing Texas billionaire; his genuine affinity for all things Hollywood and its film culture started at an early age.

"I had started as a kid as a theater usher, and that was the beginning of my love of the theater," Smith says as he stands in the ballrooom. "Later I became a union projectionist."

Perhaps that's why Smith has made it his mission to bring the Temple Theater back to life by opening up its doors once more and showing current movies for low prices.

The proliferation of what Smith calls "cracker box theaters" disinterested him so much that he became a train engineer, then a helicopter pilot for a Dallas TV news station for 21 years. So how did he come back into the movie theater business, this time assuming the role of proprietor and manager?

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