Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bringing the Baker Back

It was two days after we had inquired about the possibility of touring the Gaslight Baker Theater in Lockhart (TX) when we received an invitation to stop by.

Not only could we tour the theater, but we could also take all the photos we wanted to.

We stopped by Saturday morning with camera and tripod in hand and were directed to Dave in the balcony. Several people, whom we later learned were volunteers, were painting, drilling, and sawing. We found Dave trimming new carpet at the top of the stairs.

Dave Schneider, an accountant by day, is the President of the Theater's Board, a painter, an electircian's helper, an enthusiastic tour guide, and . . . an actor.

He began the story of the theater's history with a reference to the balcony. "There used to be a low dividing wall in the middle of the balcony. The African-Americans sat on that side and the Mexicans sat on this side of the wall."

As we walked down the stairway on the far side, he continued, "This entrance was for the Blacks, and an entrance on the other side of what is now the main lobby was for the Mexicans. We've decided to leave the entrance here just because it is part of the theater's history."

We were not taking notes nor photos as we followed Dave as he continued his explanation about a theater he clearly loved. "After we finish the tour, you can come back and take all the photos you want."


Dave took time to elaborate on a couple of original items on the stage. One was the curtain and the other was the plaster column which arched over the stage.

"The curtain is delicate--we can't have it dry-cleaned because it has so much dry rot that it would just fall apart if we tried to have it cleaned."

"But look here. You can still see the name 'Schubert' in this corner." Jean Schubert was the interior designer who brought an exotic look--twisted Solomonic columns, Italian travertine tiles, and rich carpets and draperies--to the theater during the Depression-era renovation.

Walking around the various stages of construction, we couldn't help but wonder if the work would be completed in about nine days when the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be appearing for two nights (Feb. 7th and 8th). As we walked around chairs and painted panels, we almost felt guilty for not stopping and grabbing a paint brush. But we had our own deadline to meet.

The theater will see seat nearly 300 patrons once the work is completed. This is considerably fewer than the number when the theater opened in late October in 1920: "(The theater) will seat about 700 people in the auditorium and balcony. By some extra preparation, 1000 can be accommodated" (Lockhart Post-Register, November 4, 1920).

Dave remarked that in addition to losing several rows of seats due to expanding the stage, "there was only 22 inches between the back of a seat and the seat in the row in front of the seat. People had to get into some uncomfortable and awkward positions with space that limited."

The "B" in the center of the curtain in the center of the stage stands for "Colonel" A.D. Baker, whose company, The Baker Show Company, built the Baker Theater. (Baker had claimed to have carried the flag up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider--but he never served in the military.)

Baker had arrived in Lockhart in 1910 and a year later had "experi-mented with a walled, roofless, outdoor theater, or 'airdome' for summer presenta-tions. During the first World War, Baker opened a more elaborate airdome, but it closed after only a few presen-tations" (The History of the Baker Theater).

The Baker underwent two major renovations. The one in 1933 resulted in the theater being redecorated in an exotic style--Spanish Moorish. Colonel Baker died in 1936, but little is known what his company did between his death and the renovations completed in the 1950s removed nearly all the decorations of the 1933 remodeling.

One remnant of the theater's past is this aisle seat plate. It is indeeed unfortunate that more bits of history are not available.

We will go backstage tomorrow to reveal some remnants of the theater's past.

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