The History of The Barnhill Center at Historic Simon Theatre
In 2003, the non-profit Brenham Main Street Historical Preservation, Inc. bought the 1925 Simon Theatre. Fundraising, architectural plans and basic restoration were the primary focus in the early years.
By 2010 the roof was replaced, the front façade was restored and construction began to restore the lobby, retail space and to create a state-of-the-art Visitors Center to welcome tourists into the area. An early donation named the Bullock Ballroom in honor and now memory of Tom Bullock, Sr.
In 2011, the campaign raised more funds with the naming of The Barnhill Center by a group of friends and the family of John W. Barnhill, Jr.
The non-profit applied for Federal and State Historic Tax Credits to allow the further restoration of the rest of the building. In January 2016 the Grand Opening finally happened!
To take you back to the very beginning of the building, the year was 1925. The Simon Family in Brenham was in the entertainment business. They owned the Opry House, which is where the Yesterday and Today Antiques shop is on Alamo. Mr. Simon worked with an architect named Alfred Finn to design the Simon Theatre. Alfred Finn was a very famous architect and designed many of the buildings in downtown Houston with Jesse Jones. We jokingly like to say that the Simon Theatre was the place that he experimented with concrete because the whole building is made of solid concrete. He then went on to design the concrete San Jacinto Monument.
The Simon Theatre was completed in 1925 but unfortunately Mr. Simon passed away and never saw the completed theatre. The theatre was then sold to the Stuckert family; the multi-generational family owned and ran the theatre for close to 50 years.
The Simon went through various phases from Vaudeville to “Talkies”. When the theatre was closed in the early 80’s, concrete was poured at the back of the theatre to house an Asian grocery store for a short time. The lobby and now the Visitors Center had a Chinese Buffet restaurant in it while the theatre and the ballroom fell into disrepair.
The lobby is a combination of the original 1925 and the remodeled version of the early 50’s.
The painting on the ceiling and the marble on the bottom of the walls are what it was like originally. The ticket booth and the mannequin in the windows are from the 50’s era.
Marsh’s department store paid $5 a month to change out the display windows with the newest fashions every week when people came to the theatre. The mannequin is original as well as the store sign and hat boxes.
Many people still remember the ticket booth from their childhood and used the telephone to call their parents when the show was over.
When the theatre was built originally, there were 750 seats in the theatre and balcony—people were a lot shorter and skinnier then. The Auditorium has been named by the Hasskarl family in memory of their parents.
The non-profit (Brenham Main Street Historicial Preservation, Inc., a 501(c)(3), that bought the theatre in 2003 hired a firm that does historical paint analysis and after chipping away layers of paint, the building has the original paint colors that were in the 1925 Simon theatre.
Vaudeville shows first came to the theatre and they would open the freight door in Alamo Alley to let some extra air flow in. John Hasskarl, Jr. told us when he was a young teen, he and a friend would wait in the alley so they could peek into the freight door when the vaudeville show started.
While the back of the stage was originally three stories high, the top two floors are now home to additional useful facilities that do not interfere with the view of the stage. Accessible through an elevator from the alley, the second floor contains restrooms and a catering kitchen for the adjoining Ballroom, while the third floor is used for storage of tables and chairs. The ballroom is an elegant place to have luncheons, dinners, galas, receptions and conferences.
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