What A Jewel

Oklahoma’s Historic African American Film House

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History of the Jewel Theater

 

The Jewel Theater was constructed and owned by Percy H. James and his wife Hathyel L. James in July 1931. The James’ named the theater after their daughter Jewel. The building was fitted with a projection room, ticket booth, office, workroom, and single stall restrooms on either side of the auditorium.

During segregation the Jewel Theater played a significant role in the social activities of black people in Oklahoma City. The Jewel was the heart of entertainment for the black community because it was the place blacks could go to watch a movie without sitting in an assigned section and still be able to watch the latest films available. The theater was not only used for viewing movies, but concerts and plays were performed there as well.

Percy and Hathyel also owned three other Jewel Theaters (Ardmore, Oklahoma; Wewoka, Oklahoma; and Amarillo, Texas). The James’ were also the owners of Jay Kola, which was established in 1935. It was one of the few black owned bottling companies in the southwestern United States. The James’ manufactured several different kinds of soft drinks.

In the 1940’s, the company sponsored an Oklahoma City Negro baseball team, which was called the Jay Kola Giants. It has been recorded historically that Mr. James, who was from Opelousas, Louisiana, retired for health reasons around 1963 effectively ending the franchise. On November 2, 1965, Percy James died in Oklahoma City.

In the late 1970’s, the Jewel Theater closed its doors. It is the only remaining standing facility” that serves as a history link to the development of early African American social progress in Oklahoma City.

It sits on an empty block where it was once surrounded by thriving commercial businesses such as shops, restaurants, blues/jazz clubs and a grocery store.

The Jewel Theater is the only remaining standing facility that serves as a history link to the development of early African American social progress in Oklahoma City.

The Jewel Theater Restoration

The Jewel Theater is now owned by Arthur B. Hurst, who was born and raised in Oklahoma City, OK. Mr. Hurst purchased the theater in the early 1970’s and feels really passionate about the theater because he and his children spent many weekends there watching movies such as, “The Ten Commandments”, “Alfred Hitchcock”, and many other well-known movie titles.

In 2010, Mr. Hurst established The Jewel Foundation, and with the help of others on the foundation board, the theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, the building has become badly damaged mainly due to weathering, but the theater still holds a tremendous amount of cultural and historical value to the community. One of the Jewel’s original film projectors, donated by Mr. Hurst, is on display at the Oklahoma History Museum.

Mr. Hurst’s vision is to restore the vintage theater to its former glory as a place for the community to view everything from classic films to newly released movies. He would also like to hold community events as well as arts education classes for youth and seniors in the theater.

In 2015, Mr. Hurst assembled a group of leaders who are working diligently to fulfill his vision of restoring the Jewel Theater back to its prominent position as Oklahoma City’s premiere African American movie and theater house.