Jan Jones’ second volume on Fort Worth’s theatrical heritage presents for the first time a richly illustrated, comprehensive history of the showmen, performers, theaters, and events that shaped the city’s theatrical fortunes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jones chronicles the early amateur theatricals of the 1870s, the development of Hell’s Half Acre with its many variety theaters and honky tonks, and the opening of Evans Hall, the town’s first legitimate theater. By 1883 far-sighted civic leaders had completed the Fort Worth Opera House, and by 1886 the city had joined the touring circuit of Galveston showman, Henry Greenwall. Under Greenwalls aegis, many of the era’s leading players appeared in the city, including Edwin Booth and Sarah Bernhardt. The Texas Spring Palace exhibitions of 1889 and 1890 brought national acclaim and did much to alter perceptions of the community as a frontier cow town.
In the twentieth century, vaudeville’s popularity led to construction of two Majestic theaters just six years apart, in 1905 and 1911. Participating in the establishment of the Fort Worth Little Theater following World War I was a still unknown Texas writer, Katherine Anne Porter. During the 1930s, the city was once again catapulted to national prominence when New York producer Billy Rose created Broadway-style revues for Casa Mañana, the city’s contribution to the Texas Centennial celebration.
Establishment of the Fort Worth Opera, Casa Mañana Musicals, and the Fort Worth Community Theater following World War II set the stage for what had become, by the end of the twentieth century, a vibrant community of permanent companies, including Jubilee Theater, Hip Pocket Theatre, Stage West, and Circle Theatre. The twentieth century ended dramatically with completion of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass performance Hall.