Clara Bow in “A Lady of Whims” was the first film to be shown when the Liberty Theater opened in Denison at 203 West Main on Nov. 19, 1927. Needless to say, it was a huge celebration. The theater was opened by James Anthony “Quinnie” Cuff.
A week after the theater made its debut, Cuff and 29-year-old Alice Margaret Glackin were married. Her family had come to Texas and opened a clothing store on Main Street in Denison.
As part of the opening celebration a “Name the Theater” contest was held and the big prize for the winner was a $10 bill. That $10 was worth a little more in 1927 than it is today; around $136 in 2017.
The winning essay was written by Ollie Moye, an employee of Chief News that was located just up the street at 609 West Main. Judges were B. McDaniel of Denison schools, John Lindsey and Paul Leeper.
Quinnie Cuff was born in Denison on May 8, 1895, and was named after his father, James, and his uncle, Anthony. His godfather’s name was Quinn. When young Quinnie was small he was known as “Little Quinn,” then as time went by he became “Quinnie.”
His dad, James, was born in Ireland and he and his brother, Anthony, who was a year or two older, came to America in 1861 or 1862. James became a contractor who helped build the line that brought the MK&T Railroad into Denison in 1872. He continued this work for many years, building Katy tracks to the south and southwest. After marrying Catherine “Kittie” Carey in 1874, the couple moved to Denison, where they were active at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Meanwhile in 1870, Anthony was a boarding student at the De La Salle Institute in New York City, a Catholic school for boys from the beginning of the 19th century. He joined his brother in Denison by 1876 and the two were partners operating the Excelsior Livery, Sale and Feed Stable at the northwest corner of Burnett Avenue and Main Street. According to an article in the Denison Daily News in 1876, the Cuffs had “the only first-class hearse in the city.”
James built the building at 203 West Main in 1878, and the Liberty Theater was housed there.
James listed his occupation as farmer, capitalist, stone contractor and builder. He acquired large tracts of land north of his home on West Washington and the area was developed after his death as the “Cuff Addition” in far North Denison. Quinnie Cuff was one of James and Catherine’s five children. He and this writer’s grandfather were good friends and this writer’s parents built one of the first houses in the Cuff Addition in 1941.
The Liberty Theater could seat up to 287 patrons on the main floor and on the balcony. Not long after it opened it was damaged by fire, but in March 1928 it reopened and began showing movies again.
In his book, “Theater Row, Movie Palaces of Denison, Texas,” Billy Holcomb writes of the Liberty Theater and the Cuff family and shared most of the information about the theater and the Cuffs for this article.
The Liberty was popular with all ages in the early days despite the fact that the movies were silent. Quinnie’s sister, Anita, who was deaf as the result of a childhood illness, sold tickets there. She read the lips of actors on the silent screen and laughingly told the Cuffs what the actors “really” were saying.
Unfortunately for the people of Denison, the Great Depression that paralyzed the country forced the closure of the theater. The building was purchased in 1968 by C.J. McManus, who operated a Dad and Lad’s clothing store here a few years later and in more recent times purchased the Katy Depot Building and reinstalled the fountain and park in front of the Depot.
The lot at 203 West Main was part of the first lot in Denison that was sold at auction when the town was founded in September 1872.
For years the 200 block West Main was known as “Theater Row,” that provided the title for Billy’s book. In addition to the Liberty Theater there were the Arcade, Mirror, Palace, Princess, Rio, Superba, and the Star that later became the State Theater. The State building is the only one still standing and now is part of the Homestead Winery. At different times there were two opera houses and as many as nine movie theaters operating in the block.
Many thanks to Billy Holcomb, who knows more about the theater business in Denison than anyone else around, for sharing with us much of the information for this column.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.