The Royal Theater has been a staple in Archer City since 1926 and has served the community in a variety of roles.
Previously, Archer City had the Dixie Theater, though it is unclear if it occupied the same space and when it closed.
The building was previously a boarding house when James Roberts and Clabe Long turned it into a theater. The Royal Theater got its name from a young local, Royal “Bingo” Kinder. He was a family friend and neighbor of James Roberts. The founders agreed Royal was a fitting name for a theater.
The movie theater changed hands multiple times and had varying hours of operation. Sometimes, the theater was only open during the summer as the owners were school teachers and were unable to operate it during the year. Movie-goers would walk to the Royal to enjoy popcorn and the latest flicks from John Wayne to Elvis Presley rather than driving into Wichita Falls for their theaters.
The Royal Theater caught fire in May 1947 and August 1965. The 1947 fire required new seating and decoration due to damage and prompted the owner to ban cigarettes. The 1965 fire destroyed the balcony and projection room and the newly replaced roof. Damages were estimated to be $9,000, which would cost about $85,000 with today’s inflation.
Though plans were made throughout the years to restore the building, no action was taken. That is until Larry McMurtry’s book, The Last Picture Show, was to be created into a movie. Work crews recreated the exterior structure of the theater for its spotlight in the film.
The Royal is probably best known for its pivotal role and backdrop in The Last Picture Show, released in 1971. The movie depicted the life and choices of high school seniors in small-town America.
There was a mixed community response to how Archer City was portrayed. Much of this out-roar, and even defense of the book and movie, played out in the local newspaper.
The Royal Theater acted as a touchstone for Larry McMurtry fans and those looking to experience the place that The Last Picture Show was allegedly based. Over the decades, tourists stopped in Archer City to take photos of the Royal through its varying stages of existence since the movie’s release in 1971.
The theater’s faux front, created for filming, was torn down in 1982. In 1989 the sequel, Texasville, was also filmed in Archer City, and a new facade was rebuilt and torn down once filming commenced.
In The Last Picture Show, the theater owner commented, “Nobody wants to come to shows no more. Kid baseball in the summer, television all the time.” While the Royal Theater was closed due to fire, it never returned as a movie theater. Dear Brigitte was the last "picture show" to be shown at the Royal as the fire happened after the Tuesday night showing. We will never know if the Royal Theater would’ve followed in the same footsteps its counterpart in the film had.
In 1996, the Archer Community Foundation took action to restore the building and create a community gathering space once again. Abby Abernathy returned to Archer City from New York City to head the restoration of the theater. August of 2000 marked the official reopening of the Royal Theater and the completed restoration of the front of the original building.
The Royal is used to this day as a live music venue and rental space. It has taken many forms and shapes throughout the years but has brought Archer City and the surrounding area entertainment, culture, and interest.