When the Crystal Theatre was remodeled in 1931, it was modeled after Tulsa's Ritz Theatre with floating clouds, twinkling stars, stained glass lights and cut-velvet upholstered seats. With its balcony and orchestra pit, the Crystal Theatre is one of very few historical theatres left in the State of Oklahoma. Most of the original vaudeville theatres have been smothered into extinction by the multi-screen theatres sprouting up in malls across America. In Okemah, the Crystal is still open with current movies, concerts, and pageants.
The "stereopticon" cloud machine, theatre boxes and stage shows are gone now, but much of the theatre's original decor still remains. Painted stage flats and scenery, remnants of vaudeville days, are used in local pageants and plays. The 1921 hand-painted curtain, lights and original seats also remain. The dressing rooms remain as a yearbook for the theatre with signatures on the walls dating from the early 20s to present.
In the early 1900s the Crystal Theatre was owned and operated by Col. J.E. Burke. The theatre was originally located at 4th and Main Street, where the Sooner Drug is currently located. Just down the street, Auton Slepka owned and operated the Jewel Theatre. Mr. Slepka purchased the now-defunct theatre in 1918 as an investment. Mr. Slepka moved from his farm located near Bixby to operate this theatre himself after a series of renters failed to make a profit.
Mr. Slepka soon found out the reason for his failing theatre. In 1921, J.E. Burke built the new Crystal Theatre. Mr. Burke advertised by putting up signs and boasting that you need not go anywhere else for entertainment, he opened with a free show before a crowd of 1,000. When the new Crystal was built, many Okemah residents thought the Slepkas would be ruined. The economy during this time period was growing due to the oil-boom and as Okemah's downtown businesses were also growing, merchants took advantage of the oil money and stayed open until 11 p.m. This was the boost the Slepkas needed and the business began to prosper. The Jewel Theatre was a business run completely by the Slepka family. The theatre was able to make enough money by showing matinees to pay the overhead and the rest was profit.
By 1927, hard times hit the owner of the Crystal Theatre. Talking picurtes were being released and the acoustics were bad inside the Crystal. The sound seemed to bounce back and forth. The Slepkas bought and remodeled the Crystal in 1931. Reopened in 1932, Bill Slepka was once said to be the youngest playhouse executive in the United States. Bill Slepka brought Hollywood to Okemah. In the 30s, Bill ran six shows a week, changing bills daily, vaudeville and pictures. He charged from 10 to 25 cents, which sometimes included dancing troupes and dramas.
In the early 80s, ten years after Bill Slepka retired from the business, it was purchased by Mark Smyth. The theatre was in dire need of attention, which Smyth gave by painting, repairing and adding a pipe organ to the theatre.
In 1995, the present owners, Johnny and Kristy Lesley, added surround sound, new projection equipment and made many needed repairs, taking care to restore the theatre leaving as many of the original characteristics of the building in place as possible.
Come visit us in Okemah, Oklahoma