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Festival launched to revive Oklahoma City's historic Jewel Theatre
Not much is left along NE 4, once an important African American commercial corridor in Oklahoma City, but a campaign is being launched to ensure the last surviving black theater is brought back to life for future generations.
The Jewel Theatre, built in 1931 by African American businessman Percy James, was one of the top entertainment venues for the black community until it closed in the 1970s. The theater was once part of a stretch of retail and community centers that included restaurants, barbershops, doctor's offices, a grocery and hotels.
As founder of the Jay-Kola bottling company, James also established a string of theaters to provide a place where guests were not forced to abide by Jim Crow era rules that left black patrons restricted to where they could eat, watch a movie, live and work.
Today, only the recently restored Morgan Building, the former black YMCA (now the Foster Center) and the boarded-up Jewel Theatre still stand along NE 4 east of Lincoln Boulevard along with the early day African American Washington Park.
Arthur Hurst, who bought the theater building in 1980 after it was closed, formed a foundation in 2010 that is now starting a campaign to raise $2 million for its restoration.
“From a historic preservation point of view, this is truly monumental,” said John McConnell, longtime theater buff and Jewel Foundation board historian. “This is a long awaited, historic moment for the Jewel Theatre and the Oklahoma City Community.”