Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 02/26/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

>The Majestic


ON SULTRY SPRING NIGHTS, KARL Lybrand III listens for the whistle of approaching trains. The tracks along Wills Point, Texas, a farming community (pop. 2,986) some 40 miles east of Dallas, are just yards from the Majestic Theater, a musty 300-seat movie house and local institution. When the whistle blows, Lybrand, 52, like his dad and granddad before him, leaves his tiny office just off the lobby and rushes to close the front doors. The theater's walls shudder until the caboose passes. Then Lybrand swings the doors open again to let the evening breeze drift back in.

The Majestic stands as a relic—one of 113 single-screen houses left in this nation of 27,843 theaters. It's also one of the few to be run by the same family since silent-movie days.

The Majestic traces its origins back to 1907, when Karl Sr., a tailor, projected one-reelers on bedsheets in the back of his shop. With the profits, he built the Majestic around the corner in 1926. Ten years later, he passed the theater on to his 17-year-old son, Karl Jr. The second Karl ran it for 48 years, replacing the original seats with red cushioned ones in 1975. Karl III installed the Majestic's wide screen in 1987. A more significant change occurred when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took effect, and black patrons, who had once been welcome only in the balcony seats, began sitting downstairs.

On their first date, Karl III took Keeta Sockwell, now 49, to the Majestic in 1960—and married her six years later. Then, in 1984, Karl Jr. retired, and Karl III left insurance for the family business. By showing first-run movies like Grumpier Old Men for just $3 (the nearest multiplex is 45 minutes away), he keeps the house full most Saturday nights, with the neighbors helping at the concession stand to defray costs for the slower week-nights. "It's important to a lot of folks," Lybrand says, "that we not get boarded up like so many small-town theaters. I won't let that happen."

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