Old theater starts new life

The Brunson Theater will re-open for the first time in 70 years tonight, which will be celebrated by the City of Baytown and citizens. Moving forward, the city will utilize the facility as a business incubator and tourism office. 

The beacon on Texas Avenue was once the bright lights illuminating from the Brunson Theater marquee. 

As the former epicenter of Baytown, people would cruise down the sprawling strip where lifelong memories were made from the gatherings and movies that were had. 

While the theater will no longer serve as a moviehouse, it will reopen as a Baytown Visitor Information Center and business incubator, which will be celebrated at 7 tonight with a ribbon-cutting and open house. 

Then at 8 p.m., a documentary about the theater’s history will be shown at nearby Town Square. 

Once everything has concluded, Russell Hamman, who runs the Hamman’s Baytown History…with a Twist” page on Facebook, will host the third annual Texas Avenue Cruise to relive the good old days. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Hamman said. “The entire night is going to be wonderful, and everyone is invited to participate in the cruise.” 

With over 45 classic cars driving down the strip, provided by some car fanatics known as the Eastside Cruisers, and with a crowd at the Brunson, Texas Avenue, for a moment, will relive its past. 

“Everyone I’ve talked to about this event is excited,” Bob Cowan of Eastside Cruisers said. “We wanted to evolve our cruise-in by having everyone gather on Texas Avenue and then have a destination to cruise — this was perfect. Especially with the history of Texas Avenue and the Brunson.” 

A snow cone truck will also be on Texas Avenue to hand out free pickle juice on ice before the cruise takes to O’Neal’s Sports Bar and Grill On the Water, 2651 S. Highway 146. Once at O’Neal’s, the Eastside Cruisers will have a free classic cars show that everyone’s invited to enjoy.  

The prospect of the Brunson’s renaissance has excited many Baytown residents for years. When the city was throwing out the idea of converting the art-deco-styled theater into a place where tourists can obtain information about Baytown and small business entrepreneurs, citizens voiced their support. 

“My history group showed public support several years ago that the public was all for it,” Hamman said. “We agreed with everything they decided to do with it, and understood it wouldn’t be viable to as an actual theater — we knew this was the next best thing.” 

“My stance was that if you get the front of that building looking good. You get the sign going. It would be a beacon to attract other businesses,” he added. “It’s been 70-years in the making, so to speak.” 

The Brunson Theater first opened on Aug. 23, 1949, and was best known for popular children’s shows, date nights and the iconic sign that illuminated Texas Avenue for decades. 

Baytonians could see a matinee and get a burger around the corner during its heyday or could go stop by the drug store for a soda and penny candy. 

But all that came to an end in 1982 when it closed. When the City of Baytown purchased the theater in 1997, the prospect of a Brunson return stayed alive — making its high-anticipated return tonight. 

In June of 2017, Baytown City Council approved a first installment of $200,000 to transform the historic theater into a tourism center and business incubator. 

The total cost of the renovation project is $1.385 million.

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