The Austin Chronicle

The Life and Times of the Alamo and the Ritz

November 2, 2007, Screens

Oct. 13, 1929: L.L. Hegman opens the Ritz "talking pictures" theatre, at 320 E. Sixth, with balcony seating for black audience members. (It remained the only theatre in town to allow African-Americans in until desegregation.) The theatre is not air-conditioned.

Oct. 24, 1929: "Black Tuesday" stock market crash. Ritz unaffected, prospers, gets warmer.

1937: Elmo Hegman takes over management of the Ritz; theatre expanded to 800 seats.

1964: The Ritz theatre, under Elmo and Jenny Hegman, closes for first time.

1970: The Ritz reopens as XXX theatre. Now sorely needed AC still nonexistent.

1974-75: Jim Franklin, Bill Livinggood reopen Ritz for concerts, plays, performances. "Hot as a sweatbox in there."

1977: Center Stage Theater takes over lease, quickly wilts in heat.

January 1982: Esther's Follies' Shannon Sedwick, Michael Shelton lease Ritz with Craig Underwood managing. "Phew! Warm in here!"

May 8, 1982: Ritz holds first-ever punk bill with Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, Big Boys, Dicks. Rivers of sweat flow down Sixth Street to pool, stagnate, at Red River, creating ideal conditions for future Emo's.

1982-84: The Ritz's punk/metal years. "Is it warm in here or is it just Slayer?"

October 1983: Esther's Follies original location burns down; performances moved to Ritz under lease-holders Shelton and Sedwick. Reviews are warm, sultry.

1987-90: Shelton and Sedwick sublease Ritz to Paul Sessums (owner of the Black Cat Lounge) and son Paul "Martian" Sessums. Shelton: "No air conditioning, with too many people in a big, hot room."

1990-ish-2005: Various mixed-use lessees; Bob Woody turns venue into wildly successful bar, game room, with addition of, finally, air conditioning.

1997: Original Alamo opens at 409 Colorado. Opening night: Raising Arizona/Spinal Tap.

2001: Alamo Village (2700 W. Anderson) opens.

2004: Alamo South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar) opens.

June 27, 2006: Original Alamo Downtown closes after all-night Tito's-Vodka-and-Susan Tyrell slurathon. Programmer Lars Nilson offers "moonshine" to everyone in sight.

March 2007: Karrie League holds press conference to announce brokerage of deal with current Ritz owner Larry Craddock (grandson of L.L. Hegman, nephew of Elmo Hegman). Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz begins preproduction. Co-founder Tim League blows off press conference, rafts down river wild, seeks deliverance.

Nov. 1, 2007: Alamo Drafthouse opens at the redesigned, refurbished Ritz. Tim League promises, "Free air conditioning with purchase of ticket."

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