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Ennis Daily News

Park under renovation is haven of memories

Due to a production error in the print edition of Sunday’s paper, the continuation of this story on page 10 was inadvertently omitted. The full story can be read below.

By Randy Bigham

Minnie McDowal Park, at the corner of Dallas and Knox streets in downtown Ennis, is still under reconstruction, and the update to the layout of the property is much-anticipated by many residents.

The park holds a special place in the hearts of locals. For over 60 years the location was home to the city’s only indoor movie house, the Plaza Theatre, later known as the Tara. After suffering major storm damage, the building was razed in the 1990s and the land sold to the city, which then dedicated it as a park in honor of the theater’s longest standing and most beloved employee, Minnie McDowal.

“While I was growing up,” recalled McDowal’s daughter, Liz Story. “Mother worked for the theater under several owners – first in the box office, selling tickets, and progressing to the position of bookkeeper.”

Originally constructed in 1902, the building was used for various commercial purposes until 1928 when it was bought and renovated as a movie theater, at that time the largest in Ennis and eventually the only one in town.

In 1960 the property was purchased by drive-in theater owner Lee Roy Mitchell. The Plaza was Mitchell’s first acquisition of an indoor facility. Many followed, and today Mitchell’s business, the famous Cinemark chain, of which he is CEO, operates thousands of screens. In 1978 the Plaza was revitalized and renamed the Tara Theatre. Following severe damage sustained during a thunderstorm 24 years ago, the Tara was torn down.

The cult horror film Deadly Blessings (1981), starring Sharon Stone in an early role, included scenes filmed at the Tara Theatre, capturing the cherished facility just before its demolition. A number of locals appeared in some of the movie’s street scenes.

Through all the years under Mitchell, McDowal worked tirelessly for his business.

“As Mr. Mitchell’s theaters grew,” Story remembered, “Mother continued to work for him, commuting to Dallas when the office moved to larger quarters there.”

Mitchell and his wife Tandy, on hearing of the 1992 collapse, decided in favor of demolition and sold the land to the City of Ennis with a request that it be converted into a small park area to be named in tribute to McDowal.

In May 1993 Mitchell and Cinemark officials, along with city, county and state dignitaries, were on hand at the mid-town site to unveil the plaque honoring McDowal, who arrived, joined by family and friends.

“Mother was always very proud of being a part of such a successful venture as the Cinemark theaters,” Story said. “And Mr. Mitchell was so appreciative of her commitment and dedication.”

Many who miss the old theater, and the original park built in its place, are looking forward to the revamping of the site which got underway this summer.

Mesa Planning in cooperation with Gresham, Smith & Partners are proposing a circular layout that incorporates a pavilion for open air concerts and other events. An architectural drawing, rendered by Robin Frye Associates, is now on display at the corner of the property.

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Posted by on Jul 30 2016. Filed under City news, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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