June 19, 2019
Theater Renovations Complete at Will Rogers Memorial Museum
CLAREMORE, Okla. — The west wing of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore opened nearly four decades ago. The centerpiece of this wing is Will Rogers Theatre, the fulfillment of a dream of Will Rogers Jr. to have a place to further share memories of his father’s movie career.
Last year, for the 100th anniversary of Will’s first movie, the Will Rogers Memorial Foundation completed a successful Red Carpet fundraising event to renovate the 36-year-old theater.
“With the help of people from across the country sponsoring the new seats, renovations on the theater began in earnest at the beginning of 2019,” said Tad Jones, executive director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Birthplace Ranch. “With the leadership of Rillis Howard from the Oklahoma Historical Society, the theater received a wonderful upgrade and a completely new look.”
New leather seats were installed, taking the total number of seats from 175 to 191. There is new flooring, new carpet on the back wall and the walls and ceilings have been painted.
The reconstructed stage was named for Jim Hartz, former Will Rogers commissioner, longtime television newsman, and former Today Show host. It received several upgrades including a larger projector screen, new speakers and a new backdrop.
Features added to the theater include new touch screens for controlling movies, sound and lighting; new outlets for presentations using computers; and a new lighting system throughout the theater. The backlit vintage movie posters from the museum’s collection, many donated by former Tulsan Gordon Kuntz, complement the theater’s feel.
A beautiful organ was donated to the theater for use during silent movies to add to the experience. The theater will be able to host business and community meetings, weddings and receptions, talent shows and maybe even video game competitions.
“Even though the theater can now handle more events and activities, the main purpose of the theater is sharing Will Rogers with people from around the world,” said Jones. “Visitors will be able to pick the documentary of their choice at the beautifully designed ticket booth, then lights will slowly dim as they make their way to their seat and become immersed in the story of Will Rogers. And our Will Rogers interpreter, Andy Hogan, will still be sharing Will with thousands of tour groups and school kids, but with much better sound and lighting.”
“We are so grateful for all those who helped sponsor the theater and for all the work that went into making it a true Oklahoma jewel,” Jones added.
Mark your calendar for free Movie Nights at Will Rogers Theatre on Friday, July 26, and Friday, August 30. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum is located at 1720 West Will Rogers Boulevard in Claremore. Please call 918-341-0719 for more information.
The Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch are divisions of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.