A downtown landmark just got a gift for its 99th birthday. The Farr Best Theater will soon be open and ready for business.
The city began leasing the building at 109 N. Main St. in March, and last week awarded the building a certificate of occupancy, which means the Commission for the Arts can begin holding events there.
“We’ll be open Thursday and I’ll be telling stories about McDougal,” said Tim Eaton, a commission member, referring to Third Thursdays’ ghost tours and the spirit that used to haunt the old theater.
The seven-member arts commission has had months to come up with other plans for the city’s first movie theater.
“In May, we want to do an arts showcase with all the arts in town, using the downtown area and parks,” Eaton said. “On June 15-17, we’ll have a music and film festival, and a black-tie gala at the end of September. On Oct. 17, 2017, the theater’s 100th birthday is going to be huge.”
The city got free rent from owner Charles Morales for the first two months and paid $1,000 a month in rent starting in May. This month, the rent went up to $1,500 a month. Before the commission could move into the 153-seat theater, though, some repairs had to be made.
“There were some major cracks in the back wall and concern over whether the vibration from the music could bring the ceiling down,” Eaton said.
In June, the council allocated $39,501 in hotel/motel tax funds for repairs, which were completed last month.
Milton May Farr opened the theater Oct. 17, 1917, and the building was operated as a theater until 1980. After that the theater was used as a church, until Main Street Theatre began holding live productions there in 1990 with Eaton as the group’s chairman. Morales bought the property Sept. 9, 2004, and Main Street Theatre continued holding programs there until Jan. 1, 2008. Morales’ daughter and son-in-law, Rhonda and David Meadows, began live musical productions after Main Street Theater moved out.
After David Meadows’ death in 2013, Discover Historic Mansfield gave the building a facelift and began producing live acts at the theater. In June 2015, Morales closed the Farr Best, saying he didn’t appreciate the city backing The LOT less than a block away, which would compete with his theater. Mayor David Cook worked with Morales to re-open the Farr Best and lease it to the city.
“It’s the heart and soul of downtown,” Cook said. “It’s a part of our history and can be a big part of our future.”
The city is attempting to purchase the theater, Cook said.
Eaton sees the theater as a downtown gathering place.
“I think it’s a central location, it’s a community center,” he said. “We think that facility is a hub to the arts. It belongs to the community and they have the right to use it. There’s a lot of things that building can do.”
In the past, weddings, birthday parties and community meetings have been held in the theater, Eaton said, and can be again.
In October, the city council approved a full-time position for the arts commission. The new employee, who has not yet been hired, will be responsible for booking the theater, Eaton said.
Farr Best Theater
109 N. Main St.