In 1994 The Odeon Theater was purchased by The Odeon Preservation Association (OPA), a newly formed non-profit organization in Mason. Their purpose was to update, repair, operate the Theater, and become a venue for live music and cultural offerings.
During a Board meeting of the OPA, there was a discussion of various live events and music genres. Board President Spider Johnson recalled a years’ earlier conversation with Scott Haupert regarding performing classical music in Mason. Scott is a local winemaker, Mason business owner, a highly accomplished violist, and studio musician in California for Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, and more.
In 2015 the Odeon staged a concert featuring the ASQ from Austin with Mr. Haupert as their Guest Artist. It was a resounding success as it sold out, and 50-60 folks were turned away without tickets due to space.
Later in 2015, the members of the Board responded to a suggestion by Bruce Williams, violist and manager of the ASQ, that a Chamber Music Festival in Mason (MCMF) be created. The Board knew that someone would need to pick up the mantle on such a big undertaking. Board member Cathy Terrell agreed to undertake the recruitment and formation of a committee. She has led the Mason Chamber Music Festival Committee in organizing, fundraising, and planning the Festival. And Ms. Terrell and The Festival Committee have never looked back!
On September 21, 2015, the Festival Committee met for the first time. A fundraising letter, a grant application to the Texas Commission for the Arts, and marketing strategies were discussed. The Committee began receiving monetary support almost immediately after the fundraising letter was mailed, and in December, the Committee applied for the grant. Several people contributed to help write the application. Grant writer and Committee member Melissa Eddy edited and submitted the document to the Texas Commission for the Arts. The application was successful, and the MCMF received a grant from the TCA to help fund the inaugural season.
The first annual Mason Chamber Music Festival took place on May 2, 2016. Artistic Director Bruce Williams and the ASQ as the Artists-in-Residence for the Festival. Each year they bring in a range of Guest Artists to delight the audiences.
Today the MCMF continues through the work of the Committee, the unwavering support of our patrons, and through grants. The MCMF exists under the legal umbrella of the Odeon Theater but is a self-sustaining entity. We thank the OPA for providing the theater for our Gala night concert performances each year.
The Festival Committee has dreamed of a Music Education program for Mason youth from the beginning. On March 31, 2016, the Mason Chamber Music Festival officially began with a performance for Mason’s youth at the Mason High School. Close to 300 students attended, including most of the elementary school. Except for 2020 (due to COVID, there was no performance at the Mason Schools), the MCMF has performed at the High School in Mason each year to a rousing interest. Mason ISD currently has no instruction for string instruments.
The Mason Chamber Music Festival Committee has an earnest goal in the coming years of creating a program whereby students have access to string instrument music education.
The Odeon Theater, built in 1928, is the longest continually operating theater in west Texas. The building, located on Mason’s beautifully refurbished Courthouse Square, is in a National Historic Register District. Mason is the home of Fort Mason, one of the original forts built to guard Texas frontier settlements during the mid-nineteenth century.
In 1957, the Odeon was the site of a special premiere showing of the Disney movie “Old Yeller,” based on the book by Mason native, Fred Gibson. Also, the Odeon was the site of the worldwide premiere of a second movie, “Savage Sam,” based upon another of Mr. Gibson’s books. From this small community in the Texas Hill Country, Gibson’s books, and the movies based on them have entertained many in numerous countries, in various languages.
In 1994, the building owner, Terry Hooten, announced his plan to level the sloping theater floor and use the building as a conventional business location. Local residents, including many Mason school children, objected to the closing of the theater and conversion of the building. The Odeon had been a safe source of entertainment for many years; and, many believed the building itself had a much too colorful historical past to become anything other than a “movie house.” At that time, Jane Hoerster, Mason County Treasurer and president of the Mason County Historical Commission, stepped in to preserve the Odeon. Jane approached local artist, Spider Johnson and urged him to organize local support for preservation of the Odeon. Their efforts resulted in the formation of the Odeon Preservation Association (OPA), a private, non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. In 1994, the newly formed OPA purchased the Odeon Theater from Mr. Hooten with a loan from Mason National Bank.
In addition to preservation and renovation of the Odeon itself, the main goal of the OPA has been to provide local entertainment and cultural facilities for the residents of Mason County and surrounding areas. For years, the Odeon was the only movie theater in a four-county area. Travel distances for movies, live theater or musical events were too great for many less advantaged households to afford. Mason citizens recognized the need to maintain the Odeon for these purposes and generously volunteered both financial support and elbow grease.
The building, while largely intact, needed many repairs. The exits, restrooms, seating, and electrical system needed to be modernized to meet fire/safety codes ad the heating and air-conditioning systems needed replacement. The sound and projection systems were usable, but inadequate for long-term goals and live performances; the stage needed to be enlarged and repaired for live theater productions. Also, residents attending the movies were instructed to “BYOC” – bring your own chairs.
To repay the loan and to maintain the antiquated projection equipment, the OPA sponsored a BBQ dinner, a Silent Auction, a Halloween spook house, garage sales, a Mason High School band concert, car washes, drawings, and dances.
Since 1994, the OPA Board of Directors has continued its mission of providing entertainment at the Odeon through the performing arts, thus bringing cultural enrichment to Mason and surrounding communities. Current releases of movies are shown every week, as they have been since the Odeon first opened in 1928. Live musical performances grace the stage on a regular basis. The Odeon serves as a venue for film festivals; it collaborates with the M. Beven Eckert Memorial Library in presenting educational/public service programs and has served as a venue for seminars presented by the Mason County Historical Commission.
A new chapter in the history of the Odeon Theater will begin in 2018 with a newly completed addition that makes possible live community theater in Mason. New dressing rooms, work areas for set design and construction, and a much-needed storage area will allow the OPA to accomplish another of its long-term goals. The new addition will be completely accessible to people with disabilities and will provide cultural opportunities otherwise unavailable to those of limited economic means. And, a recent grant from the Riata Service Organization has provided funds for a new face-lift for the lobby and concession area.
The Odeon Theater has come a long way from the days of “BYOC.” Theater attendees now enjoy presentations with state-of-the-art projection, lighting and sound equipment. In 2019, the OPA celebrates its Silver Anniversary. To mark this exciting milestone, the Odeon is completing the final major elements of the original restoration plan — new, modern, comfortable theater seating and updated sound system!
Renovation and preservation of the Odeon has been possible only through the generous support of over 400 individuals, businesses and granting agencies. Major support has come from the Meadows Foundation, Brown Foundation, King Foundation, Texas Commission for the Arts, to name only a few of the 15 or so supporting agencies who have contributed generously through the years to ensure the legacy of the Odeon Theater in Mason, Texas.