Owners of Downtown Cowtown at the ISIS announce change in operations

dfwnewsa | November 27, 2023 | 0 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Owners of Downtown Cowtown at the ISIS announce change in operations
The Downtown Cowtown at the Isis theater officially opened its doors to the public in 2021. The original theater was built in 1914 but burned down in 1935 and was rebuilt in 1936. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

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The owners of Downtown Cowtown at the ISIS announced in a Facebook post Nov. 26 that they will no longer be operating the city’s oldest theater. 

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The single-screen, 500-seat cinema/performance and event venue was extensively renovated and reopened in 2021 by Jeffrey Smith and Debbie Garrett-Smith, who had big ideas for the space.

“Thank you to all of our patrons and visitors for your undying support of this incredible and unique vision we call Downtown Cowtown at the Isis Theatre,” the post read. “It is with the deepest sadness that we announce, effective immediately, we personally will no longer be operating the theatre.”

Information about the future of the theater is scant, and the Smiths did not respond to multiple interview requests.

The news comes just weeks after the theater hosted several screenings for the Lone Star Film Festival and in advance of several advertised holiday events.

“Jeff’s passion and vision for the venue were palpable at that table. Now, faced with the necessity to relinquish control of the ISIS, it’s genuinely heartbreaking,” said Lee Littlefield, former publicist for the theater. 

Littlefield credited the couple for investing blood, sweat and tears in the theater and wished them well.

“I remain hopeful that whoever steps into the role, now that Jeff has reluctantly passed the torch due to an overwhelming tide of challenges, will be better equipped for the demands of such a business model,” he said. “I know (Jeff) did everything he could.”

The venue has a long history of ups and downs.

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The historic theater was first constructed in 1914. It was decimated by fire in 1935 and reconstructed in 1936. The building was damaged by the flooding of Marine Creek in 1942 but continued to operate under a string of different owners until 1988, when the building was vacated.  

The Smiths began renovations on the theater in 2017.

“It hurt my heart to see it was just sitting there, and nobody was taking care of it,” Smith told the Report in a 2021 interview. “It needed to be loved. It needed to be nurtured. It needed to be brought back for people to see this building.”

Rather than try to hide some of the ugly history of the building, the couple acknowledged its past. The new owners preserved some of the seats from when the theater was segregated and Black patrons were only allowed to sit upstairs.

“We wanted to make sure we did it right, and that includes preserving all of the history, the good and bad,” Jeff Smith told Fort Worth Magazine months before the theater reopened.

Garrett-Smith responded to several comments on her Facebook announcement, replying that it’s a “complicated matter” and “an outside source hopefully will reopen soon,” in separate threads.

“Although this chapter is coming to an end, the memories and stories we all have created here will last a lifetime,” the Facebook announcement continued. “It has been (an) honor to serve and entertain the historic Fort Worth area for the past two years and we are all so incredibly grateful. Goodbye for now.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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