A single-screen movie theater—the Ed Tex—opened in Edna on Monday, June 30, 1930, and it served the community until a fire destroyed the building in 1942. Due to U.S. involvement in World War II and related shortages of construction materials and capital for investment, a new theater could not be built in replacement at that time. Between 1942 and the opening of the Edna Theatre in 1950, residents throughout the largely rural Jackson County attended movie screenings in Edna in a remodeled storefront building with very limited seating capacity.
Late in 1949, construction began on the Edna Theatre at the corner of Ed Linn and Main streets, and the movie palace—a spectacular in itself—opened on the evening of Tuesday, March 14, 1950. The theater was designed and constructed by W. D. Peck and Company, Inc., of Houston, for the movie theater chain of J.C. Long Theaters, Inc., of Bay City, Texas. The Long Theaters owned and operated sixty theater venues throughout central and south Texas at that time, and the Edna Theatre was as modern in its design and equipment as any of its theaters in larger metropolitan areas, including Dallas and Houston. In addition to the latest in projection and sound equipment, and the most eye-catching of marquee lighting and signage, the Edna Theatre featured "eighty tons of refrigeration to cool the theater in summer, and a large heating plant to make it equally as comfortable during the winter." The Victoria Advocate reported that the Edna Theatre "is as modern as one can be built at this time." The final cost of construction exceeded $200,000, a large sum for its day."
"With true carnival spirit," approximately 3,000 people from Edna and the surrounding towns attended the grand opening of the theater on a Tuesday night. Jackson County residents celebrated the opening of the new movie palace with a parade, followed by a concert by the Edna Cowboy Band, conducted by R.J. Kluge. On the 450-squarefoot stage in the single-screen auditorium, a short dedication ceremony was held, with L. O. Wallace of the Long Theatres chain acting as master of ceremonies; also in attendance was another Long employee, Glenn McClain, who briefly addressed the crowd. Harry Mauritz, the mayor of Edna, and Dr. R. E. Lee, president of the chamber of commerce, also spoke briefly, and Wallace introduced the audience of 1,000 to the manager of the new theater, Fred M. Smith. The first feature shown at the Edna Theatre was Father Is a Bachelor, starring William Holden and Coleen Gray; this romantic comedy, directed by Abby Berlin and Norman Foster, had just been released nationally on February 22, making its Edna debut on March 14 quite current.
Many in Jackson County today fondly recall the vibrant atmosphere of the Edna Theatre and its significance as an important social center for the surrounding towns during the mid-twentieth century. Saturday matinees cost ten cents and included headline news clips, the latest adventures of a weekly serial hero, a cartoon, and one or two full length feature films. Teenagers flocked to the Edna Theatre on Saturday nights, as "the picture show" was the best place to take a date; midnight screenings of horror films also were a popular attraction for teenagers on Saturdays. Local merchants helped to bring patrons to the movie theater on Tuesdays, when people would queue all the way down the block for giveaways; the merchants donated prizes that were awarded to the lucky holders of numbered ticket stubs, or owners of cars with license plate numbers drawn by lottery. Treats at the concessions stand included popcorn for ten cents, candy for five cents, and dill pickles from a one-gallon jar. The Edna Theatre stage also was used for high school plays and talent shows, and occasionally live entertainment was also provided before a movie on Saturday night
Although attendance at the Edna Theatre was very strong in its first years of operation, the opening of the theater coincided with the rise of television's popularity among American households, and over time the number of moviegoers dwindled as the number of television sets rose. The later development of television-related technologies—including home video cassette players and recorders in the mid-1970s, and the introduction of cable or "pay" television channels—also contributed to the eventual demise of the Edna Theatre. Throughout the United States, large single-screen theaters like the Edna, located in the heart of downtown, commonly fell victim to the rising popularity of multi-screen theaters associated with shopping centers and regional malls. The Edna eventually succumbed to these pressures and closed its doors in 1978.
The local newspaper claimed that the Edna Theatre was "the largest and most modern [movie theater between San Antonio and Houston." Larger in size than many other single-screen theaters of the Long Theatres chain—including the Grove Theatre in Dallas, Dallas County, and the Ganado Theatre in Ganado, also in Jackson County—the Edna Theatre was certainly the chain's most opulent venue in 1950. Designed in the popular Moderne style, the building was the epitome of glamour and excitement, suggestive of Hollywood itself.
The horizontality of the one-part commercial block, which includes several storefronts and a grocery store, is countered with the two-story volume that contains the 1,000-seat auditorium and its screen. Minimal decoration on the brick building allows the elaborate theater marquee and 60-foot-tall vertical signage to serve as both advertisement and the focus of ornamentation. Extensive neon lighting both inside and outside the theater, including more than one mile of neon tubing on the main facade alone, draws attention to building in the dark of night, even at considerable distance. Texas architectural historian Jay C. Henry claimed that the "Streamlined marquee and the neon-illuminated advertising beacon became the leitmotifs of [1930s] modernization," on the major thoroughfares of downtown, a pattern that continued in the postwar years in the smaller towns of Texas.
Henry identifies "the suspended electric sign [that] has now become a vertical advertising pylon of monumental scale" as the dominating feature of movie theaters constructed throughout the state during this period, "the building as billboard—as an immediately recognizable trademark and advertisement for the goods and services purveyed."
The Edna Theatre is one of the finer examples of a Moderne-style movie palace still extant in southeast Texas. Its integrity is excellent, as its elaborate signage, ticket booth, poster display cases, and entrances all remain in place and unchanged. The adjacent storefronts still feature their aluminum-framed display windows and their continuous bands of metal awnings, which were designed to be fireproof The interior of the theater still includes the stage, screen, and sculptural ceiling ornamentation. The Moderne railing of extruded aluminum with glassy panels of corrugated, clear acrylic still graces the interior staircase to the balcony and manager's office.
A group of local businessmen, seeking to save the building from demolition and restore it to its former glory, purchased the Edna Theatre in 1986. These owners, in conjunction with the Jackson County Historical Commission, restored the marquee and most of the exterior neon lighting at a cost of nearly $30,000, much of which came from contributions from the community. In June 2008, nearly 1,200 people attended the marquee relighting ceremony, and since then the neon lights and signage have been illuminated every night between 9 and 11 o'clock. The City of Edna and the Chamber of Commerce now rent the marquee for public and private messages, and the Texana Arts Council, a local non-profit group, is currently pursuing full restoration and reuse of the Edna Theatre.