Route 66 Day 8: The Star of The Show

We spent the night in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh), Oklahoma. When we arrived we drove through the main part of town and saw a beautiful building that really stood out among the others on the main street. We learned it was the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. We were happy to see they offered tours, and before hitting the road today, we had the opportunity to visit the theatre. 

Sometimes you find a gem, not only in the physical environmental sense, but rarely and in this case, in its story. 

We were so fortunate to meet Karen, who took us on a tour of not just the Coleman, but of her Coleman Theatre. She shared the story of how the theatre came to be; built in 1929 by George Coleman Sr, encouraged by his wife. the theater was popular and beautiful when it was built. It remained open from 1929 through 2019. In 1989 the theatre was donated to the City of Miami with the condition it be restored as a performing arts center. We learned the City wanted to take it down and make it a parking lot, but the community came to the Theatre’s support and worked to renovate and rebuild. 

The stories of the Coleman do not end with such simple generalities. At so many steps of the renovation, it feels as though this theatre was meant to be; meant to continue to live among the community as integral a part as any other community member.

The beautiful original carpet did not fare well over the years; having found a piece of the original carpet, and the original manufacturer, the carpet was recreated exactly as it was when the theatre was built, red with the Coleman crest and the initials CT for Coleman Theatre. The magic of the Coleman doesn’t end there…..the original seats were in disrepair and unable to be renovated. The original manufacturer was contacted, was still in business, and the seats were redesigned as the originals, updated for size and accessibility. To support the cost, patrons bought plaques that you can read on each seat. Some are in memory of a loved one, some the names of patrons, and our favorite that Karen shared; a couple sponsored 2 seats, one saying “Will you marry me?” and the other saying “I do”. ( Cue Kleenex).

An absolutely gorgeous pipe organ had been part of the Coleman, the Mighty Wurlitzer. It had been sold, and left the theatre at some point. The organ was found, and in 1989 it returned to the Coleman, refurbished, and graces the Theatre as it did the day the theatre opened. Karen played a recorded piece of music through the pipes of the organ. It. Was. Magnificent! It filled the hall with music that sounded only as it could in this special place.

At the top of the theatre is a striking chandelier; in disrepair with the glass broken, the renovators were able to locate a glass company who remade the glass. A descendent of the original artisan who installed the chandelier, rewired and installed the centerpiece of light. Once a year it is lowered from the apex of the ceiling to the balcony level where light bulbs are changed and the crystals and glass are cleaned before it is cranked back up to the ceiling.

The backdrop of the Theatre is the original, restored and protected.

Beautiful regal staircases grace the lobby. Karen told us of how the ushers, dressed in their suits, would descend the stairs. The tradition was, as the ushers came down the steps they would touch a gold statue of a woman holding a candelabra, for good luck. When the theatre was undergoing renovation, the statue was missing. A former usher during the Coleman’s time, said he would pay for the restoration of the statue if it could be found. It was found with some damage, and the gentleman paid to have the statue restored as it once was, and graces the same spot today. 

To me, the fact that these iconic pieces of the Theatre were able to be restored and reunited speaks to how the Coleman Theatre Beautiful has always been part of the community and found its way piece by piece back to its grandeur.

We met Danny, the managing director. He told us Miami is a small town, but the community came together because the theater was such an integral part of their lives. He was told by community members “It’s our memories that hold up these walls”. 

We are so grateful to Karen and Danny, and all the volunteers, supporters, and community of Miami who shared this gem with us. 

We left Miami and the Theatre, and continued on our way on Route 66. We saw some beautiful countryside, and at one point travelled down an original section of Route 66 as horseflies attacked the car! 

As much as we enjoyed our day of traveling on Route 66, Art and I both agree, our visit to the Coleman Theatre was truly the star of the show.

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