History buffs, Sinclair rally to preserve 1920s theater

A group in Sinclair is trying to revive the Sinclair Theater, which closed in the 1970s. The price tag to restore the theater, built in 1924 or 1925, is estimated at $2 million. (Photo by Ray E. Erku, Rawlins Times)

SINCLAIR — The Sinclair Theater began its life with the rest of the small town, back around 1924 or 1925. 

Originally Sinclair was known as Parco, after the Producers and Refiners Corporation, the oil company that established the town’s refinery and owned most of the businesses in town. The theater was built alongside (literally and figuratively) the recreation center, the police and fire departments and the post office. 

It was a marvel, a theater in a small town in Wyoming that likely showed some of the biggest films of the time in a decade like Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer,” “Metropolis” and even the first recipient of what is now known as the best picture Academy Award, “Wings.” Since the oil company wanted its company town to grow, they knew they had to provide quality entertainment for the men and women in the area. Thus, the theater brought in heavy foot traffic for decades. 

But as the 1960s rolled around, the theater’s business slowed down. By the 1970s, it was closed for good. 

For more than four decades, the building has stood quiet. The seats are empty. The projectors haven’t been used in many years. If anyone in Sinclair wants to see a movie, they have to drive the 10 miles to Rawlins’ The Movies, a three-screen theater showing a mix of family-friendly films and movies geared more toward teens and adults. 

But a group in Sinclair hopes that they can change this predicament. They’re working toward reviving the old Sinclair Theater, trying to open its doors for the people of Sinclair to come in, enjoy a movie and even create a new space for the whole community to enjoy. 

“We wanted to restore it because it’s a historical building and it wasn’t getting any attention for years,” Sinclair Historical Community Inc. Chairman Leif Johansson said. “We hated seeing it fall apart. When I first went into it, I saw what a beautiful building it still was on the inside, and we as an organization felt it would be well-worth the effort to try and save it.” 

That’s exactly what they’re doing. 

On Thursday, the town of Sinclair hosted a public hearing about the restoration project, inviting the community to come in and share their thoughts about it.

They held the meeting because the town intends to submit an application for a Community Readiness Grant through the Wyoming Business Council’s Business Ready Community Grant and Loan Program. If approved, the grant could provide the town up to $1 million to go toward the project.

According to Sinclair Town Clerk Lezlee Musgrave, the estimate to restore the theater is just over $2 million. She mentioned the assessor who came to inspect the building let her and the preservation group know that both the foundation and building are structurally sound, a relief to everyone backing the project. 

“It was a little surprising to hear that the building is in as good of shape as it is,” Johansson admitted. “Sure, there are some cracks on the outside, but that’s more superficial than anything.” 

The restoration of the theater will include updating the building’s electricity and plumbing (since there are only two bathrooms), making it handicap-accessible and removing and replacing the seats, since they’re quite narrow and uncomfortable for today’s audiences, who might be used to comfortable theater chairs that are at least padded. 

The theater will seat around 300 people, not far away from the entire town’s population. 

While Johansson and Musgrave agreed that the theater will definitely be used to show films again, the update of the theater will mean that it can be used as a gathering place for the community of Sinclair. 

If all goes according to plan, the hope is to have the restoration project completed by 2025, the 100th anniversary of Parco/Sinclair. 

The two added that so far, no naysayers have come forward to disavow the project. 

The organization will continue applying for any applicable grants to help fund the project, but they do hold fundraisers in the area intermittently. 

“It’s really exciting that not only is the town of Sinclair behind this project, but people from Rawlins, Saratoga and Encampment are all in support,” Johansson said. “There are theaters in Rawlins and Saratoga, but it would be nice to have one here that would allow us to do other things besides show movies. Groups like the local thespians, the ballet company and the music academy have all expressed interest in potentially using the theater when it’s finished. It’s really an exciting opportunity for the whole community.”