By James M. Decker
The Grand Theatre reopened in Stamford on November 23, 2018. After being dark for the better part of the last decade, the neon lights of the theatre marquee again light the downtown skyline. Downtown parking spaces have more demand on weekend evenings than they used to.
Since the theatre’s re-opening, excitement has been palpable. In reading comments on Facebook and hearing discussion in town, I’ve noticed that the excitement transcends generations in an interesting manner. From teenagers to the elderly, each age group is excited based on *their* memories of the theatre.
The youngest groups remember the theatre in the last period before it closed. They grew up with it open and its closure took one of the most notable forms of social entertainment from their community. My generation remembers its re-opening when we were children, when the abandoned downtown theatre suddenly came alive. We frequented it growing up and we used it as adults until it closed. Generations before us remember the theater as a staple of their childhood and teenage years. They remember it closing the first time, in the 1980s, and their joy of its 1990s reopening. The oldest generations remember the theatre in its early days. They remember a booming post-war community of over 5,000, with the Grand and multiple other theatres helping make downtown Stamford a teeming hub of business and social activity.
I’ve written in the past about the inherent flaws of the “good old days” discussions. Which ones were the actual good old days? Are your memories overly tinged by nostalgia? Were they actually good for everyone?
The Grand Theatre beautifully sums up why the “good old days” are a complicated thing. Memories of the theatre span eight decades. Each generation remembers a different version of the theatre, each of which took place in a different era of the town’s history. But to that generation, their memory is the “good old days,“ and guess what? Each group is exactly right.
Each generation remembers a different time period, but they all remember the same big picture ideal (whether they realize it or not). They remember a thriving social hub, which attracted people came from miles around, that gave each of them something fun to do, and made their community the “place to be.”
When we talk about revitalizing our communities, it is human nature to desire bringing a specific era back to life. As I have written before, that is neither practical nor possible. But as I’ve learned about the enthusiasm for the Grand, the “good old days” isn’t about a specific era. It’s about the big picture ideal. It’s about the feelings that people have for the community in the era that they remember. It’s about people being fondly connected to their community and wanting to keep those feelings alive, or if needed, revived.
Those feelings still exist in our communities and about our communities. Whether it’s a theatre renovation, the restoration of another historic piece of our community, or an entirely new business that creates new jobs and new enthusiasm, we can give people a reason to view this era in our community just as fondly as the eras of the past.
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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.