Since Albany is a small town, many people might not think that at one tie it held two major movie theaters, but it did. They were the prime of all theaters around, featuring the best movies and shows money could buy. Both were very beautiful facilities and were the best means of entertainment for the townspeople of Albany and Fort Griffin in the early 1900s. These magnificent theaters were built by Frank Whitney, and each still bears the name of Whitney on its front.
The Whitney Theater building, better known to the older generation of Albany as the Ritz Theater, was originally built in 1883 by N.H. Burns as a hardware store. In 1925, the Albany News office and Sanders Drug Store occupied the building. Frank Whitney, wanting to make a modern picture show building in Albany, bought the building and announced plans for converting it into a “show house.” The old rock on the front of the building was to be torn down and replaced with a modern stucco front. In the meantime, while all of the work on the front of the building was dyeing done, Mr. Whitney decided to put the inside to good use and turn it into a skating rink. He wanted people of Albany and Fort Griffin to enjoy themselves as much as possible.
When the outside was complete, plans for the interior of the building were put into motion. The ceiling was raised at least six feet, and thirty feet were added to the back of the building. The floor was elevated and arranged to have a seating capacity of five to six hundred people. The old sidewalk that had been there for many years was removed and a new concrete walk was created that ran out to the pavement. Steps were also added so that one could park his car and walk right into the theater.
Work was finally completed in 1926, and the building opened under the name of the Ritz Theater. In October 1926, Frank Whitney sold the Ritz Theater to John Victor of the Texas Theater Company. Victor managed the show for only a short time before he sold the theater back to Frank Whitney when it closed in 1929.
In 1945, the building that was once the beautiful Ritz Theater was sold to Bill Jones Motor Company. The building lay dormant for several years until 1995 when Betsy Black Parsons bought the building. Betsy, the Fort Griffin Fandangle Artistic Director and owner/instructor of Albany’s Dance Theater Company, wanted to turn the vacant building into a dance studio for her classes.
When work was first started on the building, Mrs. Parsons wanted the remodeling done in a very formal style, but as time went on, her ideas for the building changed. While doing some work on the building one day, Mrs. Parsons discovered the original limestone walls of the Whitney. Because the building had once burned, and because so many previous owners had redone the inside of the building, theses beautiful walls had been covered up. Mrs. Parsons a discovered the original Spanish mission wrought iron windows that were installed when the Ritz was built. During the renovation of the roof and ceiling, twelve complete iron ornate air vents were found that Betsy had not even known had existed. They had been installed to allow turban vent air to circulate in the building. All of the original features of the building combined to convince Mrs. Parsons to have the building remodeled in a Texas pioneer style. She decided to keep the building in as much of its original state possible.
Dinty Bowman, an Albany contractor who also helps design backgrounds for the Old Jail Art Center Museum exhibits, did most of the renovation work for Mrs. Parsons. The beautiful building was finished inside and out in 1998. The building is over seven thousand square feet and includes four restrooms, several dressing rooms, and a kitchen. The Whitney also has the only ten-foot wide staircase in Albany. The stairs lead to an upstairs area that opens onto a wide veranda facing the county courthouse. The Theatre is the home of “The Albany Dance Theatre Company.” The Whitney has become a main attraction for the West Texas area. The facility has been used for many public and private events. Weddings, banquets, receptions, dances, dinner theatre symposiums and business meetings have all been held in the historic Whitney Theatre.