Snyder, county seat of Scurry County, is located in west central Texas, about 90 miles from Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, and Midland/Odessa. The town of Snyder, typical of many Texas towns, was built originally on a square, with the county courthouse in the center and businesses built on the four sides of the square. The Ritz Theater is located on the south side of the square in the middle of the block.
The Ritz movie theater was given its name by T. L. Lollar, who bought it around 1921 when it was known as the Cozy Theater. The Ritz underwent a major renovation when Snyder became an oil boom town. It re-opened after renovation in February 1950. At this time, the owner told the local newspaper that the structure had been made completely fireproof along with the improvements to its interior.
The Ritz Theater ceased operation in 1970 and the building began to deteriorate. In late 1991, descendants of the Lollar family acquired the Ritz building and donated it to The Ritz Community Theater Incorporated for renovation, which began in 1992. The first stage of the process was replacement of the roof and complete restoration of the original marquee and store front.
The lead architect for the Ritz project, Dr. Michael A. Jones of Texas Tech University, describes the project in these words:
“The old Ritz Theater occupies a prominent location on the square in Snyder. The venerable building of approximately 60 years of age is currently a bare shell, though restoration of its art-deco façade and complete replacement of its roof has resulted in the re-appearance of the grande dame with her interior dry and ready for rehabilitation. The old Ritz was a movie theater, and it is the aim of the Board members of the Ritz Theater to rejuvenate the building so that it will accommodate live theater, musical comedies, and movies, as well as community functions.”
Upon completion of the first stage of restoration, a community celebration centered on the lighting of the Ritz’s familiar but long-darkened neon sign and marquee. On the evening of June 27, 1992, part of the courthouse square was blocked off, and entertainment was provided on the courthouse lawn. Hundreds of people gathered at 10 p.m. to watch as the newly restored Ritz neon sign was turned on for the first time since 1970. Dr. Jones described the scene: “The light that flooded the square from the neon lighting awoke many a memory from older citizens attending the ‘opening’ in June, and excited the younger generations, a justifiable tribute to the preservation element of this project.” In 2006, a severe West Texas thunderstorm caused damage to the neon lights and they were replaced with L.E.D. lighting.
During the renovation of the Ritz building, productions were staged in an elementary school auditorium with seating capacity for 150 people. The first production, Steel Magnolias, was considered an outstanding success in October 1992, after all six performances sold out. The 1992 Christmas season production, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, was so popular that an extra performance was added to accommodate the waiting list.
Community enthusiasm and support for the Ritz project continued to expand, and The Ritz Community Theater has developed into one of the brightest spots on the square. In October of 2008 the Ritz purchased a projector and DVD equipment to begin showing state-of-the art movies once again in the theatre. The picture and sound quality goes above and beyond many theatres of its kind.
The Ritz plans to show classic movies throughout the year when the stage becomes silent due to the time it takes between live performances. The goal is to keep “something happening” at the theatre at all times during the year. The original Board member’s foresight and Dr. Jones’ statement have become reality as the people of Snyder continue to eagerly anticipate live productions, musical comedies, movies, or community functions held at The Ritz.