Friends of the Rook rally to preserve history
Driving through Cheyenne one can easily see there’s progress going on in the community of just under 1,000 residents. Friends of the Rook was incorporated in late 2018 and has stirred quite an interest in the community as well as Roger Mills County, with hopes of repurposing the historic Rook Theater as an educational, cultural and community event center. Friends of the Rook board member Susie Thurmond explains that events ranging from wedding receptions, family reunions, art shows, live performances and even movie showings could be possible with the restoration of the Rook. “It’s our hope that a creative renovation could breathe new life into downtown Cheyenne,” says Thurmond.
In addition to Thurmond, Friends of the Rook board members include Cheyenne locals Kathy Sadler, LaWanda Kirk, Tracy Smith, Scott Martin, a former Cheyenne drama teacher, Sue Moore from Reydon, Cassie McGlothlin from Hammon, who grew up in Cheyenne, and Windle Turley from Dallas, TX, who worked at the Rook as a teenager.
Since establishing the Friends of the Rook facebook page, the board has been provided with interesting bits of historical information about the theater. Elmer Rook’s grandson, Bob, provided a rendering of the theater, that was done by Jack Corgan of Corgan & Moore Architects of Dallas, showing the original proposed name for the theater was “Chiloma.” Interestingly, Corgan was among the first architects to take the licensing exam and got his start in the industry designing hundreds of movie theaters in the southwest beginning in 1939.
The Rook was built in 1939 by Elmer and Bert Rook, replacing their former Lyric Theater that was located a block off of Main Street in Cheyenne, and boasting all of the modern improvements of that time. The Rook officially opened April 23, 1940 with 250 seats, but quickly grew to 288 seats by 1950, quite possibly due to the addition of the balcony. With first run movies showing at the theater (often showing in Cheyenne before Elk City), the Rook drew movie goers from quite a distance, according to theater historian John McConnell.
The theater underwent extensive remodeling in 1972 while being closed for 10 months after a fire that started in the barber shop building next door burned most of the interior and destroyed murals that were hung on the side walls of the theater.
To this day, the Rook remains the most architecturally significant building in downtown Cheyenne with many area residents eager to share fond memories of time spent there.
After Elmer’s death in 1987 the theater passed through a number of different owners including the Rooks’ grandson, John Rook, as well as Gary Kirk, Buddy and Brenda Parman, and Barry and Jymay McLeod who continued to show movies and recall the days fondly. “It was probably some of the happiest years of my life,” said Gary Kirk, who purchased the theater in 1990. “Meeting people and most of all the children. I did my best to make it enjoyable for all.”
In 2010, the theater was purchased by Dorothy Alexander who had hopes of adding live performances in addition to the film screenings. She had the stage enlarged and upgraded the sound system along with installing a new metal roof, although Friends of the Rook board members note that it is likely that this roof has leaked for years.
In 2015, Alexander sold the theater to James and Shelly Merwin who ran it as a video store with only occasional movie screenings. Not too much later the theater was sold to Shay and Levi Compton who quickly started renovations with the intention of reopening the Rook as a movie theater/restaurant. The Comptons put much work into the renovations but eventually fell short of their goal due to the high cost of the necessary digital movie equipment and commercial kitchen equipment.
Other small improvements have been made to the theater in more recent years. Cheyenne art students painted the cinema sign, and the BPA painted the building as part of a statewide “Improve Your Community” contest. Currently, the building is somewhat of a blank canvas, stripped to the walls for further improvements to begin.
Since becoming a nonprofit, and the official owners of the Rook, Friends of the Rook board members made the decision to use some of the previously donated funds to purchase the old Cheyenne Star building next door, to allow additional space for handicapped bathrooms, a catering kitchen, storage, and possible classrooms or a smaller meeting room. “We’ve got grand plans,” says Thurmond. ”The Rook is a big part of Roger Mills County history, and we want it to be a big part of Roger Mills County’s future.”
How can you help “Save the Rook?” Monetary donations are tax deductible and can be dropped off at Security State Bank in Cheyenne. You can mail your check to Friends of the Rook, P.O. Box 523, Cheyenne, OK 73628, or send money through paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to monetary support, Friends of the Rook would like to hear your memories of the Rook. Send your stories to: Friends of the Rook, P.O. Box 523, Cheyenne, OK 73628, or via email to email@example.com. Memories may also be posted to the Friends of the Rook facebook page.
“It has been interesting to see how many people are excited about the Rook,” said Thurmond. “Once renovated, it is our hope that the facility will be an event center not only for Cheyenne, but for all of Roger Mills County.”
To see a proposed cost and timeline for the renovation, visit the Friends of the Rook facebook page.