Boomer and Bust - 405 Magazine

Boomer and Bust

Behind the sign of a bygone icon in Norman’s Campus Corner.

Photo provided by the Oklahoma Historical Society

Behind the sign of a bygone icon in Norman’s Campus Corner.

Even on the busy streets near OU’s campus, usually packed with people and cars, the iconic Boomer sign is impossible to miss. It’s a reminder to many — and an introduction to others — of what the building once was.

In 1947, the Boomer Theater was built at 765 Asp Ave. in Campus Corner, already a hub for OU students in Norman. Designed by movie theater architect Jack Corgan, a native of Hugo, Oklahoma, and 1935 graduate of OSU, the Boomer had 875 seats in its auditorium and an additional 35 seats in a room on the second floor for special showings or other gatherings. A mural above the theater doors depicted “the traditional Oklahoma Sooners,” according to a 1947 story in Boxoffice Magazine.

Owned and operated by Griffith Theatres of Oklahoma City at the time, the Boomer played up university colors with a white stucco exterior and red marquee and sign. The architecture featured an interesting facade, with what was described as an “angled set-back” extending almost to the top.

In the foyer, the walls above the doors were covered with washable cloth in a peach, blue and white stripe. Because the foyer and exterior were so striking, the auditorium was intentionally kept more subtle for a relaxing feel.

What many may not know is that this was the second movie theater in Norman named Boomer. The first was across the street and originally opened as the Campus Theatre in the 1920s with a single screen and 357 seats. The name was later changed to Boomer, but it eventually closed, and the space was used for retail and commercial purposes.

For more than two decades, the second Boomer Theater had a successful run as a movie house. That run ended in the early 1970s as multi-screen theaters and shopping centers opened in town. The Boomer sat dark and quiet until June 3, 1977, when local concert promoter Howard Pollack gave the historic space new life as a music hall with a grand opening performance by country and folk singer Jerry Jeff Walker.

Photo provided by the Oklahoma Historical Society

More than 100 concerts followed from 1977 to 1980, including performances from David Allen Coe, Leon Russell, Talking Heads, Asleep at the Wheel, Iggy Pop and Pat Benatar.

Rezoning and beer license issues — along with a lack of support from several Campus Corner merchants concerned about vandalism, drugs and littering — forced the Boomer’s first closure in November 1977. In a fall 2019 issue of the Crimson Quarterly, Pollack said the Campus Corner Association and City of Norman “did everything they could to shut us down.”

The Boomer reopened in March 1978 under new management but soon closed. A few months later in October and with different management, the doors opened again. Humble Pie gave the venue’s last live concert Dec. 6, 1980. Operations had become too costly.

Vernon L. Gowdy, a photographer and co-owner of JAM Magazine, which for a time had its headquarters at the Boomer, shares some of the movie theater and music hall triumphs and challenges in his book History of the Boomer Theater. Along with Gowdy’s photographs of musicians, the book showcases a schedule of all the concerts and a few of Matt Foley’s award-winning concert posters.

In 1985, the Boomer space was renovated and eventually became the corporate office for Harold’s Stores until 2008. A Chipotle restaurant opened there in 2009 and is still in operation. The movies and music may be gone from the Boomer, but the still-standing iconic sign shows that its artistic spirit never disappeared.