Was Branson’s first “theatre,” the Owens Theater, a harbinger of things to come?

The rustic “Owens Theater,” located at Commercial Street in historic downtown Branson, was called the “Hillbilly Theater” when it was initially built in 1936 by Jim Owens. Owens, legendary for the float trip business he operated on the White River, is credited with starting the Branson’s first movie theater in 1934 and built the new theater to provide additional entertainment for the fishermen he took out for float trips on the White River and other tourists to the area.

At that time the Owens Theater was built fishing the White River, Marvel Cave, the areas natural beauty, and the desire of people to experience the hills and area involved in Harold Bell Wright’s novel, “The Shepherd of the Hills,” were the main tourism attractions to Branson. The majority of these activities were conducted during the daytime and there was very little entertainment for tourists at night. The original Owens theatre took care of that and was a harbinger of things to come.

Built in 1936, the Owens Theater is still in its original location and can be found on the west side of Commercial Street in historic downtown Branson, three doors south of the junction of Commercial and Pacific Streets, at 203 South Commercial Street.

Its rustic exterior blended in nicely with the tourism needs of that day and, even today, serves as a reminder of a type of construction and an era long gone by. Although today, the Owens Theater serves as the home of several small shows, and its interior has been modified to provide the lighting and facilities necessary to do so, its original interior and feel of history are still evident.

The Owens Theater is a Branson original. Although not a “music theater” when it was originally constructed, it could arguably be the first theater built in Branson to provide the type of family entertainment that Branson has become famous for.