Central Texas man sells historic theater after tragedy

By  | 

CLIFTON, Texas (KWTX) A local man who lost his wife and twin sons over pregnancy complications is finding a way to move on.

Rich and Leah Douglas bought the Cliftex Theatre in 2016. Leah was pregnant with twin sons when she passed away in Spring of 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Until Friday, Rich Douglas, 40, of Clifton, was the owner of the Cliftex Theatre in downtown Clifton.

He sold it to the non-profit Veritas and officially turned it over when the paperwork was signed Friday.

Douglas said it was a "lateral sale" and will continue to be operated in much the same way, keeping all seven staff members.

First built in 1916, the landmark is the oldest, continuously running movie theater in the state.

Douglas told KWTX he was selling the piece of Texas history because it reminds him too much of his own.

"We moved here together to do this together...I just can't do it anymore," he said.

In Spring of 2019, his wife Leah and their twin sons died after she suffered an amniotic embolism; the first baby died in March, and Leah and their second son died in April.

He says running the theater on his own reminds him too much of her, so he decided to sell it.

"She loved the people and making sure everybody was happy, that was her personality, without her, it just wasn't the same," he said. "It was physically painful for me to go upstairs and start the movie and stuff, it's just not something that felt right to me anymore."

The Douglas' purchased the theater in 2016 and moved to Clifton from Memphis, Tenn. with their four-year-old daughter Madeline.

"We knew nothing about this industry, literally nothing,"he said. "But the opportunity presented itself and we were wanting to slow down."

The former owners were friends of the Douglas' and thought they'd be a good fit.

"We came down and we loved it," he said. "We decided 'what the heck why not? Let's try it.'"

The self-proclaimed movie buff, who went to Baylor University to study film before transferring to Montana State, says although he grew up in Dallas, his parents owned a ranch on FM 219 in Clifton and would often see movies at the Cliftex when they were in town.

"I've come to know Clifton and love it and have been coming here since high school, since 1995," he said. "I can't tell you how many times I came here in the 90s and 2000s--I would have never in a million years thought 'hey, I might own this place."

He says owning the theater felt strange, but it a good way.

"It was a spectacular experience and I wouldn't give it up for the world," said Douglas. "Seeing it upstairs, seeing full crowds here, can just bring a person to tears."

In the lobby, the theater's history is celebrated with old advertisements, ledgers, and photographs on the walls, and even the original popcorn machine.

Thursday was Douglas' last night working the ticketbooth; Bad Boys II was showing.

"I consider the theater a family member at this point," he said. "Its like giving away a daughter to marriage, that's exactly what this sale feels like, you just have to send them off in the world and hope that everything works out as it should."

Although the sale is bittersweet, Douglas is proud of what they accomplished at the Cliftex including making renovations and turning everything digital to make sure it's enjoyed for generations to come.

"It's not just a theater, it's not just a place for people to hang out, it's a legacy, and it's really cool, and it needs to keep going," said Douglas.

Douglas and his daughter will stay in Clifton: he says he looks forward to, once again, being a patron of the Cliftex.

"I can't thank the community enough for welcoming Leah and Madeline and I here and letting us partake in a 100-year-old legacy like this," he said. "It's amazing."