The historic 124-year-old Cole Theatre in downtown Rosenberg will soon see a revamp.

The details

After nearly 20 years of ownership, William “Bill” Butler has donated the Cole Theatre to Fort Bend County, with Commissioners Court approving the donation at a Feb. 13 meeting.

Fort Bend County plans to conduct an assessment study as well as waterproof and decontaminate the building, according to the county’s 2023 parks bond project list. The $1.02 million set aside from the bond also includes the preliminary design and schematics of the project.

At the Feb. 13 meeting, Precinct 4 Commissioner Dexter McCoy said he is thankful for the support of Butler as well as those who helped ensure the theater was included in the bond.

“This is a very big deal, and I am very thankful to [Bill] Butler who has partnered with the county on this very, very important asset in the Rosenberg community,” McCoy said. “Once we get our initial assessment done and we find some partners to revitalize and rehabilitate this historic theatre in downtown Rosenberg, I suspect this will be a big economic driver for this area given all the tourism that this major facility will bring.”

The background

Opened in 1919 as the Liberty Theatre, the Cole Theatre served as a fully functioning live theater and movie theater until 1982. The theater served as a gathering place for the community and even had a visit from actor John Wayne to promote screenings, said Renee Butler, Butler’s ex-wife and owner of Another Time Soda Fountain and Cafe in downtown Rosenberg.

Though the theater screened its last movie in 1982, it has since served a variety of purposes over the years, including as a performance venue for the Rosenberg Opry and other musical performances as well as a television production studio, according to a paper written by Anni Lundy in efforts of getting a state-designated historical landmark for the theater.
A view from the Historic Cole Theatre balcony in Downtown Rosenberg. (Courtesy Renee Butler)
A view from the Historic Cole Theatre balcony in downtown Rosenberg. (Courtesy Renee Butler)
Digging in

Butler said he purchased the theater in 2005 in hopes of restoring the building to its original form, allowing for the community to one day enjoy what those before have experienced. The theater has been closed since his purchase.

Since obtaining the building, Butler has worked to renovate the theater back to its original form before efforts were put to a halt after he took on another project. As a way to continue his goal of having the theater restored, Butler said he decided to donate the theater to the county.

“I just wanted to give something back to Rosenberg and Fort Bend County because they’ve been good to me,” Butler said.

What else

Renee Butler said the theater was approved in May 2023 as a designated historical landmark by the state—though the marker is still in the process of being cast.

“As soon as we know about [when it will be installed], we’re definitely going to make a big deal about it,” she said.

Looking forward

Since Commissioners Court approved the building’s donation, the Butlers said they have already begun to see county activity at the theater, and they are excited to watch the progress.

“[Bill] really wants it to be back to being the jewel of downtown that it was in the old days,” Renee Butler said.