McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 20, 2013

Warren Theatre larger than life survivor of storm

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — The sirens went off in Moore around 2:30 p.m., Pat Murphy, general manager of Warren Theatre remembered.

“We got everybody out of the theaters and put them into the hallways,” Murphy said.

Theater records indicated 200 tickets had been sold that afternoon. Murphy said everybody was “well aware” that the tornado was headed toward the theater, but the staff also was aware that the building is strong.

“It’s built like a bunker,” he said. “I felt safe because of this building.”

When the tornado roared past, Murphy could hear it.

“I stood at an angle where I could see out the front doors, out the glass,” he said. “It was a brown out.”

When the winds had subsided, he took stock — everyone who had taken shelter in the theater was safe and the structure was standing.

“First glance, we still had glass,” he said. “The windows didn’t blow out.”

Outside, he noticed the absence of buildings — the bowling alley and the hospital were devastated.

“There was tons of debris,” he said. “We had signs that had ripped out, but for the most part we knew that our building was all right.”

Several cars damaged at the theater but next door at Moore Medical Center, cars were demolished.

IMAX Manager Alex Ansai arrived shortly after the tornado hit.

“I had seen the storm pass from a distance and I had been talking with Pat so I had a pretty good idea that it was bad,” he said.

Murphy and Ansai allowed access to theater for triage and lent whatever assistance they could.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to look at the progress six months later,” Murphy said of recovery efforts. After the tornado, he thought it would take years to rebuild the amount of damage.

“I’m impressed,” he said.

Ansai is an Oklahoman and knows the damage tornadoes can do, but he was stunned by the amount of destruction.

“Anytime you see something like that, it’s pretty depressing, but it’s impressive to see the amount of progress that’s been made in this short of time,” Ansai said. “It speaks to the character of this community.”

Following the tornado, owner Bill Warren said he had intentionally built the theater with strong, reinforced walls that kept staff and patrons safe from the storm. There was considerable exterior damage, however.

“I estimated $500,000 and it turned into millions,” Warren said. “And that’s just the exterior. The exterior was over $3 million because we had to replace the roof.”

Signs also were damaged or destroyed.

“The key thing was no one got hurt in our theater in our property,” Warren said. “And there was no interior damage.”

The theater was closed eight days, mostly because roads were closed and access limited during that time period. Warren said local contractors pulled together to help them open as soon as possible. The theater hosted several special showings for tornado victims in the weeks following the tornado.

“I think they’re doing a great job on the recovery,” Warren said. “There are a lot of houses going up and people are starting to move back in. Nothing can replace the loss of life, however. We had one employee that lost his little sister.”

The theater was, and remains, a hit with movie-goers.

“Our business was down for awhile, but, as near as we can tell, we are back up and performing as well as we did in the past,” he said. “That Michael Douglas comedy “Last Vegas,” we — the Moore Warren Theatre — were No. 1 in the entire United States of America.”

The location off of Interstate 35 has been prime.

“That’s one of the top grossing theaters in the nation,” Warren said. “Obviously, the immediate neighborhood was devastated, but that theater pulls so many people from other cities. That theater is a regional draw.”

The city of Moore staff have been key in the economic development that brought the Warren to town.

“There is a real relationship between the city of Moore, the officials of Moore and Warren Theatres and myself and the employees,” he said. “It started out as business, but it’s a personal relationship now.”

Building the theater strong was a decision Warren is happy about.

“I knew that area had had a tornado before,” he said. “Most theaters don’t own their own buildings. We own our property. Besides making it more luxurious, it made sense to make it stronger, and that paid off. We’ve always done tornado drills and that paid off. I’m really really proud of my managers and staff. It did save lives, no doubt about it.”∆


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