The Ritz Theatre location was originally a dry goods store, ca. 1897. Shortly thereafter the building was expanded into its forty foot width and became a stop on the state vaudeville circuit with Ardmore, Okmulgee, Drumright, Bartlesville, and Muskogee. As a motion picture theatre, it was originally known as the “Cozy.” Jake Jones, Sr. purchased the operating theatre in 1913. In 1926, the name of the theatre was changed to the “Ritz”. Shawnee’s first talking motion pictures were shown at the Ritz.
Jake Jones, Sr. was born in Mount Lebanon, Syria, and came to the Untied States in 1888 with his mother and sister, settling first in Waco, Texas, before moving to Shawnee in 1903. His first businesses in Shawnee were confectioneries and ice cream stores–the Busy Bee and the Palace of Sweets. The ocean crossing, the trip to Texas, and the move to Shawnee were the three major treks of his life. Ten West Main marked the spot of entertainment pioneering for the Joneses in Shawnee.
When purchased, the “Cozy,” with only 350 seats at the time, required alot of remodeling. It was a great day when the organ was installed to funish musical accompaniment to the dramas of the silent screen. Ads read ‘5 cents to all,” and Alice Joyce and Lillian Gish were the glamour girls of the time. Mr. Jones operated a concession in the front left corner of the building, with service windows opening both into the lobby of the theatre and onto the street. Windows along the alley could be opened in the summer to let evening breezes cool the patrons. According to historical documents, Mr. Jones’ theory of operating a theatre boiled down to “take care of it like a baby,” and give the patrons “good, clean pictures.” For almost seventy-five years, the Ritz was the cornerstone of entertainment traditions in Shawnee, spanning the eras of silent movies to the first Dolby Stereo in the state. Son, Johnny H. Jones Sr. and daughter, Ruby H. Jones continued the family tradition operating the Jones Homefolks Theatres which included the Ritz, the State, the Jake and later the Hornbeck, Bison, Criterion, Starlite Drive-In and Tecumseh Drive-In, all in Shawnee, OK. Johnny H. Jones and son Ronald J. Jones formed Jones Theatres, Inc. in 1972 adding the Penthouse Theatre in 1973 and the Cinema Centre in 1980. The Ritz ceased operation as a movie theatre in 1987.