BRIDGE STREET HISTORY CENTER
Melinda Jo Ray is a longtime Granbury resident, writer, and a retired public school librarian. Her post retirement job has been as a writer of local history articles for a magazine, which formed the basis for her book “Limestone Legacies.” She is author of a novel, “Safe in the Arms of God,” based on the beginnings of settlement in the Granbury area.
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Melinda Jo Ray’s 2020 book, “Limestone Legacies.”
In the mid-1960’s, the downtown square in Granbury, like so many all over the country, was a pretty sad looking place. Boarded up and deteriorating old buildings and a few struggling businesses dominated the landscape. Makeshift adaptions such as swamp coolers in the windows and low hanging power lines hid the beauty of the original architecture. Parking meters lined the streets and rain poured through broken windows and open roofs. Into this depressing picture came some hardy souls with a vision of what Granbury had been, and what it could become. Joe Nutt and his wife Lu were two such visionaries. Joe’s memories of his ancestral hometown and his affection for its people were the initial motivators for this man and his friends who made such a huge impact on the Granbury we know today.
Joe Lewis Nutt grew up in nearby Fort Worth, spending summers in Granbury and then left the area to serve in World War II. After the war, and a failed early marriage, he tried several endeavors before building a successful company in the then thriving educational film business. He sold his film company and retired in Denver, Colorado. There he met and married his second wife, Lu. They loved their life and were active in the community and in the Denver theatre and arts scene. But something kept calling Joe Nutt to come home. Finally, in 1966, after a visit to Granbury to see his niece Mary Lou Watkins, Joe and Lu made their decision to move back.
Inspired by the restoration project Mary Lou had begun on the old family home and intrigued by the possibilities presented by the soon to be reality of Lake Granbury, Joe and Lu bought a lot down the street from the old home place and built a house. Not just any ordinary house either, it was a split-level native rock house with palatial rooms, a view of the Lambert Branch Creek, and an indoor swimming pool! Clearly Joe and Lu were home to stay and they set about to see how they could get involved in their new community.
Joe’s first “project” was partnering with Mary Lou Watkins bringing the old Nutt Hotel property back into the family. They bought it back from Norman and Jewel Strain and set about turning it into a viable business. With Mary Lou firmly at the helm of that project, Joe and Lu turned their attention to the other side of the Granbury Square. Lu, a talented musician and patron of the arts, was intrigued by the possibilities presented by the old Granbury Opera House building, built in 1886 by Henry Kerr. In its turn of the century heyday, the second floor of the building with the red tin roof had been the cultural mecca for a thriving community. (In those days, it was common for a theatre to occupy only the upper floor.) Now, it sat abandoned, dilapidated, caved-in roof and broken windows open to the broad Texas sky. Yet, to Joe and Lu it represented a vision of what Granbury had been once, and could be again, a thriving, prosperous gathering place for folks from all around.
So, Joe and Lu, their friends Judge Jack Langdon and his wife Dora Lee, and a couple of others met and cobbled together a plan. They arranged to purchase the old Opera House building and then gave it to their newly formed foundation, The Granbury Opera House Association. And the rest, as they say, is history. With little funding up front and no real idea of how much it might take, they rallied the community, inspired volunteers, got cash, labor, and materials donated. With unity of purpose seldom seen, the people of Granbury stepped up, and a “new” Granbury Opera House was born. Thanks to a dinner with friends, Joe formed a serendipitous business relationship with veteran performer Jo Ann Miller, who came to Granbury for the weekend to play golf and ended up staying for a lifetime. Joe and Lu and Jo Ann formed an indomitable team dedicated to making the Granbury Opera House the premier live theatre in North Texas. In making that goal a reality, they breathed life back into the Granbury that Joe had loved all his life. Joe became known as “the father of the Granbury Opera House”.
For many years, Joe and Jack Langdon built the business side of the theatre, while Jo Ann, and Lu and countless other talented locals and visiting artists produced, wrote and performed in the wonderful productions onstage. Always, between Joe and JoAnn was a determination to provide quality entertainment that the people of Granbury could be proud of AND be a part of.
After the Opera House was secure, Joe pursued and achieved his lifelong dream of owning Comanche Peak, the flat-topped mesa that was sacred to the local Native Americans, and a landmark seen for the first time by his ancestors who came here so many years ago. His love for the town, the area and the land is reflected in this quote from his obituary in The Hood County News:
“As a small boy growing up in Fort Worth, I loved to come with my parents back to Granbury. On the road from Cresson, you come through a gap in the hills, framed by trees – and there, spread out before you, is this valley of the “River of the Many Arms of God.” On the horizon, dominating it all, is the long, blue shadow of this mountain. It’s best on a clear day, when you can see over perhaps a dozen counties from this summit.” We like to think that Joe is still looking down on us here and still enjoying the view.