Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet

1400 Main Street,
Kansas City, MO 64105

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Showing 51 - 75 of 112 comments

Aparofan
Aparofan on August 18, 2008 at 8:47 am

Here’s another photo I took on August 16. It doesn’t look like they’ve progressed very much.

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Aparofan
Aparofan on May 21, 2008 at 6:56 am

Here’s a photo of the Empire I took last week. It looks like things are going pretty good with the restoration.

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bruceanthony
bruceanthony on September 25, 2007 at 12:07 pm

The Empire was a top movie palace longer than it was a vaudeville theatre. Most vaudeville theatres were converted to movie palaces. I noticed that I can’t get a straight answer about the renovation of the Empire Auditorium. I will assume the worst and hopefully I will be surprised. Remember there are not that many movie palaces left to be restored so we should treasure what we have left. The Greatest Geneartion spent many hours in these beautiful theatres to escsape the Depression and help get them through WW11. We will never see there likes ever again. These theatres also represent the heyday of Hollywood and when the movie stars were American Royalty. The preservation of these movie palaces are just as important as the preservation of film. Three of the most successful theatres in the United States are former movie palaces the Fox in Detroit,Fox in St. Louis and the Fox in Atlanta. These theatres are a point of pride in there respective cities. The Midland should have been a huge success story for Kansas City but has not been booked properly under the ownership of AMC so now its going to be a major nightclub/performance space relegated to second place behind the new Performing Arts Center. The Midland was not just any movie palace it was considerered by many inlcuding Maruus Loew himself to be one of the finest ever built. I hope I am proved wrong and both the Empire and the Midland will surprise me.brucec

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on September 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm

The Empire was at one time a four-plex theater with screening spaces carved out of additional footage in what was formerly the playroom, lounge area, the upper mezzanine lobby, and the balcony. That with the main auditorium.

There is also additional space in the basement where there were cages for animals and a seal tank, as well as the dressing rooms. There is a also a rather large space behind the original staging area. It was a vaudeville theater originally, not a movie theater.

In addition, a new building. that is reportedly going to be attached, is being constructed to the west of the theater building on a vacant block that takes up half the block.

Apparently, whatever is being done is passing muster with the National Trust, who has already approved the restoration plan since historic tax credits are being used.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on August 24, 2007 at 11:49 am

Howard they are spending 25 Million on the Empire which is new construction and just not adding additional screens next door to there main theatre as was done with the Grand Lake, Odeon and Rex.I hope I am surprised and part of the main auditorium will be restored. Remember the New Amsterdam in NYC was also in total ruins before it was restored. Plaster can be restored but there has to be a will to restore the theatre. I have read that this will be a specialty theatre and a flagship for AMC who is not known for running specialty theatres.I am glad that the facade will be saved and a new marquee will be added.brucec

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 24, 2007 at 11:13 am

I seem to recall reading that the auditorium was in total ruins? It does seem likely this will complete that process. Fortunately, Kansas City has or is restoring at least one movie palace, regardless of whatever is being done to this one.

The Grand Lake added 3 screens in Oakland. London’s Odeon Leicester Square has tiny additional auditoriums which aren’t so relevant to this example. Movies really move over to the twin Odeon West End (until that falls). The last I read the Grand Rex in Paris was in danger because redo plans for the additional screens, etc weren’t being approved.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on August 24, 2007 at 10:54 am

Im still in doubt about the interior restoration of the Empire how are they saving the historic Auditorium if six state of the art theatres will be in that space. I have seen this done many times where they say this is a restoration, please give more details on the auditorium, is it being chopped up or is it being restored. The article seems to dance around this issue. Whats the point of building six screens today when almost all theatre construction is at least 14 screens. A better idea would have been to restore the main house and add 14 screens next to it. The Rex in Paris, Arclight in Hollywood and the Odeon in London added screens on to there main house which would have been a nice way to go. The historic Empire could have been more flexible with film and concerts in the main historic auditorium. The need to build another performing arts facility when you have two large capacity historic theatres makes no sense.Look at St Louis they have both the restored Fox and St Louis theatres one for Broadway shows and concerts and the other for Symphony. Look at Cleveland with the restored Allen,State,Ohio,Palace and Hannah theatres which are a huge success story. I feel you should use and restore your historic theatres first and if demand dictates then build a new Performing Arts Center. San Francisco could have saved there Fox Theatre for one Million back in 1963 and then built Davies Symphony Hall which cost 74 Million and has had to correct sound problems a number of times.The City to this day still mourns the loss of the Fox.Please give more details on the Empire is it a restoration or a renovation where the theatre Auditorium no longer exists.brucec

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on August 21, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Quote from recent KC STAR article:

“In a related development, Reed Cordish said good progress is being made on renovating the historic Mainstreet Theater, more recently called the Empire Theater, into a six-screen digital movie complex. That project, which will include a two-level restaurant and dessert bar, is part of the joint venture between Cordish and AMC.

“We’re under heavy construction, and full historic approvals have been received,” he said.

Cordish said the Midland is expected to reopen in early spring and the Mainstreet a couple of months later."

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RobbKCity
RobbKCity on August 21, 2007 at 6:31 pm

The Empire is being restored. It was landmarked and placed on the National Register of Historic Places last February, and will be using historic tax credits to help finance the restoration. Thus, National Trust guidelines must be followed to maintain the historic ambiance and design of the theater. The marquee has to be constructed on the roof so as not to disturb the facade. Many missing elements will simply be recreated from the original plans. Moldings were taken.

Kansas City has a long history of restoring grand old buildings like Union Station, which brought in artisans from Europe who worked for the Vatican and Royal family to restore Windsor Castle.

Blake Cordish made a public commitment to restore the theater and not drastically change the theater building itself.

The Midland Theater is not going to have many changes at all. The renovation there is mostly sprucing up (painting, new carpets, plumbing, modern and more-efficient cooling and heating. The stage is being expanded into the ample back staging area that has gone unused. The Midland has a large lobby, and some old retail space, for the nightclub and restaurant portion of the reconfiguration. The kitchen will most likely go into the large basement.

Kansas City has more theatrical spaces per capita than most large cities. The new Performing Arts Center spaces are not meant to drastically affect the Midland and Mainstreet (Empire) Theater. The Mainstreet/Empire hasn’t been a performance space for more than 57 years anyway. It was a movie theater that has been closed for 22 years. The Midland is going to get more public use after the renovation than it did in the last decade before it. A professional booking company is overtaking the operations portion.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on August 21, 2007 at 4:05 pm

It sounds like the Emprie theatre is gone and they are going to save the facade,dome and lobby and the theares will be six state of the art theatres.Im sad the city didn’t make more of an effort to restore the Empire and Midland and use them as there Performing Art theatres and not build a new Performing Arts Center and AMC could have built a megaplex with 14-16 screens in the district. Cleveland and Chicago have done a better job saving there historic theatres within the revival of an entertainment distiict. I will say the entire project will give a major boost to Downtown Kansas City and will be successful but wished they had made better use of there historic theatres.brucec

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on July 26, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I’m reposting the photos since some of the earlier links have gone dead.

A rendering looking down 14th Street through the Power & Light District towards the restored MainStreet Theater.

Before: A recent photo of the former Empire Theater being tranformed into the new AMC MainStreet Theater.

After: A rendering of the exterior of the restored MainStreet Theater.

A rendering looking south down Main Street past the H&R Block tower (left) towards the marquee of the MainStreet Theater.

A photo looking south along Main Street showing locations of the MainStreet and Midland Theaters.

An aerial overview rendering of the Power & Light District with various buildings identified.

Aerial photos of construction activity of the Power & Light District with various buildings identified.

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on July 26, 2007 at 2:08 pm

During the recent work on the exterior of the theater, one could see some of the underlying infastructure. The “guts” of the building. It was well-constructed and a solid building. This is probably the reason it endured such deterioration for so long and can still be salvaged.

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on July 26, 2007 at 1:40 pm

No. There are going to be residential apartments, and some retail, constructed on the vacant parcels surrounding the Empire. The Empire is part of the much larger Power & Light entertainment district. The nearby Midland Theater, a block north, is also being renovated. A new theater venue, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, has been constructed across the street to the northeast. The new Sprint Center arena, and the collegiate basketball Hall of Fame, is two blocks away. The new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is being constructed three blocks to the southwest. A new ballroom has been added to the convention center one block from the Empire. An outdoor public amphitheater is being constructed on a plaza nearby with nightclubs and restaurants surrounding it. A new 1000-room convention hotel is being discussed now, but no location has been set. The developer of Power & Light, the Cordish Co., is planning to construct another 200-room W Hotel a block away. The restored Empire is one of the anchor projects in the district. Two nearby historic hotels, the Aladdin and the President, have been restored and reopened recently.

Petey30
Petey30 on July 25, 2007 at 7:20 am

In the Newly renovated Main Street Theathre I noticed there is a taller building behind the movie theathre. Is that a new hotel behind it? What is it?

Aparofan
Aparofan on July 3, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Here’s a picture of the marquee from 1975. It’s from the book The Front Row: Missouri’s Grand Theaters by Mary Bagley.

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Aparofan
Aparofan on June 29, 2007 at 1:49 pm

The Empire had four screens as early as 1975, as this newspaper ad shows.

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I saw Superman The Movie there in 1978 and I know it had four screens, three upstairs and the main auditorium on the main floor as I recall. Here’s the ad for Superman’s release.

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I can’t wait to see the new theater when AMC reopens it.

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on November 5, 2006 at 7:12 pm

The reason I’m posting all the photos and details of the restored theater, and surrounding entertainment district, is to inspire individuals in other cities as to what can happen with threatened theater buildings. It illustrates that it’s not always a hopeless situation, and that cities can find ways to save and find new uses for these historic buildings.

The lesson here is that it all starts with individuals speaking up and demanding these architecturally-significant structures be saved and reused in modern life. This can be done by doing research into the history of the buildings; involving the local media; and getting other people to contact city officials, building owners, developers, and even local chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The Internet, email, and web sites have made this all easier to do. Local historic societies and foundations are often vital participants in such efforts as well.

City leaders, developers, and your neighbors need to be shown that old theaters are important to not only our heritage, but that new uses can be found. People need to be shown examples of how these beautiful old buildings have been be used to bring new life back to downtown business districts, and other retail districts.

These structures are valuable assets to an entire community whether they be reused as film theaters, live performance venues, nightclubs, live broadcast studios, retail stores, book and music stores, art galleries, community centers, meeting halls, ballrooms, or even churches.

No longer is the only alternative to tear theaters down. There are examples that can be cited of what can be done. The most important lesson for me has been the effect and power of a few concerned individuals. It can make a huge difference.

If they don’t know, they don’t care. In many cases, city leaders and developers just have no idea what these old theaters mean to local residents. Often I think, developers immediately assume the best use of the property is to tear it down and start over. They just don’t have the imagination to think otherwise. One effective argument—to use with any developer or property owner—is to educate them about how local, state, and federal historic preservation funding, tax-increment financing, and urban development funds can be used to offset the expense of restoring these buildings. Often these funding sources combined can pay for up to 50 percent of the cost of restoration and reuse. In some cases, another potential tool is selling the naming rights to the reopened facility, or renaming the facility after a charitable benefactor or popular local figure.

There’s hope if individuals are willing to step forward.

I think is important is to be proactive. First of all, these old theaters cannot be allowed to continue to deteriorate while waiting for something to be done. Hundreds of these buildings are slowly rotting all over this country. Many times it’s a deliberate act by the property owner in hopes the local municipality will condemn the building because of safety and health issues. There are some property owners that allow the perfectly good theater buildings to fall into ruin to justify tearing them down. The common refrain is that “it’s prohibitively expensive or economially unfeasable to save the building because of its condition,” or “it’s unsafe, or too far gone.”

On some occasions, the city itself contributes to the problem by not enforcing local building code violations. City inspectors might cite the building owner, but nothing is done to enforce the action. Or, the fines are so small that it’s cheaper to pay the fines than repairing or stabilizing the structure to meet code.

To be fair though, there are also as many owners who don’t have the money to stabilize or maintain the property adequately, or just don’t know what to do with the structure. Some owners can’t even afford to tear the structure down, which might actually result in delaying demolition of some theaters.

Difficulties also arise when the property sits in economically depressed, or unsafe, areas. This makes it difficult or impossible for property owners to get financing to renovate the structure. In these cases, the property owner is hostage to condition of the adjacent neighborhood. Often the only solution is development of a wider community plan to stabilize and improve the entire area, which requires action of city leaders, developers, and other property owners.

People do purchase old theaters will good intentions, but things happen to prevent them from carrying out the plan. Market conditions and technology change, and a myriad of other obstacles arise.

Under some situations, a theater can really only be saved if city officials authorize and create an urban redevelopment zone around it, and assume possession of the theater through eminent domain, or property trades. This forces speculators and negligent property owners to turn over ownership of the property to another party to develop. Under this scenario, old theaters can be saved, renovated, and reused as part of a greater community development plan.

Some developers and city officials though are now understanding the marketing value and cache of historic properties that are restored or reused. They can be used as anchors, or trophy buildings, for greater redevelopment efforts in the neighborhoods around them. The architecture, unique history, or sense of place can be a vital selling device to encourage other parties to buy into a greater urban redevelopment plan.

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on November 5, 2006 at 6:09 pm

Here is a live web cam view of the ongoing construction of the new entertainment district, named the Power & Light District, around the existing Mainstreet (Empire) Theater. The theater is the domed structure near the top of the image.

http://www.kcmo.org/cimo/webcam2.htm

The view will not be as good at night, obviously, and also will be affected by weather. It may take a few seconds for the screen to appear on slower computers, or those using dial-up service.

The district will be anchored by the nearby, refurbished Midland and the restored Mainstreet (Empire) theaters; the new downtown arena —called Sprint Center, and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Museum; and the newly restored Hilton President Hotel.

Another new theater is also being constructed across the street from the existing Mainstreet (Empire) and Midland theaters that will be an additional performance venue for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre company. It is the building in the lower right center next to the parking garage. When viewing at night, it’s the building with the upturned floodlights on the sides of the structure.

I don’t know how long the web cam will be in operation, so at some point it will probably come down.

Here’s a bit of interesting theater history. The new KC Rep. performance space sits on the former site of the Globe Theater, which was demolished in 1932. According to an article in the Kansas City Star reporting the demolition, the Globe’s “greatest claim to histrionic distinction here [Kansas City] is that the talking movie. ..was introduced within the Globe walls.”

The theater introduced Vitaphone to Kansas City with the screening of “Don Juan,” starring John Barrymore, on June 11, 1927.

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on November 5, 2006 at 5:54 pm

Here are links to renderings of how the theater will appear after the renovation is completed. The name will change back to the original name, the Mainstreet Theater.

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These renderings show how the theater will fit into the surrounding entertainment district that is being constructed around it.

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RobbKCity
RobbKCity on November 5, 2006 at 5:53 pm

Here’s some links to some old photos of the theater (circa the 1930s) when it was operating.

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http://cinerama.topcities.com/mainstreet.htm

marnie1951
marnie1951 on July 25, 2006 at 7:06 pm

I have a copy of a 1921 play bill from the Orpheum Theatre circuit. In 1921, they listed 46 in total theatres that belonged to the circuit. The program is available in the Special Collection at UMKC

RobbKCity
RobbKCity on July 18, 2006 at 9:49 am

Here’s an update on the renovations of the Empire and Midland theaters. The big news is that the Empire will be renamed the Mainstreet Theatre. This was the theater’s original name when it opened in 1921.

Asbestos removal on the Empire Theater has been completed, so renovation of that structure can now begin.

The following is a recent article in the Kansas City Star.

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(article text follows in case the link goes dead)

Empire to transform from eyesore to eye-catcher

The one-time vaudeville venue will be a modern movie house.

By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
July 15, 2006

For 20 years, the shuttered Empire Theater has rotted at the corner of 14th and Main streets, trees sprouting from its roof, a poignant symbol of downtown neglect.

On Friday, for the first time in a generation, Kansas City got a peek inside the former vaudeville palace where crowds once plopped 50 cents â€"a dime if you were a kidâ€"during the Roaring ’20s to be entertained by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, and George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen.

A sheet of the cheap metal siding installed to deter vandals had been peeled back to reveal the old address, 1402, etched on the red granite facade. Inside, the vast auditorium where a million people laughed in 1921, the first year it opened, was a dank tomb stripped to its concrete and brick foundation.

Only a few stretches of terrazzo floor and the once-grand staircase remained from the rich, original French Baroque interior. A guide likened it to exploring the wreckage of the Titanic.

It was not until recently that the building could even be entered without wearing a protective suit and using a respirator. Tons of asbestos and mold-covered debris had to be removed, an estimated 200 dump-truck loads, before it reached the point where new construction could begin.

“It was quite a mess,” said Guy Gingrich, senior project manager for Kingston Environmental Services. “We found the building on the inside had been completely falling apart and asbestos was everywhere.”

Now, the theater is poised to be reborn as a six-screen, digital movie complex where patrons will be able to dine before enjoying their film with wine. It is also getting back its original name, the Mainstreet Theatre.

Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment and The Cordish Co. of Baltimore are reviving the theater’s role as a cornerstone of downtown entertainment. It is scheduled to reopen in early 2008, following a $25 million renovation.

“We’re going to celebrate the historic fabric and roots of the building …Taking it back to its historic roots, making it a place where people return to for entertainment, theater and culture,” said Reed Cordish, a vice president at the firm.

The 90,000-square-foot theater has had a bumpy history and some close calls with the wrecking ball. The Mainstreet shut down in 1938 because of the Depression, briefly resumed business in 1941, then closed again until it reopened as the RKO Missouri in 1949. In 1960, AMC purchased the old theater and rechristened it the Empire. The auditorium, a breathtakingly lofty space, had a false ceiling built to create two theaters in 1966. But as downtown declined, it finally closed in 1985.

The theater’s succeeding ownership neglected it to the point that trees took root in the roof, growing more than 25 feet tall, and water ruined the interior with mold and decay. Pigeons relieved themselves on the dome sheathed in terra cotta scallops. Chunks of the ornate cornice cracked and fell on the roof.

While a landmark in the hearts of many, it did not have formal historic designation and protection from City Hall.

Even after Cordish announced in 2003 it would like to save the theater as part of its Power & Light District, there was one last push to have it demolished.

Developer Larry Bridges wanted to team with DST Realty to build a new headquarters for Kansas City Power & Light on the site. The plan called for saving the facade, but razing the core building. But the city said no.

Then last summer, Cordish announced it had a new partner, AMC Entertainment. The two companies formed a partnership to not only renovate the Empire but redevelop the Midland Theatre, too.

“AMC has been a longtime Kansas City business and very supportive of downtown. Our downtown headquarters are here,” said Frank Rash, senior vice president for strategic development. “(AMC founder) Stan Durwood had a longtime vision for downtown, and this is a chance for us to be part of that.”

In a way, the project already is under construction. Workers from Kingston Environmental began to remove tons of toxic debris from the interior last December and only finished in recent weeks.

Cordish has hired STK Architecture of San Jacinto, Calif., as executive architect. Helix Architecture & Design of Kansas City will assist with historic preservation design.

“Our philosophy is to restore as much as possible, celebrate it in our new design, and at the same time create the most state-of-the-art theater experience in the country,” Cordish said.

The plan calls for two larger auditoriums seating roughly 300 people in each, and four smaller screening rooms with 50 to 100 seats. The main entrance and ticket booth will be under the signature dome. Developers hope to remove floors to reveal the full three-level interior of the rotunda.

The restaurant will occupy the former lobby of the old theater. The idea is to create a place where people can watch movies and discuss them.

“We’re excited as a theater exhibitor to have a facility close to our offices where we can introduce and experiment with new technologies and new programming options,” Rash said.

All six auditoriums will use state-of-the-art digital projection equipment.

“It’s still a novelty, but it’s gaining a lot of momentum,” Rash said.

Developers expect to have the building’s exterior completed as soon as possible so it complements the expected opening of the rest of the Power & Light District next summer.

Cordish and AMC also are moving ahead with the Midland renovation, but that project is far less involved. The preliminary plan calls for a restaurant to go into the front office space, and the theater interior to be tweaked to create a more clublike atmosphere for live music.

“Our emphasis now is on the Mainstreet,” Rash said. “Then we’ll turn out attention to the development of the Midland property.”


Mainstreet Theatre

Then …

•Opened: Oct 30, 1921 as a vaudeville palace with 3,000 seats, the largest in Kansas City until the Midland Theatre opened in 1927.

•Designers: George Leslie Rapp and Cornelius Rapp of Chicago, designers of more than 400 theaters nationwide.

•Cost: About $1.25 million.

…and now

•Open: Early 2008 as a state-of-the-art, six-screen movie house with a restaurant/wine bar.

•Developers: AMC Entertainment of Kansas City and The Cordish Co. of Baltimore.

•Designers: STK Architecture of San Jacinto, Calif., and Helix Architecture & Design of Kansas City.

•Cost: About $25 million.

beardbear31
beardbear31 on May 14, 2006 at 4:55 pm

From seeing the pictures posted on here by RobbKCity, from dec 31 2005, I thought it would be almost impossible to “restore” this theater, as opposed to gutting it and starting from scratch. Just way past the point of no return. I am happy that the building itself is at least going to be saved and used. Such a great facade. Also I’m not surprised that it’s interior used to look similar to Omaha’s Orpheum, since they were both designed by Rapp & Rapp, as pointed out by Mike Gallagher.

Scott
Scott on April 24, 2006 at 2:54 am

So much for restoration. That’s a shame. I didn’t think they would restore this theatre. Hopefully the exterior will be restored at least.

Organguy
Organguy on April 23, 2006 at 5:01 pm

I just saw the interior of the Empire Theater earlier today and it has been completely gutted down to the bare concrete, steel and brick.
There is nothing left – however, I was told that some of the ornmentation was salvaged including some brass and bronze from steps and a lost of pictures. It is pretty much cleaned out and they are ready to begin exterior resoration while the interior is all redone to turn it into 6 very stylish screening rooms and some lounges and cafe’s etc. I am hopeful that care will be taken to design interior elements that would duplicate some of the original pieces. It is so sad what happened to the interior. There was once a lot of beauty in there. You can always drive up to Omaha and visit the Orpheum Theater since it’s interior is almost a clone of what the Empire once looked like. At this point, I am glad that building is being saved even though it will not be the same as it once was.
Mike Gallagher