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The neon & glass block on this theatre is amazing at night. Check out the theatre’s official site for a photo.
The article below appeared in the KC Star after the renovation in 2000.
MAKING THE RIO GRAND:
Remnants of old theaters give rise to a new movie house
By ROBERT W. BUTLER
The Kansas City Star
In the movie classic “Frankenstein” a creature is pieced together from parts of dead bodies.
Think of the new Rio in downtown Overland Park as a theater pieced together from parts of dead movie houses. The result, however, is way too charming to be called a monster.
In a restoration process that has taken nearly seven years, the 54-year-old theater — which hasn’t shown a movie in a quarter of a century — has been gutted and remade into an old-fashioned single-screen movie palace using fixtures saved from condemned theaters throughout the Midwest and kept in storage until now.
“It’s a little jewel, a piece of unique character for Overland Park,” declares David Jenkins of Salina, president of the Kansas Historic Theaters Association.
The restored Rio — which in earlier incarnations was the Overland Theater, the Kimo South Theatre and the Theatre for Young America (the last a live performing company) — will have its first moment in the spotlight at 9 p.m. Wednesday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Kansas Gov. Bill Graves.
The doors at 7204 W. 80th St. open to paying customers Friday with screenings of John Ford’s film “The Hurricane” starring John Hall, Dorothy Lamour and state-of-the-art special effects circa 1937. (Ticket prices are $6.75 for evening shows, $4.50 matinees or for seniors and children any time.) It was “The Hurricane” that was playing at the Overland Theatre when it opened on Christmas Day in 1946.
That will be followed on July 7 by screening of a newly restored version of Billy Wilder’s classic “Sunset Boulevard” with William Holden and Gloria Swanson. On July 14 the Rio will begin its regular schedule of new foreign and independent films with “Six Days in Roswell,” described as a sort of a “Waiting for Guffman”-type spoof about UFO mania.
Moviegoers will discover in the Rio what Wade Williams (who owns the theater along with twin brothers Brian and Ben Mossman) calls “the ‘40s Palm Beach look.” The theater is an atmospheric, pastel art deco bonbon trimmed with tropical motifs.
Williams and the Mossmans bought the building from the City of Overland Park in 1993, after it had been vacated by long-time tenants Theatre for Young America, who are now in a performing space in the Mission Mall. City fathers feared that the facility would become an empty eyesore in the heart of their business district; Williams and the Mossmans proposed turning it into a classic example of a small-town movie house.
The Rio’s new look begins on the exterior, where the Mossmans — who did the bulk of the restoration work themselves — have covered the facade in pink marble, installed new movie poster display cases (several of them salvaged from a condemned theater in St. Louis), raised a new made-to-order marquee and added so much pink and green neon lighting that, according to Williams, the Rio now has more neon than any theater of its size in the United States.
Most of the neon was created by Finis Necessary, an 86-year-old Independence resident who has been working in neon since the 1930s. In a 60-year-plus career Necessary has designed, installed and maintained the neon lighting on such now-leveled area theaters as the Pantages, Orpheum, Isis, Main Street and Gillham, as well as the still-operating Uptown.
The original box office was removed years ago, so Ben Mossman built the Rio’s glass-brick box office from scratch. Finding the right kind of vintage art deco glass brick was tricky; three kinds were used in restoring the Rio, most of it purchased from area collectors.
Once inside the small lobby a visitor’s eyes are drawn upward to a sort of rotunda that was created by removal of the old ceiling. From the center dangles a huge chandelier of brass and art deco frosted glass that originally hung in the old Isis Theatre at 31st and Troost.
“We were pulling that chandelier out of the Isis even as they were tearing out the rear wall of the building,” Brian Mossman said of the emergency salvage effort.
The side walls of the rotunda introduce the palm tree motif that is carried throughout the Rio. The delicate stylized palms here are fashioned from quarter-inch steel rods. They were painted a pastel blue-green and are illuminated with green lights hidden at their bases.
Even the carpeting underfoot has a jungle-frond pattern.
The concession stand is dominated by a cherry red 1938 popcorn machine. It was salvaged by Williams and the Mossmans from the Abilene Theatre in Abilene, Kan., which went out of business earlier this year after being damaged by a microburst during a thunderstorm.
“Pretty much everything in here that looks old is old,” Brian Mossman said while conducting a recent preliminary tour of the facility.
Over the bathroom doors are metallic-looking (actually, they’re painted plaster) original signs dating to the ‘20s. The Men’s sign features a portrait in relief of a dapper fellow with a cigarette in his mouth, the smoke curling around him.
But the Rio’s piece de resistance is its 281-seat auditorium.
Those who last saw the auditorium when it was occupied by a children’s theater may be amazed by the transformation. The tiered seating installed for live theater was pulled out and the natural slope of the auditorium revealed. Virtually every surface has been replastered and repainted.
The palm tree motif continues around the upper walls of the auditorium, while the lower part features tongue-and-groove paneling specially milled to create a bamboo effect. Recessed red, amber and blue lights can be adjusted to create different moods, depending upon the movie being shown.
The seats with cupholder armrests, while relatively new, have been recycled as well. In a previous life they were in the now-defunct Blue Ridge Cinema at I-70 at Blue Ridge Road.
“Each theater built in the ‘40s and '50s had its own identity,” Mossman said. “It was just part of the showmanship of operating a theater.”
That showmanship was very much on the minds of Williams and the Mossmans, who make up the Fine Arts Theatre Group, a business devoted to restoring and operating vintage movie houses. Since 1983 they have operated the Fine Arts Theatre on Johnson Drive in Mission; a few years later they restored the Englewood Theatre in Independence, a repertoire house at 10917 Winner Road that shows classic movies.
While the Rio will book the same sort of fare shown at the Fine Arts, Williams and the Mossmans regard it as their premiere screen. In it they will book the most in-demand titles, perhaps playing the same films showing at Westport’s Tivoli Manor Square Theatre, the city’s other “art house.”
Why did it take nearly seven years to finish work on the Rio?
Mostly, say the Mossmans, because they insisted on doing most of the work themselves, from painting to laying a new sewer line.
“The hardest part of the job,” said Ben Mossman, “was trying to do the Rio and our other jobs.” Ben Mossman manages the Englewood, Brian Mossman runs the Fine Arts, and Williams a few years ago launched a line of videos based on his collection of vintage science fiction and horror films.
“Fifty years from now people will remember going to the Rio Theatre in Overland Park and how beautiful it was,” predicted theater historian Jenkins. “Fifty years from now are they going to have the same kind of memories of the multiplex at the mall?
“No, and that’s why these old theaters need to be saved. As far as I’m concerned, these guys are heroes.”
To reach Robert W. Butler, movie editor for The Star, call (816) 234-4760 or send e-mail to
What a unique beautiful theatre. I received the newest Marquee Magazine from the Theatre Historical Society yesterday & it was a full length featured article on this theatre. The photos are wonderful and a lot of interesting information about the evolution of this theatre. I have to say I am partial to the photos of the original interior but the 60’s remodel is still very unique.
I believe this building is owned by the same owner as the Uptown in KC, MO. Until recently the Warwick housed Soreal Design which has now moved. The building is currently for sale or lease-
Here is the real estate listing including a picture & pricing- You have to click through the listings or do a search for “3927 Main St”:
I’ve heard this is mostly stripped inside & not much representing a theatre is left because it held a department type store at one time. Looking through the window it seems to have a concession stand counter, though if it is original or retro-fitted I don’t know.
I’ve been to this theatre many times but never went to the other theatres by the same name in Kansas City (one was before my time), were these all affiliated & just a change of location? 2420 Indiana, Kansas City, MO 64127 (1937-1951 now a sign company) & 425 Westport Rd Kansas City MO 64111 (1976-1998 now Blaney’s Pub).
This theatre still stands vacant just off 39th & The Paseo. A picture can be seen at:
I was wondering, I ran into this on eBay last week and wondered if it was officially released. Looks like it will be good. Congrats on the completion.
Here is a link with a lot of historical info from Kansas City, KS Planning.
I’ll add pictures when that feature returns.
I think this theatre actually opened in 1922 not 1911. It seated 2200 and was designed in the Spanish Renaissance Style. It was one of 3 theatres in Kansas City, KS designed by the Bollers. The others were the Art Theatre at 18th & Central and the Granada, 5 blocks away at 10th & Minnesota. The Electric was one of the larger theatres designed by the Bollers and was the premier movie theatre in KC, KS prior to the construction of the Granada. The Granada could not compete with the size of the Electric (1200 seats) but its atmospheric interior was a hit compared to the Electric’s “hard-top” style.
If the add photo function comes back soon, I have a postcard showing a nice street view of the Electric from the 50’s.
From what I’ve read in the KC Star (Article appeared on 8/13/03), the owner obtained a pre-demolition permit. Possibly wanting to raze the building for future development.
There is a lot of info & some pictures (interior & exterior) about this theatre in Mary Bagley’s book: “Front Row: Missouri’s Grand Theatres”. At the time of publishing in 1984, the theatre was still operating.
The theatre was divided and turned into a four-plex at some point & I’ve heard that a lot of the interior elements & charm are gone. It has been closed since 1985 & I personally have never been inside of the theatre, though it is a really neat building & the exterior is a downtown landmark, though it has never been given specific landmark status.
I would love to see the building saved & hope someone can do it. If I had the funds I would open a nightclub/multi-use facility as has been done with other theatres like KC’s Uptown.
This is a beautiful & unique theatre, what a wonderful restoration. I really enjoyed this theatre on my recent visit with the Theatre Historical Society on their Heart of America Conclave. Such an unusual atmospheric theatre with the ceiling looking like a tent with the sky peeking through. The artist intended it to include styles “Hittite, Assyrian, Persian, and Arabian”
Check out this link for some great pictures and info:
This one has history on the artist Waylande Gregory who helped design the theatre and some more great pictures including some of the restoration:
Charles’s link shows one picture of the Garden theatre, more info and the Bygone artilcle listed above can be viewed at:
Is this building still standing? Is this the brick building with the “Silo” sign on the side & a recently added white & purple banner that says Multiplex & Gourmet Coffees? I have wondered in the past if this building had been a theatre at one time.
Charles, I noticed you have a lot of posts about Boller Brothers' Theatres, where do you get your info? I am very interested in local theatres (Kansas City Area) especially those by the Bollers.
Here are some more really cheap ones (730 of them) from the 1960’s, taken from the Englert Theater, Iowa City Iowa currently being renovated. Not as classic but still neat and starting bid is only a penny. Wow! I didn’t realize there were such deals on theatre seats on eBay.
Here is a news story I just found about the Englert
University of Iowa News Release
July 22, 2004
University Of Iowa And Englert Civic Theatre Reach Use Agreement
An agreement between the University of Iowa and the Englert Civic Theatre, Inc., will bring performances by the UI Division of Performing Arts into downtown Iowa City starting in December.
The UI will pay Englert Civic Theatres, Inc., $25,000 a year for five years as a fee for use of the Englert, plus production and service costs for each performance. This would provide access to the theater for as many as 40 dates during each year, including rehearsals and performances.
Each year, the UI and the Englert will jointly present a series of ticketed performances at the Englert Theatre, with tickets available through the Englert’s box office. Performances will be by students and faculty of the three academic units of the Division of Performing Arts: the School of Music, the Dance Department and the Department of Theatre Arts.
The first Division of Performing Arts event in the Englert will be a production of Giancarlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” presented by the UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, December 10-12.
A series of performances by faculty and students of the Division of Performing Arts during spring 2005 will be announced later.
With a seating capacity of 750, an air-conditioned hall, and a stage suitable for music, dance and theater, the Englert provides a facility that is not duplicated among current performance spaces on the UI campus. The stage also has a full, three-story fly loft above and dressing room space underneath, making the Englert suitable for staged productions of dance and theater.
“This is a win-win situation,” said David Nelson, director of the UI Division of Performing Arts. “This definitely meets a need of the Division of Performing Arts, giving us access to a unique performance space, and at the same time it benefits the Englert and the Iowa City community.”
“The Englert is perfect for us,” Nelson, noted, “because it represents a kind of space we do not have on campus — an intimate hall that is ideal for chamber music, and also offers the production facilities for theater, musical theater and dance. And the downtown location is an important benefit, since it is easily accessible to a large potential audience.”
“Our spaces on campus are overextended,” Nelson added “I would like to emphasize that the use of the Englert will give more faculty and students in the division the opportunity to perform before the public in a quality venue.”
Eric Kerchner, executive director of the Englert, commented: “This agreement gives an early foundation of programming in the Englert. The university performances will provide a nice diversity of programs for the community to enjoy. This series of performances will also compliment other performances offered by the Englert,” he said.
The Englert Civic Theatre, Inc. is a nonprofit, community organization working to restore and renovate the historic Englert Theatre building with the long-term goal of creating a multi-use, live performance venue in Iowa City.
Built in 1912, and rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1926, the Englert Theatre was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The building has also been designated as an Official Project of “Save America’s Treasures,” a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has attracted funding from the Vision Iowa program.
For more information on the Englert, visit its web site at http://www.englert.org
The Division of Performing Arts is part of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and includes the university’s Arts Share program as well as the School of Music, the Dance Department and the Department of Theatre Arts.
For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/ To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.
FOR THE ENGLERT CONTACT: Eric Kerchner, 319-936-0463,
FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072,
I think that is a good guess.
Name: Missouri (RKO Missouri)
Additional Names: Main Street (mid-1940s)/Cinerama (1970s)/Empire
Location: 14th & Main St., Kansas City, MO
Opened: October 30, 1921
Current Status: Closed in 1985. Currently standing, but vacant.