Showing 126 - 139 of 139 comments
Jerry the K: I know for a fact that a book exists that gives the history of most of the existing and lost theaters in the Broadway theatre district. I don’t know the name of the book offhand, but if you do a search of public libraries, you are sure to come across it. I found it in the Kansas City Public Library. It’s an older book.
I wonder if this is a signal that developers might begin returning to elaborately-designed movie theaters?
Wasn’t this theater across the street from the Woolworth Store?
This theater is one of the coolest things in all of Phoenix.
As a sidenote, I used to love to drive down Van Buren east of 7th Street at night and look at all the cool old neon lights that belonged to the forelorn-looking motels that lined that strip. I don’t know if they are still there or not, since I haven’t been to Phoenix in more than 10 years. However, someone should have saved, or should try to save, those neon lights and erect them in a neon sculpture park somewhere in Phoenix. I know eventually all those motels will be demolished and they will be lost otherwise.
When I lived in Phoenix and worked downtown, one of the saddest things was how few old buildings there were. When one thinks about the vast and low density blocks that make up Phoenix, it seems ridiculous that this theater couldn’t be saved, and whatever was built on its site constucted elsewhere. Scottsdale and Tempe have better downtowns that Phoenix.
When I lived in Phoenix, this was my favorite movie theater. It was the only place to see big, blockbuster, epic-type movies. Phoenix had only three memorable theaters: the downtown Orpheum, the Cine Capri, and the Harkins in downtown Tempe. And they tore one of them down! ! !
If there was ever a front exterior that should have been saved and reused as the base entrance foran office tower, it is the exterior of this theater.
Jim Rankin: I’ve seen that book, and it is indeed wonderful.
Ryan Caviglia: I think downtown Kansas City is on the rise again. So much is happening lately. It appears the Empire Theater on Main will be restored soon. Old office buildings are being converted to residential so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. The Cordish Co. is going to be building 4-5 new apartment buildings in the Power & Light entertainment district. The new downtown library in the renovated former First National Bank building has added a lot of new activity to that area. Go to < www.kcskyscrapers.com > if you want to see all that’s going on downtown.
William Hamilton: That is a great photo. It really shows the bustling activity that once existed in downtown Kansas City. You should send a digital copy to the Kansas City Public Library for their online local history section. www.kclibrary.org
Yes, the Boller Brothers was the firm of record responsible for the design of the Plaza Theater.
The last two owners, Executive Hills, and (the late) Stan Durwood (local theater titan), let the Empire deteriorate for a long time. They didn’t keep it up to code, because there are small trees growing on the roof in places. The west wall of the theater space had bricks buckling and falling off, which is also a code violation.
I wrote to the mayor and all city council members to bring the code violations to their attention and demand that Executive Hills make repairs on the west wall to secure it from further damage. I pointed out that the Empire was deteriorating quickly, and it needed to be secured from weather if their was any hope of restoring it. I ended up personally meeting with two council members to discuss the issue. Within a month, the west wall had new exterior stucco covering the areas of deterioration in that wall. Yay!
It was soon after that Executive Hills started floating the idea publically about tearing the theater down. The grapevine indicated that Executive Hills was threatening demolition to pressure the city into allowing it to tear down an old department store to build a parking garage for a large office building they owned a couple blocks away. Apparently, Executive Hills had purchased the theater property with the intention of turning it into parking if they couldn’t find something closer.
The Empire has been included in two past redevelopment plans for the neighborhood. One was Stan Durwood’s Centertainment plan, and the other was another plan of Durwood’s called the Power and Light District. Neither plan succeeded, and Durwood died.
When Executive Hills indicated their intent to tear down the Empire, Some research was done and something historically relevent was found about it. This information was forwarded to the Historic KC Foundation, and the mayor. Up to that point, the mayor had indicated that she would like to see the facade saved and included in a new development, but said little else about saving the entire building.
I was told by a council member’s office that city leaders had no intention of letting Executive Hills tear the Empire down. Executive Hills didn’t end up gaining control of the old department store property. The city took it by eminent domain. I heard a deal was struck that Executive Hills tenants would have access to a new city-owned garage that would be built on that site. After the city shot down the KC Power & Light headquarters plan on the Empire’s site, I think it became evident to Executive Hills that the city would also take the theater by eminent domain if need be.
Not long afterwards, the announcement was made that Cordish would restore the Empire as part of its new entertainment district, initially called “Kansas City Live.” Cordish later decided to change the name back to the Power and Light District. The development plan has been approved by voters, and will be funded through revenue bonds, and funds from Cordish and the State of Missouri. Once the Empire is restored, the property will be owned by the city.
While restoration may cost $10 million or more, the project will be eligible for state and federal historic renovation funding, as well as state urban redevelopment money. This could pay for as much as half of the cost of restoration I’ve been told.
Mr. Cordish said in an interview recently that he wants to restore the Empire to its former glory. He does acknowledge that the Empire is in bad condition, and will be expensive to restore, but that it is worth it. He indicated that full restoration would increase its cache and value to the district at large. Cordish indicated that it’s important to restore the theater because no developer could duplicate it today.
The Empire is completely salvageable. Union Station was restored several years ago, and it was in terrible shape. There was a lot of water damage and the ceiling had collapsed in several places. Some of the steel beams supporting the roof were rusted through. The ceiling in Union Station had an elaborate design as well. They hired a restoration expert that had worked on Windsor Castle, and a lot of European cathedrals, was hired to fix the ceiling.
Any lost decorative work in the Empire can be recreated.
As far as the divider walls not being there any longer, I’m guessing they were taken down a few years back either when Stan Durwood planned to renovate it; or, during an attempt to lure a Hard Rock Cafe / Planet Hollywood / House of Blues-type club into the building. The walls would have had to come down so that any developer could have seen the potential of the entire space.
Here is a link to the Kansas City Public Library Local History database which shows a postcard of the Empire Theater from 1923 when it was the Main Street Theater.
As for the President Hotel that was mentioned above, renovation has resumed and it is expected to open in 2006 as a Hilton Historic Hotel. It is just across the street from the Empire. There used to be a tunnel that ran from the hotel under the street to the theater. I don’t know if it is still open or not.
Check here to see a photo of, and for updates on the President Hotel:
Check here to see the new Power & Light Live entertainment district being developed around both the Empire Theater and President Hotel.
Things are looking up for the Empire Theater. It appears that the city has rejected a plan that would have constructed a new headquarters building on the site for Kansas City Power & Light. It appears that the Empire will be preserved. The Cordish Co. has plans to redevelop the property into a live music venue and nightclub as part an entertainment district they are developing across the street. City officials appear to be supporting this effort, since they turned down the request of two very powerful downtown property owners and developers.
For more information, read the Kansas City Star article from Nov. 11, 2004, here:
I saw the Empire when it was being moved down the street on the rails. It was an incredible feat. I remember reading ahead of time that they were planning to do this as part of the redevelopment of 42nd Street, and couldn’t believe they were attempting it. I remember thinking at the time why didn’t they just leave the remaining portion of the Empire where it was and build around it in that location? Why was it necessary to move it 200 ft. west? It just seemed to me that they could have built the multiplex at the original location, and placed the Madame T’s Wax Museum on the west side of the multiplex instead of the east side.
I’m glad they did though, because—at the very least—it saved a portion of the old theater. I think the good will to preserve theaters on 42nd Street had been used up by the time the Empire was moved. The New Amsterdam up the street was undergoing an extensive restoration by Disney, and the Ford Center on the north side of the street had taken two old theaters and did a re-adaptive use, but saved the front facade. Next door to it, the New Victory Theater had been restored.
Quite frankly, I’m very surprised that The New Amsterdam; the New Victory; the old part of the Ford Center (can’t think of the name of the original theater(s)); and the Empire didn’t all get torn down in one fell swoop. I had lived in the East Village just prior to redevelopment, and two old theaters in my neighborhood had been demolished. One was the old Fillmore East (which I think had been a movie theater or Jewish playhouse earlier). The other one was along 13th Street near Second or Third Avenue if I recall. At the same time, the Palladium on E. 14th St. was demolished. Now, that was a big shock to me, because I thought the Palladium would be saved. I know it had been a nightclub and concert venue for years, but had originally been a movie theater?
I was torn about the 42nd St. redevelopment too. Part of me liked the seediness of the street. One got a trill just walking down it late at night. However, it is in one of the primary tourist areas of the city, and having it in that condition reflected badly on the city. I’m just so glad the New Amsterdam got restored. I would have hated to lose that marquee.