Plaza Theater

4700-08 Wyandotte Street,
Kansas City, MO 64112

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Plaza Theatre exterior

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The Plaza Theater opened on October 9, 1928 and helped solidify the elite ambience of the emerging Country Club Plaza. The theater added to the Spanish motif of the Plaza’s architecture, and altered patrons' perceptions of the area from a glamorous shopping area to more of an entertainment destination.

The theater’s 72-foot tower ensured its prominence as a Country Club Plaza landmark for many years. The most remarkable feature of the theater was its decor. Country Club Plaza developer J. C. Nichols and architect Edward Tanner went to great lengths to faithfully recreate the atmosphere of a Spanish villa. The theater lobby, for instance, was designed to mimic an inner court, with a red tile floor highlighted with glazed tiles depicting Spanish military figures. The Plaza Theater was primarily a movie house and was owned by an incarnation of the Fox Company from 1931 through the 1960s.

The space also played a role in the Nichols Company’s ongoing desire to impart culture on visitors to the Country Club Plaza. Beginning in 1951, the Kansas City Music Club sponsored the Thursday Morning Series of lectures and musical performances held at the theater. The list of names of series participants is quite impressive: Charles Laughton; Agnes Moorehead; Jessica Tandy; Hugh Cronyn; Claude Rains; Edward R. Murrow; and many others. Proceeds from the series went to fund club activities.

In 1961, the theater was remodeled to accomodate the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra, which performed there for several years. In the early 1980s, the main theater auditorium was divided into two parts, the balcony enclosed, and a screen installed on the upper level. This multi-screen format lasted for several years, but competition from suburban complexes and a 15-screen multiplex at the western edge of the shopping district spelled the end for the Plaza.

In April 1999, the theater finally and mournfully closed. Restoration Hardware, a national chain of hardware and decorating stores, remodeled the theater and moved into the space. The old Plaza, now serving patrons in a different capacity, reopened in the fall of 1999.

Contributed by Paul Salley

Recent comments (view all 31 comments)

luvmtains777
luvmtains777 on September 20, 2008 at 8:03 am

The manager from 1979 was arrested in a sting operation for re-selling tickets around 1981 and he had been there quite a long time. I won’t name names but I doubt it was any poster in here since that manager was quite old back then. The plaza theater was a Mann Theater before it became part of the Dickinson chain. Other interesting facts about this theater was that it had tunnels that ran underneath the theater and it also housed upstairs dressing rooms on the south side that were accessed by stairs behind the stage. The stage itself was quite large and remnants of the pulleys and stage props existed at least into the late 70s.

The flood that the entire Plaza experienced in 1977 also affected the theater to some degree. About 2 feet of water was in the lobby and the entire basement was flooded. Through the foyer were steps up to the second theater (the old balcony) but underneath the foyer were steps leading down to the restrooms so there were some areas that patrons used which were completely underwater but not destroyed by the flood.

The Plaza was one of the last theaters around to use carbon arcs in the projectors. I believe they still used those in the upstairs projectors until the early 80s.

Steve Martin visited this theater unannounced when the movie the Jerk was playing.

I seem to remember the downstairs as having around 960 seats. I believe the last sell out for the larger theater was the Goodbye Girl on opening week-end,

It was not only the multiplexes that buried this theater but the change in business model away from exclusive rights to a movie for just one theater in all of the kc area. Once you had movie openings in multiple locations, sell outs in the larger theaters like the Plaza or the Glenwood were gone.

jimfagin
jimfagin on July 28, 2009 at 5:06 pm

My late father, Breck Fagin, was the Plaza Theatre’s first manager. I have a black and white photograph of him from about 1930 standing in front of the theatre aside a big birthday cake that says “Plaza Theatre’s 2nd Anniversary”. I will post it on this website when the site is again able to accept photos.

seymourcox
seymourcox on September 15, 2009 at 8:03 pm

This site has photos of the Plaza Theatre, along with other KC theatres -
View link

jda661
jda661 on March 15, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I was the person who came in to replace the Manager in 1979. I was there for 12-18 months (stayed til after the Dickinson take over). It was a great theatre. as RT says, the theatre was more a victim of it’s time than the fact of the multiplexes. There was nothing really that could compete with the picture except the Big Glenwood or the Midland downtown.

rivoli157
rivoli157 on November 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm

never got to see this as a single screen. By the time I got to Kansas City it had been divided up. I do recall seeing “S.O.B.” “Rhinestone Cowboy”,“Blow-Out” and “Hardcore”. Visually the theatre was a stunning sight as you entered the Country Club Plaza area

WTKFLHN
WTKFLHN on August 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I was an usher at the Plaza for about 3 yrs in the mid1950’s. I have some great memories of the theatre as a single screen. It was a sub-run theatre back then, meaning we got the movies 28 days after they left the 1st run houses. I remember the week we played “The man who knew too much” with James Stewart. I have never seen a movie grip an audience like that one did. We were sold out on Saturday nite, and the movie had the audience in its grip. When something on the screen exciting happened, the entire audience would gasp as if it was one person. No one would get out of their seats to get popcorn. It was quite and experience.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 8, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Advantages of the Plaza’s parking lot described in this 1929 trade article: archive

WTKFLHN
WTKFLHN on October 22, 2012 at 12:50 am

I also have some memories of the stage shows they had there from time to time. One in particular, was the appearance of Dunninger, a mind reading act. The lady who would rent the theatre, didn’t generally use ushers. But I told the assistant mgr.I would work for free, if I could see the show, and she agreed. We went up to the balcony, which was closed, and watched the show, which was sold out on the 1st floor. The guy working with me was a skeptic, and thought that Dunninger was using plants in the audience. After the show, we went back stage to meet him. He was very nice to us. He explained to my friend that he was a mind reader, and could only tell what you knew in your mind, and was not a clairvoyant. He asked my friend if he knew how much change was in his change his pocket. My friend didn’t know, but he went off to check it. When he came back, Dunninger looked at him and said, “39 cents”. The guys jaw dropped and he said,“That’s right”. I don’t, to this day, know how he did it, but I was impressed.

WTKFLHN
WTKFLHN on October 22, 2012 at 1:06 am

I just want to comment on the Plaza’s seating capacity as a former employee. Before the theatre was cut up into 3 screens, and before they put in the extra large screen for “The Guns of Naveronne, 70mm engagement which brought the screen out in front of the arch and covered the orchestra pit, and the removal on the organ, the seating was 1800, 600 hundred in the balcony, and 1200 on the 1st floor.

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