Plaza Theater

4700-08 Wyandotte Street,
Kansas City, MO 64112

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Plaza Theater, Kansas City, MO in 1929 - Proscenium

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 1960’s.

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-1980’s, 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 Theater.

On April 4, 1999, Dickinson Theatres closed the theater. Restoration Hardware, a national chain of hardware and decorating stores, remodeled the theater and moved into the space. The old Plaza Theater, now serving patrons in a different capacity, reopened in the fall of 1999.

Contributed by Paul Salley

Recent comments (view all 34 comments)

WTKFLHN on October 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm

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 on October 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

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.

tntim on September 20, 2015 at 8:04 pm

This link is to the December 22, 1928 issue of the “Exhibitors Herald and Picture World” that has pictures and an article about the Plaza Theater. View Link

dallasmovietheaters on January 31, 2016 at 12:24 am

Trivia: Edward Tanner and Boller Brothers won the coveted Architectural League’s coveted Best Architectural Award in 1928 for the Country Club Plaza housing this theatre with its 100' high tower.

aeast on July 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

In the center of the tiled-floor lobby once stood a wishing-well which served as a drinking fountain. So many people bumped into it that it was eventually removed. Large numbers of people walking across those tiles created a sometimes noisy lobby. There was talk of carpeting it over but don’t know if this was ever done. I ushered at the Plaza from 1962-1966.

WTKFLHN on July 11, 2016 at 2:53 pm

aeast. They had a fountain in the middle of the lobby. It was removed when the expanded the concession stand. The wishing well/drinking fountain you are thinking of was in the lounge, downstairs. I don’t recall it being removed was the building was still a theatre.

OKCdoorman on January 4, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Informational advance story on the Plaza’s Sunday closing was in the Star’s Preview supplement, Friday, April 2, 1999, pp. 10, “It’s Curtains for the Plaza Theater.” (The article claimed 1500 seats.)

Closed by Dickinson for good on Sunday, April 4, 1999, with Clint Eastwood in TRUE CRIME, the cannibalism-centered film RAVENOUS, Rankin-Bass' animated version of THE KING AND I, and THE OTHER SISTER. [Kansas City Star]

OKCdoorman on February 10, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Held up after a fierce battle with theater staff at approximately 8pm on Sunday, March 31, 1974, while showing Jack Nicholson in Hal Ashby’s film THE LAST DETAIL, in a scuffle against the perpetrator (who had become upset over the $2.25 admission fee) involving an 18-year old girl cashier, a 22-year old usher, and the 20-year old assistant manager. After leaping into the box office and grabbing some bills (and able to resist at least two solid blows from a 25-pound brass pole ordinarily used with ropes for crowd restraint) the robber fled in a light-green Cadillac with up to $300 in loot. [“Fights Way to Plaza Theater Cash,” Kansas City Times, Monday, April 1, 1974, pp.3]

KCB3Player on March 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm

I grew up in Kansas City and loved the Plaza Theater. It was the gem of JC Nickels Co. Sadly the theater was made a 3plex and then closed and remodeled as A Restoration Hardware Store. I understand that much of the auditorium was saved including the Stage and the ceiling even though that space was used as back stock storage the The Floor was modified in a way that it too could actually be restored at a later date back to a theater. The front part of the balcony was sadly removed and they did not use the downstairs lounges and they were left intact. Now that the Restoration Hardware Store is gone, this would be a good time for the theater to be completely restored as a live performing arts venue maybe associated with UMKC, Put the auditorium back to the way it was. There is room to increase the stage and back stage area. Not sure what is going on with the Plaza – too many empty buildings. I understand that even Houston’s has not closed. The Business, Arts and KC Historic Community need to get behind putting the Plaza Theater Back together. The Midland, still beautiful, is now and oversized live music Bar venue and it is deteriorating with the excessive loud music. I saw a lot of problems in the auditorium and the management is doing nothing about it. Very sad. Save and Restore the once majestic Plaza Theater before it is too late.

WTKFLHN on March 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Hey KCB3. I hope that that comes to fruition.

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