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Probably one of the most intriguing theaters in Arkansas was the Bauxite Theatre built in 1917 and opened in 1918 on property owned by the bauxite mining interests. The head of the mine, J.R. Gibbons felt that entertaining employees would lead to happier employees. From what can be gathered, Gibbons fronted the cost of the $26,000 theater and found veteran theatre operator John Parsons to run it on a ten-year lease.
The 900-seat theatre was built not on a main street but in a wooded area convenient to the mine. Parsons had a challenge to identify patrons who might be willing to drive 30 or more miles to attend. He did so with intriguing marketing materials and a mailing list of 1,800 residents. He created weekly programs mailed out and personally spoke with each crowd before shows. Also booked were traveling vaudeville shows and wrestling events.
Operating for a full ten-year lease cycle, Parsons likely did not renew because of the conversion costs to sound. The theatre was dark for the next ten years. But relaunching in 1939, Wallace and Lena Kauffman retrofitted the Bauxite for sound and the theatre along with their Imp in Benton ran under the Robb & Rowley Circuit. The Bauxite also had a day in court over clearance issues with 20th Century Fox.
In 1956, a labor walkout at the mines leads to the end of theatrical operations as the Kaufmanns couldn’t keep the theatre going. And thus ended one of the most interesting theatre in Arkansas history.