Civic Theatre

105 West Main Street,
Pretty Prairie, KS 67570

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CIVIC Theatre auditorium, Pretty Prairie, Kansas.

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Opened in 1936 and reopened in 1981, the Civic Theatre still features its original wooden-backed seats. Programs are varied and include film and live stage performances. (The community of Pretty Prairie was featured in the 1952 film "Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie".)

Contributed by Louis Rugani

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on August 5, 2009 at 6:24 pm

(Hutchinson KS News, July 13, 1936:) Trouble that has been bothering
the Civic Theatre at Pretty Prairie since it was opened several weeks
ago, has been located at last. Improperly focused lens was the trouble.

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on August 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Three photos, including the asbestos curtain: View link

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on December 4, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Pretty Prairie Movie House Being Improved
(Page 14, The Hutchinson News-Herald, Monday, November 24, 1947)

Volunteer workers from the ranks of the Pretty Prairie Booster club have been giving the Civic Theater in Pretty Prairie a sloping floor and other improvements.
The old entrance to the theatre is being closed and a double door entrance is being constructed.
From the stage to the rear door the floors are being raised about two feet to give spectators in the rear a better view.

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on December 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm

September 29, 1940; Hutchinson News-Herald front page)
Civic Club May Close Pretty Prairie Theatre

Pretty Prairie â€" Unless there is better business the next four weeks, the Civic club will close the community theater.
J. R. Hosey, manager of the theater for the local club said one more trial is being made. “If this fails,” he said, “we’ll call it off and the Civic theater will close its doors.”

The theater was started by a group of 15 Pretty Prairie citizens who put up the money as stockholders to start it. They didn’t expect to make any profit. But they don’t intend to take any more of a loss, Hosey said. “There are some business men in this town who have never been inside the theater.” he declared. “We’re getting fed up with that kind of cooperation.”

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on December 4, 2009 at 8:21 pm

(Salina Journal, April 2, 2000)
Historic theater star of own show
By The Associated Press

PRETTY PRAIRIE â€" A 1930s vintage movie house will star in its own picture show.
The Civic Theater will be showcased in a segment of “Restore America,” a TV production endorsed by famed home repairman Bob Vila. The theater recently has reopened and now features an annual spring schedule of old-time classic films.
The Civic Theater was selected for the show for its historic beginnings, the small-town locale and the restoration efforts of Darrell and Joyce Albright.

‘Restore America’ is a program about people with a passion for restoration,“ producer-director John Litschke said. "For some reason the series has developed a niche for small towns."
The weekly segment is broadcast at 9 p.m. Sundays on the Home and Garden network.

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on December 4, 2009 at 9:01 pm

(April, 1994)
Big films on a small-town screen.
Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang big hits at Pretty Prairie theater
By Alan Montgomery

The Hutchinson News

PRETTY PRAIRIE – Some of the greatest motion pictures ever made are being shown in the Civic Theatre in downtown Pretty Prairie, thanks to the efforts of a local grocer with a dream.
Darrell Albright â€" who with his wife, Joyce, runs the D&J Grocery Store a few doors down from the beautifully restored theater â€" has been showing movies in Pretty Prairie for the past 18 years. Aided by local volunteers, the city council and local business sponsors, Albright saw that the theater’s restoration began 18 years ago and they’ve been showing a “spring series” of movies there ever since.
Movie fare includes Laurel and Hardy comedy films and classics such as the 1959 epic “Ben Hur,” starring Charlton Heston, or the 1948 comedy “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein."
Each movie is preceded by a showing of an Our Gang segment, such as "Hide and Shriek” or “Three Men in a Tub."
"It’s just a nostalgia trip, the whole thing,” said Albright, in a recent interview at the theater.
This year’s spring series began March 18 with the Abbott and Costello Frankenstein movie. Upcoming attractions are: April 22, “Some Like It Hot,” with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon; April 29, “Ma and Pa Kettle at Home,” with Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride; and May 6, “Gone With the Wind,” the three-hour, 40-minute epic many say is the greatest film ever made.
The May 6 showing will end this year’s spring series; the theater will show its next films in March 1995. In 1981, when the theater was reopened, its volunteer operators tried to have two series per year, but the town couldn’t support it, said Patti Brace, Pretty Prairie’s city clerk.
“They found out that in a small town there was just too much football and sports and other things, and there were just so many people to go around,” she said. “And it’s not air-conditioned. So that is why we have it in the spring. It’s more comfortable."
Albright loves talking about the theater and its history. It opened in 1935, with the same 211 hardwood seats that remain in it today.

Darrell Albright sits in one of the hardwood seats in the Civic Theatre in downtown Pretty Prairie. With the help of volunteers, Pretty Prairie businesses and the town’s city council, Albright has been showing classic films at the theater for the past 18 years.
“It closed in March 1955,” he said. “Television got it, like it got most smalltown theaters.”

Albright saw plenty of movies at the theater as a youth in Pretty Prairie, before moving away. After 20 years of work as a research technician for the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, he and his wife
moved back to Pretty Prairie to run the grocery store. Soon after that, Albright set about restoring the theater.

With fund-raisings, he gathered enough money to buy two 16mm movie projectors and mounted them up in the fireproofed, galvanized tin projection booth in the theater. He is able to rent major motion pictures that have been recorded on “special 16mm film that is comparable to high intensity 35mm film,” he said. The theater even boasts of a 1940s-vintage canvas drop curtain that has advertisements from local sponsors of the era. Several of the companies sold coal, kerosene and oil â€" and could be reached by calling a two-digit phone number.

The theater also has a collection of antique glass slides, which were used in a special projector to show advertisements on the screen. The slides have been transferred to 35mm color slides and a few are shown to each audience, just for fun.

Since its reopening in 1981, the theater has always booked a generous amount of Our Gang films because one of the film series' stars was Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, the lad with the little twist of black hair that stuck up from his head. Alfalfa, you see, once lived in the Pretty Prairie community. Appearing in 61 of the 221 Our Gang
comedies filmed between the years of 1922 and 1944, Switzer later in life met a Hutchinson girl, Dian Collingwood, who had moved to California with her mother after the death of her father. Three months after meeting on a blind date, they were married. Switzer continued his acting career for a few years, with marginal success,
then the couple moved to a farm north of Pretty Prairie. But Switzer
had even less aptitude for farming, so he returned alone to
Hollywood to try his hand again. He died in California in 1958, after being shot in an argument over a hunting dog, according to
local historians.

Needless to say, Albright said, the Our Gang comedies have a strong local following, along with the other major films. “We had 156 here last Friday night,” he said. The theater is a non-profit corporation and people give donations, instead of admission, to attend the movies. Ethel Wingate, a 1934 graduate of Pretty Prairie High School, said she loves the theater and its movies. “We were there Friday and we saw the Little Rascals,” she said.

Showtime is at 8 p.m. on Fridays. Albright said if he has overwhelming crowds at future films, he’ll simply announce that the
movies will be shown twice that night to accommodate the fans.
Of course, that might be a tall order, if the feature film is “Gone
with the Wind,” he said.

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on December 4, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Nostalgia lives- Pretty Prairie’s Civic Theatre shows classic movies
BY KAREN MARTINEZ
The Hutchinson News

PRETTY PRAIRIE – When Darrell Albright graduated from Pretty Prairie High at the age of 17, there were three things he was never going to do.

He was never going to move back to his hometown, he was never going to work with the public, and he was never going to live in the
country.

Never say never.

Albright, 57, has done all three. Not only did Albright return and purchase a grocery store on Pretty Prairie’s Main Street in 1980, but he reopened the long-vacant Civic Theatre a few doors down in April 1981. The Civic is a city-owned building and a project of the Pretty Prairie Heritage Society.

He and his wife, Joyce, and three children moved from Topeka to their rural home just south of Pretty Prairie to “get out of the big city.”

Because of his family’s efforts, patrons can recapture the golden age of movies on Friday and Saturday nights in February and March during the Civic Theatre’s 1999 classic film series. More than 1,000 people come to the two-month series each year.

“I have a love affair with movies. I have a love affair with old theaters,” said Albright, who works as facility manager at Pretty Prairie Sunset Retirement Community.

The Civic Theatre, housed in a narrow building that is 25 feet wide by 75 feet long, with a 20-foot deep stage, and is more than 100 years old, could well be the only one of its kind in Kansas showing old movies.

“It’s a rare bird,” Albright said. The Albrights have operated the theater with the help of their children, Mike, Amy and Stephanie.
“It was neat in the beginning when my dad opened it up,” said Mike Albright, now 27. “It was something we helped Mom and Dad with each year. There were a lot of drawbacks to it. Once I moved away and
grew up a little bit, I realized what a neat thing he was doing and what an impact it has on Pretty Prairie.”

The 211-seat theater features a stage adorned with a 1940s-vlntage canvas drop curtain with hand-painted advertisements, “It’s one of the best faces Pretty Prairie can put on for the rest of state,” said Roger McClure, president of the Pretty Prairie Heritage Society and a former mayor and council member. “We bring in a couple hundred
people every weekend from every part of the state. Those people come to town to have a good time and spend their money. The Civic Theatre features a hand-painted canvas curtain created In the 1940s. Some of them eat dinner at the only cafe left. I wish there were other things for people to do that come to town.”

In the days before television, touring troupes gave stage plays at various theaters. Someone noted on the back of the curtain: “Good play – good audience, 1939,” which gives a clue to the curtain’s age.
Another entertainer scrawled: “Poor town. Give it back to the Indians!”

Every aspect of the historic theater delights Albright. “This is my lifelong rebellion,” said an enthusiastic Albright, “I grew up in the
Mennonlte church. We didn’t go to movies. Movies were wrong. Now I’m doing it."

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