Rio Theatre

7204 W. 80th Street,
Overland Park, KS 66204

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Rio Theatre Exterior Lighting

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This is a wonderful Art Deco restoration by a company that has restored many old theaters in the Kansas City area, and is restoring several more.

Check out their website for more details and contact info.

This theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February of 2005.

Contributed by Mark Helmuth

Recent comments (view all 8 comments)

claydoh77
claydoh77 on November 19, 2004 at 4:35 pm

The neon & glass block on this theatre is amazing at night. Check out the theatre’s official site for a photo.

The article below appeared in the KC Star after the renovation in 2000.

06/24/00
MAKING THE RIO GRAND:
Remnants of old theaters give rise to a new movie house

By ROBERT W. BUTLER
The Kansas City Star

In the movie classic “Frankenstein” a creature is pieced together from parts of dead bodies.

Think of the new Rio in downtown Overland Park as a theater pieced together from parts of dead movie houses. The result, however, is way too charming to be called a monster.

In a restoration process that has taken nearly seven years, the 54-year-old theater — which hasn’t shown a movie in a quarter of a century — has been gutted and remade into an old-fashioned single-screen movie palace using fixtures saved from condemned theaters throughout the Midwest and kept in storage until now.

“It’s a little jewel, a piece of unique character for Overland Park,” declares David Jenkins of Salina, president of the Kansas Historic Theaters Association.

The restored Rio — which in earlier incarnations was the Overland Theater, the Kimo South Theatre and the Theatre for Young America (the last a live performing company) — will have its first moment in the spotlight at 9 p.m. Wednesday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Kansas Gov. Bill Graves.

The doors at 7204 W. 80th St. open to paying customers Friday with screenings of John Ford’s film “The Hurricane” starring John Hall, Dorothy Lamour and state-of-the-art special effects circa 1937. (Ticket prices are $6.75 for evening shows, $4.50 matinees or for seniors and children any time.) It was “The Hurricane” that was playing at the Overland Theatre when it opened on Christmas Day in 1946.

That will be followed on July 7 by screening of a newly restored version of Billy Wilder’s classic “Sunset Boulevard” with William Holden and Gloria Swanson. On July 14 the Rio will begin its regular schedule of new foreign and independent films with “Six Days in Roswell,” described as a sort of a “Waiting for Guffman”-type spoof about UFO mania.

Moviegoers will discover in the Rio what Wade Williams (who owns the theater along with twin brothers Brian and Ben Mossman) calls “the ‘40s Palm Beach look.” The theater is an atmospheric, pastel art deco bonbon trimmed with tropical motifs.

Williams and the Mossmans bought the building from the City of Overland Park in 1993, after it had been vacated by long-time tenants Theatre for Young America, who are now in a performing space in the Mission Mall. City fathers feared that the facility would become an empty eyesore in the heart of their business district; Williams and the Mossmans proposed turning it into a classic example of a small-town movie house.

The Rio’s new look begins on the exterior, where the Mossmans — who did the bulk of the restoration work themselves — have covered the facade in pink marble, installed new movie poster display cases (several of them salvaged from a condemned theater in St. Louis), raised a new made-to-order marquee and added so much pink and green neon lighting that, according to Williams, the Rio now has more neon than any theater of its size in the United States.

Most of the neon was created by Finis Necessary, an 86-year-old Independence resident who has been working in neon since the 1930s. In a 60-year-plus career Necessary has designed, installed and maintained the neon lighting on such now-leveled area theaters as the Pantages, Orpheum, Isis, Main Street and Gillham, as well as the still-operating Uptown.

The original box office was removed years ago, so Ben Mossman built the Rio’s glass-brick box office from scratch. Finding the right kind of vintage art deco glass brick was tricky; three kinds were used in restoring the Rio, most of it purchased from area collectors.

Once inside the small lobby a visitor’s eyes are drawn upward to a sort of rotunda that was created by removal of the old ceiling. From the center dangles a huge chandelier of brass and art deco frosted glass that originally hung in the old Isis Theatre at 31st and Troost.

“We were pulling that chandelier out of the Isis even as they were tearing out the rear wall of the building,” Brian Mossman said of the emergency salvage effort.

The side walls of the rotunda introduce the palm tree motif that is carried throughout the Rio. The delicate stylized palms here are fashioned from quarter-inch steel rods. They were painted a pastel blue-green and are illuminated with green lights hidden at their bases.

Even the carpeting underfoot has a jungle-frond pattern.

The concession stand is dominated by a cherry red 1938 popcorn machine. It was salvaged by Williams and the Mossmans from the Abilene Theatre in Abilene, Kan., which went out of business earlier this year after being damaged by a microburst during a thunderstorm.

“Pretty much everything in here that looks old is old,” Brian Mossman said while conducting a recent preliminary tour of the facility.

Over the bathroom doors are metallic-looking (actually, they’re painted plaster) original signs dating to the ‘20s. The Men’s sign features a portrait in relief of a dapper fellow with a cigarette in his mouth, the smoke curling around him.

But the Rio’s piece de resistance is its 281-seat auditorium.

Those who last saw the auditorium when it was occupied by a children’s theater may be amazed by the transformation. The tiered seating installed for live theater was pulled out and the natural slope of the auditorium revealed. Virtually every surface has been replastered and repainted.

The palm tree motif continues around the upper walls of the auditorium, while the lower part features tongue-and-groove paneling specially milled to create a bamboo effect. Recessed red, amber and blue lights can be adjusted to create different moods, depending upon the movie being shown.

The seats with cupholder armrests, while relatively new, have been recycled as well. In a previous life they were in the now-defunct Blue Ridge Cinema at I-70 at Blue Ridge Road.

“Each theater built in the ‘40s and '50s had its own identity,” Mossman said. “It was just part of the showmanship of operating a theater.”

That showmanship was very much on the minds of Williams and the Mossmans, who make up the Fine Arts Theatre Group, a business devoted to restoring and operating vintage movie houses. Since 1983 they have operated the Fine Arts Theatre on Johnson Drive in Mission; a few years later they restored the Englewood Theatre in Independence, a repertoire house at 10917 Winner Road that shows classic movies.

While the Rio will book the same sort of fare shown at the Fine Arts, Williams and the Mossmans regard it as their premiere screen. In it they will book the most in-demand titles, perhaps playing the same films showing at Westport’s Tivoli Manor Square Theatre, the city’s other “art house.”

Why did it take nearly seven years to finish work on the Rio?

Mostly, say the Mossmans, because they insisted on doing most of the work themselves, from painting to laying a new sewer line.

“The hardest part of the job,” said Ben Mossman, “was trying to do the Rio and our other jobs.” Ben Mossman manages the Englewood, Brian Mossman runs the Fine Arts, and Williams a few years ago launched a line of videos based on his collection of vintage science fiction and horror films.

“Fifty years from now people will remember going to the Rio Theatre in Overland Park and how beautiful it was,” predicted theater historian Jenkins. “Fifty years from now are they going to have the same kind of memories of the multiplex at the mall?

“No, and that’s why these old theaters need to be saved. As far as I’m concerned, these guys are heroes.”

To reach Robert W. Butler, movie editor for The Star, call (816) 234-4760 or send e-mail to

pianoman
pianoman on January 17, 2005 at 6:51 pm

The night view of this theater is awsome!

trooperboots
trooperboots on January 17, 2005 at 9:18 pm

Wow… here is an enterprising company that has taken FOUR lovely old movie palaces and restored them! Wait.. they did it in Kansas! … And the theaters are making money! Why can’t we do this on Hollywood Boulevard with those lovely and historic theaters that are boarded up in the “movie capitol of the world?”

The “FIne Arts Group” of Kansas deserves some serious credit for the great job on these grand venues! Bravo!

claydoh77
claydoh77 on March 15, 2005 at 8:51 am

According to a March 10, 2005 article in the Kansas City Star, this theatre was just added to the National Register of Historic Places in February of this year. Also added was the Granada in Kansas City, KS another Boller Brothers & Fine Arts Group Theatre.

Congrats to the Fine Arts Group for a job well done!!!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 25, 2007 at 3:44 am

In the 1950 edition of Film Daily Yearbook the Overland Theatre is listed with a seating capacity of 600.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on December 20, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Here is a recent closeup of the marquee:
http://tinyurl.com/7yzl7a

AMStar
AMStar on September 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

This theatre is on the cover of “Cinemental Journeys” by Mike and Vicki Walker.

Glen Wood Dickinson III
Glen Wood Dickinson III on December 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

Yes. The old Overland Theatre renamed the Kimo South. My first theatre manager job.

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