200 N. Broadway,
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The Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kansas represents one of the finest remaining examples of Atmospheric school of theatre architecture which was developed during the first part of the 1900’s. Although the theatre is under restoration it remains open and hosts a variety of events such as stage shows, movies, comedy shows and concerts.
The architect for the Orpheum Theatre, John Eberson, was the creator of the Atmospheric school. In his book, “The Picture Palace”, Dennis Sharp has classified the Orpheum’s style as “pre-Atmospheric”. However, further research indicates that the Wichita structure is in fact an authentic Atmospheric style with all the accoutrements associated with the style. Opening on September 4, 1922 with vaudeville, and the movie “The Three-Must-Get-Theres” starring Max Linder, it was the first Atmospheric style theatre in the United States. The Majestic Theatre in Houston, Texas was the second. The original seating capacity was for 1,700.
The Orpheum Theatre was originally conceived by a group of local investors and when construction completed it was leased to Carl Hobitzelle, the operator of a $6,000,000.00 theatre chain. The initial construction cost of the theatre was $750,000.00. Opening on Labor Day, September 4, 1922 with 5-acts of vaudeville on stage and the movie “Three-Must-Get-There’s” starring Max Linder. It was an integral part of the famous “Orpheum Circuit” and in its heyday virtually every major star of vaudeville graced its stage, including such luminaries as Houdini, Eddie Cantor and Fannie Brice. During its vaudeville period, more than 17,000 acts appeared with the playbill changing three times each week. On the stage in the fly-out hangs the theatre’s original fire curtain. It is a hand executed painting on asbestos, designed specifically for the Orpheum Theatre by John Eberson and rendered by Fabric Studio of Chicago. This curtain is quite valuable in its own right. The Orpheum Theatre was equipped with a Kilgen theatre pipe organ. On May 20, 1929 it was equipped for ‘talkies and the first sound films to be screened were Mary Pickford in “Coquette” & Kenneth Harlan in “The Alibi”.
The Orpheum Theatre has significant associations nationally and internationally with the development of a whole new concept and style of theatre architecture. The Orpheum Theatre was closed as a movie theatre on November 17, 1976, with a martial arts movie “The Bodyguard”. Most of the fittings and fixtures (including the seats) were then removed from the building.
In 1980 the Orpheum Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1984 it was gifted to the Orpheum Performing Arts Centre, Ltd., a non-profit corporation which is dedicated to the preservation, restoration and ongoing utilization of this important part of our cultural and architectural heritage.
To the greatest extent possible, it has been the intent of the Orpheum Performing Arts Centre, Ltd. to restore this beautiful theatre to the design that John Eberson initially conceived and constructed.
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