Orpheum Theatre

200 N. Broadway,
Wichita, KS 67202

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Orpheum Theatre

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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, 1922, 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 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 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.

Contributed by Johny Buchanan-Spachek, Paul Salley

Recent comments (view all 40 comments)

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on October 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Here is a link to images of and from the projection booth in the Orpheum:
View link
Enjoy.

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on December 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

The book on the Orpheum Theatre is now available through Amazon.
Here is the link:
View link

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Good Theatre stories from Employees.Thanks for putting them on so many stories yet to be told,all so different in many ways.

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on May 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

After doing more research the architect for the Orpheum was John Eberson. Harry Weaver was the architect who supervised the construction in Wichita.

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on September 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm

The Orpheum Theatre originally seated 1,676. 952 seats were on the main floor, 666 were up in the balcony and 58 seats were in boxes on the main floor. The boxes were removed in about the late 1950s.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Playing May 15 1974 was “BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID” what a great flick.at 7;20 and 9:40.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Where is the WESTWAY CINEMA, VICTORY DRIVE-in and VOGUE ART.?

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on April 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Mike, The Voque Art Theater was originally the Marple Theater at 417 E. Douglas.

The Westway Cinema was at 2515 S. Seneca in the Westway Shopping Center.

Are you sure you don’t mean the Victory Theater. I can not find any information on a Victory Drive-In in Wichita.

terrywade
terrywade on December 12, 2013 at 8:41 am

Looks like they are about to ruin the place with a remodel, gone will be the nice neon marquee front.

Keith Wondra
Keith Wondra on December 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Terrywade, The original entrance with the neon marquee is not going away according to the article below. http://www.kansas.com/2013/12/06/3164040/orpheum-theatres-30-million-campaign.html

If you look at the photo provided you will see the back of the neon marquee to the right of the building.

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