Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet

1400 Main Street,
Kansas City, MO 64105

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Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The 3,000-plus seat Mainstreet Theatre opened in October 30, 1921, the only theater in Kansas City designed by the Chicago firm of Rapp & Rapp. Its interior design was French Baroque style and the exterior a blend of Neo-Classical and French Empire styles. The lobby area is topped by a dome encircled by circular windows.

It was the first theater in Kansas City to contain a nursery for parents attending shows. The Mainstreet Theatre also featured an underground tunnel which connected it to the nearby President Hotel. Also, its basement and sub-basement contained space for animals used in the elaborate vaudeville shows put on at the theater, including cages for animals as large as elephants (and elevators big enough to carry them up to the stage) and pools for seals.

From the time the Mainstreet Theatre opened until 1938, it was part of the so-called “Junior Orpheum” circuit, and among the famous names to play its stage were Charlie Chaplin and Cab Calloway.

The Mainstreet Theatre closed for the first time in 1938, briefly reopened in 1941, and remained closed until 1949, when it was reopened by the RKO circuit, as a movie palace, called the RKO Missouri Theatre. In 1960, it was renamed the Empire Theatre, and was for several years a Cinerama house. The Empire Theatre closed once again in 1985.

Though plans to turn it into a Planet Hollywood-style entertainment venue and eatery were floated, it never came to fruition. Its owner was then seeking to demolish the historic (though not landmarked) structure, but local preservationists sought to save the former Empire Theatre. The Empire Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2006.

In September 2008, work began to convert the theatre into a six-screen movie theatre. It reopened in April 2009, and reverted back to its original name Mainstreet Theatre. The two largest theatres have 300 seats each, and the smaller theatres will have 50 to 100 seats. On Novermber 15, 2012, it became the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 110 comments)

KCB3Player on July 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Tinseltoes – I have enjoyed seeing the different changes of the RKO Missouri (Mainstreet Theater). Do you have a ref of the changes that were made to the Liberty to the Roxy theater that also appeared in Box Office. The Roxy was a beautiful little Durwood Theater (actually their 2nd theater in KC)

KingBiscuits on August 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Actually, I would say the Drafthouse company taking over is the best thing to happen to this theatre. This is a theatre that should be getting exclusives and indie fare (instead of playing the same movies as everyone else) and this company does just that. Also, you never read a bad thing about the Drafthouse chain and they know everything that is right about filmgoing.

CSWalczak on October 1, 2012 at 11:16 pm

The Mainstreet is closing temporarily for conversion to the Alamo Drafthouse format; reopening is estimated to be around November 15, 2012. View article

CSWalczak on November 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm

This theater has reopened as the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet; the seat counts in some of the theaters has been reduced is some of the screening rooms. View article

WTKFLHN on December 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I can remember going to the Missouri and seeing a movie and sitting in the front row by the Orchestra pit to see a “Blackstone, the magician” show around 1950, I think. He made a canary in a small cage disappear and I got to check his coat sleeves to make sure he didn’t have it there.

Carlj on January 19, 2013 at 9:21 am

Our parents took my sister and I here Christmas Day 1979 to see Superman. was a great theater and was glad to see it reopen

BeltwayBrian on March 11, 2014 at 8:25 am

Nothing but love for this theater. It was my first (three consecutive nights) visit to an Alamo Drafthouse and I was not disappointed (Flash Gordon!). Love to know that this old gal has some very cool history. Viva Cinerama!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm

The Durwood circuit’s plans to convert the balcony of the Empire Theatre into a separate auditorium were reported in the October 24, 1966, issue of Boxoffice. Durwood had acquired the house from RKO in 1960 and subsequently remodeled and renamed it the Empire. An upstairs lounge had been converted into the 136-seat Academy Theatre prior to the twinning of the original auditorium.

Durwood’s plan was to continue operating the 900-seat ground floor theater as a Cinerama house called the Empire I, while the new, 1,200-seat theater in the former balcony and upper part of the auditorium, which was to extend to the top of the original proscenium, would be operated as a roadshow house called the Empire II.

The $300,000 conversion was designed by architects Hugh Hamlin and Charles Pike of the firm Northern & Hamlin.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 8, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Here is a bit of additional information about the period when the Empire was operated by Stan Durwood’s AMC Theatres. It is from the NRHP Registration Form (PDF here) for the Mainstreet Theatre, and the details differ somewhat from the original conversion plans noted in the 1966 Boxoffice article:

“In 1967, Durwood split the Empire into two theaters, by adding steel girders to the front of the balcony and extending a deck from the balcony to the proscenium. This made a large theater upstairs with 1,005 seats. It was first called the Royal, and later the Empire I. The Empire II (first floor) continued as a Cinerama Theatre. In 1980, the upstairs was further split in two with a wall down the middle. Each theater seated about 400. A small lobby under the balcony had been converted earlier to a narrow theatre with a small screen seating about 100. It was called the Academy then later known simply as the Empire 1, 2, 3, and 4.”

imaxman on August 25, 2015 at 7:48 pm

In the fall of 1968 I saw “2001 Space Odyssey” I suppose in the lower Empire 2. Possibly in that same time period I say “Around The World in 80 Days” in the upstairs theater, a reissue? Last film I saw in the upper small theater was “Flap” Anthony Quinn Release Date: November 1970 (USA). That was the last film I saw there as I returned to California.

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