W. 9th Street and May Street,
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The Old Orpheum Theatre at W. 9th Street and May Street was originally H.D. Clark’s 9th Street Theatre. It was leased by the Orpheum Theatre and Realty Co. in 1898.
The Orpheum idea was born in the 1890’s. Two vaudeville houses on the Pacific coast had succeeded in presenting a higher type of entertainment than was to be had in burlesque and variety house. Kansas City was chosen the third city for such a theatre on what became the Orpheum Circuit.
Martin Lehman opened the Orpheum Theatre February 6, 1898 with a bill which attempted to prove that vaudeville was a higher class than variety shows. The opening program: Boys Hungarian Band, Servais LeRoy, magician: Hayden and Hetherton, in a sketch: Gallando a clay modeler, Gruet, Beers & Guest, acrobatic comedians: the Vesuviano quartet; Miss Olga Hayden; Matthews & Harris in a sketch, and Biograph pictures.
The first season ended with a deficit of $20,000. But Lehman had faith, and another season was scheduled. By 1904, according to a Journal-Post story, “The Orpheum Theatre is now generally known as a gold mine and expects to break all records this year”.
The Orpheum Theatre continued in operation until 1914, when a new $500,000 Orpheum Theatre was completed at 1212 Baltimore, just south of the Hotel Muehlebach.
For 27 years Orpheum vaudeville was presented in Kansas City. Among the stars were Will Rogers, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fred Stone, Elsie Janis, Nora Bayes, Willie and Eugene Howard, and Sarah Bernhardt. Lehman’s son Lawrence, managed the theatre in its later location.
The ‘Old’ Orpheum Theatre, stood empty and neglected and badly vandalized before it was razed in 1922 by its owners, the H.D. Clark estate.
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