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The Orpheum Theater of 425 Broadway, Hannibal, Missouri, which began construction in 1918, opened on January 24, 1922 and was deemed “Hannibal’s New Amusement Place.” Boasting 1,660 seats, including “box seats”, the Orpheum was built to the tune of $160,000. To mark this occasion, an opening night gala was planned with the showing of the silent film “Smiling Through” starring Jane Cowl, who made a public appearance at this event.
Designed by T. P. Barnett and erected by Burgher Bros. of Hannibal, the Orpheum Theater, which was owned by J. B. Price, featured the Adam style of architecture (neo-classical), and showcased many decorative elements. The exterior of the foyer, which was originally designed as a loggia and connected Broadway to the theater, was once enclosed in an arcade of pure white terra cotta with columns of Bedford stone. The white, glazed enamel terra cotta exhibited polychromatic effects with the building proper in tapestry brick. Beautiful carvings of circular Wedgwood-type bas relief medallions in blue and white, designed by sculptor Joseph Horchert, graced the upper portion of the exterior. These medallions depicted Orpheus in his chariot drawn by lions and accompanied by Cupids typifying music and draped figures typifying the dance.
The interior of the building was also a spectacle to behold. Audience members, upon entering into the interior foyer, were greeted with ornamental features executed in white and gold, a black and white tiled floor, and a staircase to the mezzanine level attractively designed with black and gold wrought iron balustrades. Great mirrors were placed in the archways of one side of the foyer that enhanced the illumination of the crystal chandeliers. The opposite side mimicked these archways, but instead of mirrors, windows that were draped in stone colored cloth and entrances that opened on to Fifth Street were designed to bring in the natural elements of the outside.
The foyer of the mezzanine housed the Ladies' and Gentlemens' retiring rooms and smoking rooms, as well as offices for the management and staff of the theater. The projection room was located at the rear of the mezzanine balcony and featured film equipment that was of the “Power” design. It had been noted that they were of the latest and most improved machines of their kind to be found in any theater of the country. In the late 1920’s, with the development of “talkies”, the Western Electric Synchronous Projection Equipment was later installed.
The main auditorium of the Orpheum Theater was also carried out in the Adams style to harmonize with the building’s brick and terra cotta exterior and the exterior and interior foyers. The color scheme employed was white and antique gold, with dark blue and gold wall hangings and draperies. An ornamental plaster frieze depicting a classic Roman processional of vestal virgins with wreaths of flowers leading a festal bull was designed by Victor Berlindez and W. H. Jennens, and installed on either side of the proscenium arch. The main stage curtain was of solid blue design and on the fire curtain, which hangs even now, was painted a beautiful picture by the Kansas City Scenic Company of Kansas City, Missouri that was inspired by the famous painting, “The Music Lesson.” The draperies for the doors, balcony and orchestra pit were of blue velour trimmed with gold galloon and matching tassels and cords. The draperies of the upper and lower boxes were of gold and blue satin damask, trimmed with gold fringe and tassels. The blue and taupe carpets for the rear portion of the main and mezzanine floors were of Wilton velvet. The dressing rooms, which were located beneath the stage, provided the most modern amenities for the stars of the Junior Vaudeville circuit.
Many of these architectural gems and original theatrical equipment are still part of the Orpheum Theater today, including a 1920’s auto-transformer lighting panel and a hemp counterweight system. Also featured are Art Deco light sconces and an Italian tiled ticket kiosk, which were later additions. In 1936, the Orpheum Theater underwent a remodel which was handled by Boller Brothers of Kansas City, Missouri. The theater also had two marquees, one which was added in the late-1930’s and the other which was added in the 1950’s when the name was changed to the Tom Sawyer. The latter marquee is still affixed to the building.
The Orpheum Theater has changed hands and purposes over its 80 plus year history. Initially it was owned and operated by J.B. Price, who ran it as a movie house and live performance venue. Some of its other previous owners have been: Frisina Enterprises Inc., Wallace Smashey, and Hannibal-LaGrange College.
In recent years, the Orpheum Theater has been owned by Orpheum Theater Inc. and was the home of the Hannibal Performing Arts Center (HPAC) at the Orpheum Theater. HPAC produced live theater, music and dance productions, as well as present visual art exhibits in its art gallery located on the second floor. A $750,000 rehabilitation process is underway by Trabue, Henson and Henshaw of Columbia, Missouri, which includes the installation of modern lighting and sound systems, as well as addressing the damage the building’s exterior and interior has endured over time. In 2008, new owners took over the building.
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