Royal Theater

301 W. St. Louis Street,
Pacific, MO 63069

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Royal Theater

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The Royal Theater was operating prior to 1941. This is a medium-size theater which is mostly intact on the outside. Brick construction, with an understated Tudor influence. The poster display windows (unusually low-set) now contain linoleum samples. No idea how well preserved the interior is.

May have closed in 1971, which is when current tenants, a carpet and tile store, appear to have moved in.

Contributed by Seth Gaines

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

TravisCape
TravisCape on October 15, 2005 at 2:01 am

I was told that this theatre was open on and off again until the early 1980’s. In 2001, the theatre was converted into a retail flooring store. The stage was demolished, the projection equipment was removed, and a second floor was partially added. The equipment I removed was very much from 1953. It was like a time warp. Unfortunately, I-44 had forced the traffic away from downtown and destroyed the viability of this theatre.

plasticfootball
plasticfootball on March 13, 2008 at 10:35 am

The flooring store still has a few theater seats and a ticket machine on display in what was the theater lobby. And yes, it was in business long past 1970.

WesternWatcher
WesternWatcher on September 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I did an article about the Royal for the Pacific Current newspaper in 1994. A family had begun holding variety shows in the theater. I will try to post it here.

“It was a brief era, as golden ages go, swept in on a floodtide of splendor, fantastic architecture, music, laughter and dreams. It began and ended in the decade that lay between Prohibition and Depression, and it brought pleasure and escape from boredom to a whole generation of Americans who wanted desperately to believe in make-believe."
— Ben Hall, The Best Remaining Seats, 1961.

The Golden Age of the movie palace came to Pacific when the Royal Theater switched on its neon marquee in 1929, ushering in a Pax Cinerama that lasted for three generations.
Today, the theater’s new owners stand on the cutting edge of live, family entertainment in Pacific, and there are no movies in sight.
Motion pictures actually started at that location before the current theater was built. The first picture came from a hand-cranked projector in a temporary structure in 1913. Alternating seasonally for four years between indoor and moonlight shows, Henry Hirth and Lorenz Lieber kept playing movies and featuring traveling vaudeville acts.
A permanent, 250-seat theater went up in 1917 and brought with it 11 years of Hollywood’s finest and otherwise before being leveled to make way for the current building.
The same family operated the Royal until Ken and Hirth sold the building to Terry and Joanne Graham, who extensively refurbished the tired edifice.
“Quite a bit of renovation was needed,” Terry Graham said. “We gave the inside a basic overhaul. We built a regular stage. Basically, all they had was a small stage and an orchestra pit. We extended the stage. We cleaned the curtains and the stage curtain. We put in a good sound system for live music. It cost us lot of money to start out."
After a brief stint in the movie business, the Grahams were ready to switch over to live entertainment, the likes of which are common in Branson, Missouri.
"We wanted to buy this to do live performances,” Joanne Graham said. “That’s what we set it all up for. That’s what we expanded that stage for, and that’s what we want to do. We are now where we want to be."
"Of course, the Hirth family was from around the area,” Terry Graham said. “When I was running movies, [Hirth] came down to assist me. He was there off and on, mostly during the weekends. Then, we started the live entertainment. Right around the same time, he became ill.
"He ran movies for all of those years, just like his Dad did before him,” Graham said. “He saw a lot of big changes in the industry over the years. He held on to keep the theater going as long as he could, then I think he just got burned out. That’s when I purchased it.
"When they passed away, one about six months after the other, I looked for some mention of them in the papers. I didn’t see anything,” Graham said.
But their memory is kept alive and well in the theater. Photographs, newspaper clips and vintage movie posters adorn the lobby and back wall of the auditorium. And the live entertainment harks back to the earliest fly-by-night acts that graced the stage of Hirth’s father’s original building.
The cast of 10 performers now puts on two live shows a month at the Royal. On the first Saturday of the month, they play the Variety Revue, a song and dance program that traces the path of popular music from the 30s to the 90s.
On the last Saturday of the month, they roll out the music of Elvis and his contemporaries for a music and comedy show called Rockola.
Holidays have a special place at the Royal. Halloween time means an elaborate masquerade party. Christmas means the most popular show of the year — and the arrival of Santa Claus.
The programs are put together and performed by families of performers. “I’ve been in music ever since grade school,” Graham said. “I’ve played trumpet, bass, and guitar. I played in some local bands. I’ve done the Elvis thing since about 1980."
He recently won a trip to Las Vegas when he entered an Elvis impersonation contest sponsored by a local radio station. He is joined on stage by 17-year-old Jared Gallamore, a student at the School for Performing Arts. Graham’s daughters Tanya and Michelle take part in singing and dancing numbers, along with the other cast members.
The clean-swept lines of the theater’s buff-brick facade, built in a style that we have come to associate with the John D. Rockafeller and the Public Works Administration, now wears a coat of Royal red paint. The interior space, once illuminated by little more than carbon bulbs filtered through miles and miles of Technicolor celluloid, now blazes with spotlights, dancing chasers, and a giant, ani-luminated jukebox in the middle of the stage. Four hundred velvety seats rest in their original configuration, unchanged from the days when the MGM lion — not Elvis — was king.
Elvis is definitely king at the Royal. The posters in the entry way proclaim it. And if you look closely at Graham, you can’t help but notice a resemblance.
The cast at the Royal has regular visitors from as far as Bontaire, Cape Girardo, Washington, Warren County, St. Charles – to name a few places – as well as east of the Mississippi River and across state lines. However, remarkably few of the regulars come from the immediate Pacific area, Graham said.
"Our best advertising comes from someone hearing about us from someone else,” Graham said. “They have to hear it. We’ve tried advertising, but advertising is pretty costly, and mostly, you have to come hear the music to know how good it is. Besides, we’re a small business. We own and maintain the theater, and we can’t afford the big advertising."
Graham recently replaced the roof on the building. Now, he plans to spruce up the entrance. "Right now, it still looks pretty much like a movie theater. We want to add some lights and give it some more glitz so everybody knows we have something exciting going on inside,” he said.
One aspect of the family element that appeals to Graham is parental supervision. The theater is definitely not a hangout for groups of kids. It is a place where kids can feel comfortable going out with their parents to have a good time, Graham said.
“It’s not an easy business to run. There’s a lot of hard work with production of the music and dance. It takes a lot of time and commitment to run a show like this. Publicity is fine, but you have to have the right people to work with you."
Graham likes the intimacy the theater provides for the performers and the individual members of the audience. But he concedes that working in a setting like that is a challenge. "You have to have somebody who knows how to do a show,” he said. “You can’t just find a musician. You have to find a musician who is used to working in front of people. You have to perform. You’re not just playing dance music; you’re playing one-on-one to an audience. And you have to be dedicated.
"People like that are hard to find,” he said.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Thanks Western Watcher for a great story.

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