Esquire Theatre

211 East 12th Street,
Kansas City, MO 64106

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WTKFLHN on July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm

By the way, not that matters that much today. But the Esquire was not at the corner of 12th and Grand, but was in the middle of the block. That picture above shows the alley in the middle of the block on 12th st between Grand and McGee. The address at the top of the page, 211 e 12st is correct. The Tower had exits which came out in that alley on the west side of the auditorium, and on McGee st on the east side.

Don H
WTKFLHN on July 16, 2014 at 5:49 pm

To KCB3Player. Yes, indeed, I was working at the Esquire during that last short run. And, if memory serves me, the Esquire was owned by Elmer Rhoden, who did also own the Waldo. I can remember that after we spreed mothballs on the wool carpet runners in both aisles, the mezzanine, the lobby and the balcony we loaded all the concession supplies into our cars, and took them out to the Waldo. The manager their took them and invited us to stay and watch the show. They were playing “Lil' Abner”, which I hadn’t seen before. Under the stage in the Esquire, there was a connecting door, which came up in the engine room in the Tower. I went in there once, when it was closed up at the time. I can remember the managers office was upstairs and the mezzanine above that long lobby the Tower was famous for. I never went backstage though, and I can’t remember for the life on me, whether there was still that big Todd-AO screen that they had put in the for ‘South Pacific".

Don H

KCB3Player on January 15, 2014 at 6:07 pm

To WTKFLHN – you must have been with the theater when the owner of the Waldo also opened the Esquire. Yes, it was only opened for a short time and had vry little business. Before it closed before it was mainly the Disney Theater in town (for some reason). I remember seeing quite a few Disney movies there. I remember going in both theaters with my Dad (he was the main singer at the Tower). I can tell you that the stage of the Esquire was built into the Tower Auditorum far right end and was actually changed into the main manager office sometime in the 40s. The Esquire was actually built before the Tower (Pantages) was built. There was a shop built on the site of the beautiful long lobby of the Tower. That lobby was full of beautiful marble, I can r recall seeing various stages of the demolition – very sad.. I am pretty sure it was originally calls The 12th Street and it was a live performance facility but the large performing arts stage did not survive when the Tower was built and that was where offices were. The Tower had an orchestra pit and a lot of dressing rooms built on each side of the stage. It was a large stage but not as large as the Main Street. Both theaters were in very nice condition when they were demolished, especially the Tower with the entire auditorium repained and the orchestra seats broght over from the Orpheum Theater (now that was a very sad loss and I fear that St. Louis is gong to loose their Orpheum ( a twin of ours) very soon.

WTKFLHN on January 15, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I was assistant manager at the Esquire when it closed for the last time. I have been backstage at the Esquire. The stage was very small and that I know of, there weren’t any dressing rooms. So, I too would think that the Esquire was strictly a movie house. I know that back in its heyday, it was used as an overflow house tor Tower/Pantages. We had a pretty short run that last time. We opened and closed in just 4 weeks. I was given to understand that the ground that the theatres stood on was divided up like this. The long lobby of the Tower and most of the Esquire belonged to one owner. This excluded the stage area of the Esquire. The stage of the Esquire and the rest of the Tower belonged to another owner. There was no for one theatre to stay if the other was being demolished. Sad.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 3, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Copying and pasting Robb’s links doesn’t work for me. This might be one of the photos, if this link works.

Here is a link to the UM digital library image search page. Searching with Esquire in one box and theatre (-re spelling) in the other will fetch 22 images of the Esquire.

RobbKCity on August 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Image of Esquire Theater front facade.;med=1;q1=umkcredic;rgn1=umkcredic_all;size=20;c=umkcredic;lasttype=boolean;view=entry;lastview=thumbnail;subview=detail;cc=umkcredic;entryid=x-015.tif;viewid=015.TIF;start=1;resnum=15

RobbKCity on August 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Image of the Esquire Theater.;med=1;q1=umkcredic;rgn1=umkcredic_all;size=20;c=umkcredic;lasttype=boolean;view=entry;lastview=thumbnail;subview=detail;cc=umkcredic;entryid=x-010.tif;viewid=010.TIF;start=1;resnum=10

KCB3Player on May 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm

To all the Kansas City theater lovers – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we still had the Orpheum, Tower, Paramount, Roxy, Empress, and Palace Thesters, not to forget some of our wonderful neighborhood theaters. I am still looking for a picture of the Aladdin Theater on Truman Road and Belmont when it was in operation. I am told that there are a lot of theater pictures at the UMKC Library, but I have never been there. Also would like the National Theater on Independence Ave.
Several years ago, someone posted pic of the Tower, Esquire and Orpheum Theater all being demolished withine 6 months apart in 1961. They

KCB3Player on May 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm

I wish someone had some good interior pictures of the Esquire and the Tower Theater. As for the “grind” house – I am not sure that was true of the Esquire (formerly 12th Street. I think someone is getting confused with the theater across the street facing McGee. It had a performing arts stage, back stage and dressing rooms. I think the Esquire theater was built strictly as a movie house with a theater organ installed. The stage was only big enough for the organ equipment, screen, curtain rigging and later the speakers.

I may be wrong, but I had been told this by my father.regular singer

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 9, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for the update, JAlex. The 12th Street Theatre must have been at least under construction by mid-1920, so it was probably in operation before its neighbor, the Pantages/Tower, which opened in August, 1921.

JAlex on May 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Digging further into my research, an item in the St. Louis Post-
Dispatch of June 23, 1920 stated the new 12th Street Theatre was purchased by the Skouras interests from Richards and Flynn for $250,000 (including the FN franchise).

JAlex on May 9, 2010 at 12:43 pm

It was noted in the July 3, 1920 issue of Billboard that Spyros Skouras announced the purchase of the 12th Steet Theatre in Kansas City, together with the purchase of the Kansas City First National franchise and that F. L. Newman was to be the managing director of the theatre. It is not clear what the status of the theatre was at the time. This was the Skouras Brothers' first venture out of St. Louis and they already had the St. Louis First National franchise and obtaining the KC franchise gave them the entire state of Missouri.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 7, 2009 at 4:07 am

Another clue to the earlier history of the Esquire appears in Boxoffice of May 3, 1947. The item was about the Tower replacing the Esquire as Fox Midwest’s “A” house in Kansas City, playing first run movies day and date with their Uptown Theatre. The item says that, as the Twelfth Street Theatre, the Esquire had been a burlesque house.

However, an item in The Reel Journal of August 28, 1926, said of a fellow named Cullen Espy: “Starting his career with Skouras Bros. some years ago as manager of the Twelfth Street Theatre in Kansas City….” It seems unlikely that the Skouras brothers would have operated a burlesque house, so if the place had that policy during the late 1920s-early 1930s, they must have sold the theater to another operator, and then Fox Midwest bought it in 1938. As a Skouras operation in the earlier 1920s The Twelfth Street had been a regular movie theater.

In addition, comments exchanged by Warren Harris and Claydoh77 on March 28, 2008, at the Tower Theatre page reveal that this house was called the Wonderland Theatre beginning in 1932. The Wonderland was a grind house. So far there’s no information about when the Wonderland became the Downtown.

So the time-line of names now appears to be: Twelfth Street Theatre from around 1922, when it was operated by the Skouras brothers (probably the original owners,) and then at some unknown date it was converted to a burlesque house operating under the same name until 1932, then it became the Wonderland Theatre for a time, and then the Downtown Theatre, and then the Esquire from 1938 until closing.

I believe the Twelfth Street/Esquire is in the last photo on this web page, right next to the Pantages/Tower. A similar picture is on the Tower’s Cinema Treasures page, but this larger photo makes it clear that there are two theaters side by side. The Twelfth Street is the nearer theater, with the arch on the front.

KCB3Player on October 7, 2009 at 9:15 pm

The Esquire Theater opened briefly in 1960 by the owner of the Waldo Theater and I think the name of the company was Commonwealth Theaters. They spend some money getting it all spruced up and then it was pretty much stolen from them and the lease broken inorder to just tear it down for a surface parking lot – the same fate of the beautiful Tower Theater that was in near perfect condition after begin renovated for several long runs of the movie Oklahoma and another long run exclusive film in Todd-A-O – Around the World in 80 Days. Recently installed seats at the Orpheum Theater when The Robe opened their were broght over to The Tower. Both theaters on 12th Street were beautiful and perfect! But, sadly demolished for a surface parking lot that is still in use today – nothing has been built on that site. Very Sad Indeed!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 16, 2009 at 3:23 am

Here’s information from the August 13, 1938, issue of Boxoffice that doesn’t quite match the current intro above:

“The remodeled Downtown, which opens August 18 as the Esquire Theatre, was established 16 years ago by Spyros Skouras, president of National Theatres, he revealed here this week. His first venture beyond his St. Louis scene of operations, the house was then known as the Twelfth Street Theatre.”
I can’t tell from the wording of this item whether Skouras opened the house as the Twelfth Street Theatre 16 years before, then later changed the name to Downtown Theatre, or if he acquired an existing house called the Twelfth Street Theatre 16 years before and changed the name to Downtown Theatre at that time. Can anyone know anything about a theater being at this address prior to 1922?

seymourcox on September 15, 2009 at 2:46 pm

This site has several fine photos of the Esquire Theatre, along with other KC theatres -
View link