Apart from a girl with ruby slippers, tornadoes and a lot of agriculture, many visitors to Kansas may not know much about this Midwestern state. A thriving downtown scene in several of its cities—including historic theaters still in use—is just one draw the Sunflower State has to offer. Heading to these theaters for a show helps with ongoing restoration efforts, keeping these Kansas icons alive for generations to come.
1. The Brown Grand Theatre — Opened with pomp and circumstance more than a century ago, this Concordia theatre underwent two restorations (thanks to tornadoes and other natural disasters) and reopened in 1980. Its evolution from a live entertainment destination through the ‘20s to a movie theater through the ‘70s has been marked by a wide array of acts, films and music. Today, you can see community concerts, take a tour of the building, or rent the space for special events.
2. Emporia Granada Theater — Head out to Emporia for a show inside this beautiful Spanish Colonial theatre. The Granada first opened its doors in 1929 with 1,400 seats, beautiful hand-painted details, lush carpeting and an all-around sumptuous feel. When it closed in 1982, the theatre faced demolition until a group of Emporia businessmen saved it in 1994. The building was completely renovated and reopened to the public in 2003. Executive Director Bryan Williams says they’re most proud of the stunning painted ceiling. It took 30 days to finish the piece by hand. You can catch a glimpse of the history when you head to the theatre for comedy shows, concerts and film screenings.
3. The Augusta Theatre — Nestled on State Street in Augusta, this 1935 movie palace was donated to the town’s local arts council in 1989. It’s since been restored to its 1948 glory—full of Art Deco appeal (including hand-painted ceiling panels and structural glass) and lush colors with murals on the walls. With 670 seats, passers-by can still stop by for movies and seasonal fun.
4. McPherson Opera House — This stately Romanesque brick building was constructed in 1888 in McPherson as a spot for live performances—one of the largest venues of its time and a huge stop for touring artists between Kansas City and Denver. Once “talkies” and movies took over, the venue served as a movie theatre from 1929 to 1965, but fell into disrepair. After years of vacancy and an $8 million facelift, it reopened in 2010. The grand reopening gave this historic spot a new lease on life.
5. Orpheum Theatre — Opened in 1922 during the heyday of vaudeville, the Orpheum in Wichita is known as the first atmospheric-style theater in the United States. (An atmospheric theater is one that has a painted theme, giving guests a feeling of being elsewhere.) The Orpheum, in line with its name, has a Mediterranean theme, given to it by its architect (and the brains behind the entire Atmospheric school movement), John Eberson. Once its popularity waned, the Orpheum fell into disrepair in the late 1970s. It reopened after extensive renovations in 2000 and continues to be restored. Despite the ongoing work on this architecturally significant spot, the Orpheum hosts numerous events throughout the year.
6. Burford Theatre — Out in Arkansas City, the Burford Theatre reopened in 2016 after more than 12 years of renovations. Originally a vaudeville and silent movie spot, the 1924 venue was converted to a three-screen movie theatre before shuttering in 2004. Despite the years of vacancy, many of the original Art Deco touches were intact and incorporated into the freshened-up interior. The venue hosts frequent 1920s-themed events, and interested couples can even rent the theatre for their wedding.
7. CL Hoover Opera House — Junction City’s public hall seemed to be missing something in 1882, so the community sectioned off a piece to build a 600-seat opera house—the CL Hoover Opera House (also called the Colonial Theater and Junction City Opera House), to be precise. The space enjoyed years of live performances from touring acts until a fire destroyed the entire building in 1898. It was rebuilt the same year with a larger stage and more seating. The theatre closed in 1982 and sat abandoned until 2008, when it reopened as a performing arts center.
Whether you’re heading through Kansas on a road trip across the country, stopping by to visit family and friends, or on a long layover for business, don’t miss out on the thriving theatre scene. Not only does Kansas offer concerts, comedy, stage productions and community outings at its theatres—it celebrates a support for the arts that continues to grow thanks to these beautifully restored historic spots.