‘KSN News Special Continuing the Conversation’: Group working to restore Historic Dunbar Theatre

Continuing the Conversation

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Preserving the past to enrich the future, that is the plan for the Historic Dunbar Theatre.

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years, a group is trying to restore the iconic theatre.

The theatre was the only place in Wichita that allowed Black people to watch movies without being segregated. It was more than just a theatre, it was a place of community and fond memories.

Now, work is being done to restore it to its former glory.

“If I close my eyes, I can see it, you know just like it was yesterday.”

Back to 1955, Telana Sexton says Cleveland Street was the place to be.

“It was thriving, and I was always back and forth around the corner to the grocery store.”

On spot still standing is the theatre.

“We didn’t pay anything hardly to get in here. It was 10 cents maybe went up to a quarter. Every Saturday, this is where I was,” said Lavonta Williams, Historic Dunbar Theatre advisory board.

It was the only theatre at the time that did not discriminate against Blacks.

“If they didn’t have a balcony, African Americans were not permitted to attend these theaters and theaters that did have a balcony, African Americans were forced to sit in that area,” said Robert Weems, professor of business history at Wichita State University.

“This gave us an opportunity to just be kids and not really realize that race played a part in this,” said Williams.

Since 2007, Power CDC has been working to restore the iconic theatre.

“It’s not just a one-shot deal to just open up the Dunbar. It’s really seen as a catalyst to regenerate the surrounding community. And, and literally there’s a broader vision of the Dunbar Arts District,” said Weems.

The theatre would serve as a performing arts center hoping to give kids and outlet and build a community.

“Give them somthing that is lasting where they can build memories and they will come,” said Sexton.

“That closeness is what we need to get back to that neighborhood love, that’s what we have to get back to,” said Williams.

There is no official date for the reopening of the theatre.

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