WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — One hundred years ago Sunday, Sept. 4, Wichita’s Orpheum Theater opened its doors.
At the time, the Orpheum was the first atmospheric theater in the United States, designed specifically for Wichita. Now, it is one of 17 that are still standing from the circuit of 120 that were built in the 1920s.
“The Orpheum is a majestic place,” executive director Rachel Banning said.
Now marking its centennial, the historic building on the corner of 1st Street and Broadway was a theater created for the community.
“After World War One, everybody was kind of anxious to just celebrate and have a good time, and so theaters were kind of the common bond in communities,” Banning said.
The Orpheum opened in Sept. 1922, designed by John Eberson.
“The theater rivaled anything that had been built at the time, and it evolved through technology when we started talking films come,” Banning said.
For decades, the Orpheum was the place for entertainment, from vaudeville to music performances and films, until the rise of cineplexes.
“We could only show one movie at a time, where they might show six or seven in one weekend. So we struggled then to keep up, and we were set for demolition in 1976,” Banning said.
A group of volunteers stepped up, however, and saved it. It gained a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
“When it was set for demolition, they stripped it of all of the inside, so the seats were stripped to light fixtures. Everything had to be brought back in. And so we’ve tried our best to do that over the years. And be good guardians to the historic nature of what John Eberson’s vision was,” continued Banning.
The theater reopened in 1999, and through the years, it has been the community that has kept it alive.
“It was built for the people, and so that’s something that we just have really strive to remember,” Banning said. “Every time that you see a show that’s coming, we want you to have an amazing experience because this was truly for the people of Wichita and our region.”
The Orpheum has undergone many restoration projects. The main focus right now is to restore the auditorium with air conditioning and decorative paint.