The Orpheum Theatre opened in downtown Wichita over 90 years ago. Making its debut on September 4, 1922, the theatre is credited as having been the first atmospheric theatre in the United States. It was designed by John Eberson, who created this type of Movie Palaces. The term “palace” is fitting for the Orpheum, as it features ornate moldings and railings, intricate stained glass patterns in its windows and doors and more.
The theatre was designed to emulate the feeling of a Spanish courtyard, featuring Spanish tiles and ceiling lights that imitate stars.
Orpheum Restoration Begins
After over 93 years, the once grand theatre is in need of repair, and the staff at the Orpheum are working to see that the theatre receives every ounce of TLC it needs.
Since the renovation process began, the theater has received a new roof, new seats, a completely renovated lobby and ticket booth, upgraded restrooms, and a new front marquee that is an accurate replica of the 1920s original.
As the most recent phase of renovation comes to a close, one of the theatre’s stairwells has been updated with new paint on the walls and freshly hand-painted moldings. The other staircase has yet to be renovated, allowing guests a before-and-after look at the progress being made.
Though there is still more work to do, Project Manager and Orpheum Board of Directors member Delmar Klocke is happy to see this hard work coming together.
“I think it’s great. We’re excited about our progress, we’ve made a lot of progress in areas, and we’re eagerly awaiting further progress in the main auditorium, which will be our upcoming project.” Klocke said.
Keeping Wichita's Orpheum Alive
The attentive and careful restoration that the Orpheum is undergoing is just what so many of America’s other Orpheum Theatres needed, but did not receive.
“I think it’s important that Wichitans understand how special this theatre is, and how Wichita did what the rest of the country did not. In the 20s and 30s, there were more than 150 operating Orpheum Theatres in the United States. The Orpheum Circuit. Today, 18 of those theatres remain in only 17 cities, so Wichita is one of only 17 cities in the United States that saved their Orpheum Theatre. That makes us very, very special,” said Diana Gordon, president of the Orpheum.
The theatre, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places it 1980, seats 1,700 and has been home to vaudeville performances, films, concerts and more.
Public tours of the Orpheum are available daily for a donation of $10. Come see for yourself just how far the theatre has come.