The Jayhawk State Theatre of Kansas
The Jayhawk Theatre opened in August of 1926 in Topeka, Kansas. It was built by local architect Thomas W. Williamson, and designed by the Boller Brothers. The Boller Bros. were known for designing hundreds of theaters across the country, using the Jayhawk design as a prototype. In addition to the theater, the building contained a hotel and a commercial arcade that connected the two sections.
The 1,500 seat theater was one of the first air conditioned theaters in Kansas. It took workers three months to install the $50,000 heating and cooling system. Billed as “Topeka’s first deluxe motion picture palace,” the Jayhawk Theatre opened showing silent films and vaudeville acts. In 1953, a CinemaScope screen was installed so that the theater would be able to show 3D movies.
The Jayhawk closed in May of 1976, only two years after it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel closed soon after, but was quickly renovated into an office building called the Jayhawk Tower. A developer tried to get a permit to demolish the building, including the theater, but was required to obtain approval from the Kansas Historical Society due to the theater’s National Historic Register status. They spoke against the demolition but didn’t deny the permit. Eventually, the owner of the building decided it would be too costly to demolish it.
In January of 1993, a proposal to restore the theater was put forward by Rev. Richard Taylor. Soon, the Historic Jayhawk Theatre, Inc. was formed to help save the theater. Later that year the Kansas State Legislature named the Jayhawk as the State Theatre of Kansas.
Later, in 1996, a local Boy Scout troop cleared out all of the debris for the theater’s 70th anniversary, and the public was allowed to view the theater for the first time in 25 years. Commercial space on the first floor of the building was donated to the theater in 1997. A group of local artists now use part of the space as a gallery, which they named the Upstage Gallery at the Jayhawk Theatre. The gallery has helped bring hundreds of people to the theater through art shows and live music performances.
The Historic Jayhawk Theatre, Inc. continues to raise money to restore the theater.
The information in this post was obtained with the help of the Theatre Historical Society of America, for more information including how to join – check out their website at www.historictheatres.org
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