If one thing remains consistent throughout time, everyone loves to be entertained. Since the founding of Pittsburg, citizens have been entertained with a variety of theaters ranging from the Opera House in 1880 to the current Pittsburg 8, located inside Meadowbrook Mall since 1983. In fact, Pittsburg has had close to thirty theaters located throughout the downtown area since 1880. Today, driving through almost any town on main street America, and you are sure to spot a theatre house with the grand marque out front.
So, what was the big deal about going to a theatre? Why did most people return glass bottles for refund money to go to a show? Or, spend hours cutting grass or babysitting to earn extra cash? There was a show for everyone, a character for anyone to relate to. A trip to the theatre meant a person could forget about their problems and be transported into a different time, a different place, anywhere it wanted to take us. During the war, the theatres gave us updates on what was happening across the world. The theatre also taught us about the past – while entertaining us, such as the following movie as advertised in the Pittsburg Daily Headlight on January 8, 1913, for the Electric Theatre. "Custer's Last Fight shown at the Electric Theatre Friday and Saturday. Greatest war act showed — 1000 soldiers — 1000 Indians — hundreds of horses. Don't miss this." It also taught us what could be possible in the future.
Did you know that there were five theatres located in one location, from 1907-1958 before it was torn down in 1973? As you drive downtown on Broadway, you will notice all the great revitalizations currently being made to the Kansas Teachers Credit Union building on 414 N. Broadway. But, before it was a Credit Union, the location was home to a series of theatres.
It all began with The Wonderland Theatre in 1907, the first theatre in Pittsburg to show moving pictures, but closed in 1908 when the building was purchased by W. W. Bell, owner of the La Belle Theatre.
Next, the Vaudome Theatre opened on September 27, 1908 in its place. It was owned and operated by the Bell-Olendorf and Ballard Amusement Co., with W. W. Bell, part owner of the La Belle Theatre at Fourth and Locust as manager. The Vaudome was the venue for the vaudeville shows in Pittsburg at that time. Believing that Pittsburg should stay current with the latest entertainment, vaudeville shows, the owners remodeled the building into a play-house, charged adults 10 cents and children 5 cents admission; the public could see high-class polite vaudeville shows every night with matinees on Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturdays.
It closed around 1911 when the Electric Theatre, the first theatre to show moving pictures opened. It was owned by a partnership of W. H. Daly and E. H. Klock. Klock's father owned the building south and had run a grocery store there for many years when his son decided to try his hand in the entertainment business. The Klock's would tear their grocery store down along with the Electric Theatre and construct a much large theatre that would be called the Klock Theatre.
In 1919, the Klock Theatre opens and became the sister theatre to the new Colonial Theatre when it was built across the street in 1920. In 1926, the Fox Company purchased the Klock Theatre along with the Colonial and the Klock Theatre was changed to the Midland Theatre.
The Midland Theatre debuted on Labor Day weekend in 1926 with the showing of, “The Mantrap” with Clara Bow, the ‘IT’ girl of theatre during that time. The architectural firm, the Boller Brothers of Kansas City would design and oversee an estimated $30,000 remodeling cost of the Klock theatre. The Midland Theatre was remodeled in a modern Spanish style with a new terra cotta façade, reconfiguring of the lobby with a new red tile floor and white tile walls with blue, orange, gray, mulberry and gold color tints mixed in, a new plush red carpet throughout, a new gold cloth stage curtain, new theatre seats, a new red tile roof and a new Hope-Jones pipe organ. To draw everyone in who passed by, a large new 38-foot marquee expanding the length of the front and extending 12 feet over the sidewalk with the words Midland was added as a visual interest. This marquee would be removed after the theatre closed in 1959 and replace the older Colonial theatre marquee with the word Midland removed and replaced with the word Fox.
In 1959, the Fox Companies decided not to renew their lease on the Midland Theatre and only retain one theatre in Pittsburg the Colonial, which was renamed the Fox. The Midland was officially closed later that year. The building remained empty until 1973 when it was torn down and the Teachers Credit Union built their current building on the site. We look forward to the latest improvement at 414 N. Broadway. Thanks, Kansas Teachers Credit Union, for help keeping downtown Pittsburg beautiful!
Who remembers taking their date to the Midland? Do you remember the first show you saw at the Midland? What was the last show you saw at the Midland? Remember, history is fun!
— Amanda Minton is the director of Crawford County Historical Museum as well a lecturer of history at Pittsburg State University.