Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Postcards from the Past: Orpheum Theatre" by Thomas Canfield

The two postcards above depict the new Orpheum Theatre, a 2,400-seat vaudeville house that opened on December 26, 1914. Located at 1212 Baltimore next to the Muehlebach Hotel, it was built by Martin Lehman, who got his start in Kansas City in 1898 when he originally converted the popular Ninth Street Theatre into a vaudeville house and rechristened it as the Ninth Street Orpheum. The new Orpheum was designed to resemble the Paris Opera House. Its façade, faced with terra-cotta to look like marble, featured carved panels depicting art and music at the top of the building, above the words "DANCE", "COMEDY", "OPERA", "MUSIC", "DRAMA", "TRAGEDY", and "SONG".

The lobby had a vaulted terra-cotta ceiling and a colored tile floor decorated in a mosaic pattern. A lounge for women, which featured maid service, was fitted with divans, lounging chairs, writing desks, telephones, and dressing tables. The auditorium’s domed roof was painted blue with artificial stars. The stage curtain, made of wire woven asbestos weighing approximately 1,200 pounds, was painted to resemble velvet. The back of the first postcard reads: "The most thoroughly perfected playhouse in the world. The switch which covers the electric system is the largest utilized in a theatre and capable of more than 7,000 lighting combinations. The stage is 100 feet long. This theatre cost one-half million dollars." In 1962, the Orpheum was demolished to make room for an addition to the Muehlebach Hotel.

Thomas Canfield teaches theatre, humanities, and English at UMKC and National American University. He is currently writing a history of the first resident professional theatre company in Kansas City, the Circle, which was located in Union Station from 1962 - 67.

No comments:

Post a Comment