Booth Theatre

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City/Town:
Location Class:
Year Built: 1927 | Year Abandoned: 1987
Historic Designation:
Status: AbandonedUnder Renovation
Photojournalist: Emily Cowan

Intro

The phenomenal Booth Theatre, named after Thomas Booth, was designed around August 18, 1926, by rebuilding and renovating what was known as the Booth Building that housed offices and businesses since 1911. The designers and architects were Carl and Robert Boller who often went by Boller Bros Co. The Boller Brothers specialized and excelled in theatre design and architecture during the early 20th century. The building itself takes on Spanish Colonial Revival and Renaissance styles with a modern twist. The staple-piece inside was the large dome that depicted a starry sky surrounded by an intricately designed bronze ring. All together it cost around $100,000 after completion.

At the time the Booth was the only theatre equipped and designed to show motion picture films. “ I did not want to bring a competitor into an already crowded field, which I would have done if I had encouraged any one of a number of businesses to establish themselves here. I wanted to bring something into the town, that the town needed” said Thomas Booth the day before the grand opening. At 6:30 p.m. on February 4, 1927, doors opened to a crowd of more than 1,650 guests rushing to seats. Playing that day was a silent comedy film called “The Cheerful Fraud”. Playing as the orchestra was Harris’ Serenaders. The first talking films started being cast on the Booth big screen in 1929.

Gala Opening c. Cinema Treasures

In 1939, renovations would be done inside and outside the theatre adding a 22-foot vertical neon sign that read “BOOTH” as well as a new marquee, new seating and lights, carpets, and a new screen that would provide a bigger picture for viewing, as well as new sound and projection equipment. The Independence Daily Reporter June 15, 1939, stated that “The outstanding accomplishments in the remodeling campaign will be a new and modern cooling system, something that will make the new Booth most comfortable during the hot summer months, and that goes for any seat in the house. The installation provides a cooling atmosphere in every nook and corner of the theatre.” The Booth Theatre played its last film on April 20, 1980.

Hoite Caston, member of the Booth Theatre Foundation Board of Directors, has memories attending the Booth up until its closing.

“One of my earliest Booth Theatre memories is as a nine-year-old watching the 1951 black and white science fiction-horror film “The Thing from Another World,” better known as just “The Thing.” The film’s storyline concerned a U.S.Air Force crew and scientists who find a crashed flying saucer and a humanoid body frozen in the Arctic ice, near the craft. Returning to their remote research outpost with the body still in a block of ice, they are forced to defend themselves against the still alive and malevolent plant-based alien when it is accidentally defrosted. It featured future “Gunsmoke” star James Arness as The Thing, but he is difficult to recognize in costume and makeup due to both low lighting and other effects used to obscure his features. 
Due to its publicized scary nature, the film is most memorable because I had to talk my mother into walking the six blocks to watch the movie with me so I could see it, sharing popcorn and Coke’s with her in the dark. Many of the film’s spine-tingling moments are still indelibly etched into my young memory, as is my mother’s long, laughing, urgent six-block walk home to reach the bathroom before another horror movie scene unreeled.
Most Booth movie-goers will remember the ubiquitous presence of  “Richard,” the conscientious but somewhat slow thinking ticket taker and usher who, with flashlight in hand, maintained law and order over his darkened turf downstairs and in the balcony with the seriousness and authority of Matt Dillion’s riding herd on Dodge City.” 

Second Act

After its closing, the Community Church of Independence congregation bought the Booth to use as a church. The chandelier that hung from the massive dome on the ceiling was removed during this time. On Sept. 20, 1987, a natural gas explosion from a meat-processing plant rocked the Independence business district. The blast leveled one building and caused severe to minor damage to many buildings in the downtown area. The Booth, still being used as a church, suffered roof and plaster damage. The Community Church received an insurance settlement and rather than repair the damage decided to buy a different building for their congregation, leaving the Booth abandoned.

Nomination

The Booth Theatre was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 1988, by Dale Nimz after coming to Indy to study the building. The nomination was accepted by the State Historical Preservation Office, Kansas State Historical Society, on August 27, 1988, and then officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 1988.

Change Over Cue

In 1989, Stephanie and Lee Harris, and her father Doyal Plute, purchased the theatre.  The Booth Theatre Foundation was established on March 1, 1991, to work towards preserving, restoring the Booth. The Booth Theatre Foundation became a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization status on October 28, 1991. Lois Lessman and Stephanie had a complete business and operating plan, with many truly fun and fantastic events planned. We worked with the state to bring in their sponsored artists, as well as ICC and the City to expand productions there as well. Some of the awesome things we had planned included calling it the Boo Theater during November and showing scary movies, as well as hosting fun events like sing-a-longs with dress-up (think Rocky Horror Picture Show) in conjunction with Neewollah. I was writing a musical based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to have performed. Having Hollywood red carpet events, teaching theater arts, and installing the pipe organ on a lift.
Lee and Stephanie worked tirelessly overseeing a new roof put in, removing tons of pigeons and their ‘gifts.’ The county’s inmate program provided a lot of labor from their willing participants, and they did a great job helping clean it up. Wally Hutchinson restored the stained glass window (now boarded up again). In 1995, a $61,000 Kansas Heritage Trust Fund Grant was obtained from the Kansas State Historical Society. It was used to replace the roof, secure and repair the ornate ceiling dome, restore the front façade, and repair the marquee, all of which helped protect the theatre from further deterioration. Once the marquee was restored, we were able to use it to advertise events going on, and add some interest to the project. We had the interior planned, removing seats to reduce it from 1,000 initially, to around 500 to accommodate nicer theater seating. The projection booth was intact, and something I found interesting – projectionists through the years wrote their names and sometimes projection dates on a wall. Although old 16 mm would have been fun, we planned on a modern state-of-the-art projection system. We worked with the operator of the local first-run theater, Independence Cinemas, to not compete by showing first-run movies. The movie industry is very controlled, and we did not want to run into ‘first-run’ problems. We would show movies several years old and older and have special events surrounding screenings – of silent films to classics.

In May of 2003, Bill Kurtis donated the funds to the Booth Theatre Foundation to buy the Booth from the Harris’s and Mr. Plute. The center stained glass was removed and put into storage for safekeeping. All of her files and the Booth Theatre Foundation operations were transferred to the new owners. The Booth Theatre Foundation with the assistance of Ned Stichman and many other volunteers have attempted to raise funds for the continued restoration.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Gallery Below

Bibliography
Special thanks to Hoite Caston for sharing his Booth Theatre Foundation Overview to assist in finding some of my information.

https://www.kshs.org/resource/national_register/nominationsNRDB/Montgomery_BoothTheaterNR.pdf

https://www.newspapers.com/image/489303156/?terms=BOOTH%2BTHEATER%2BINDEPENDENCE

https://www.newspapers.com/image/610647909/?terms=independence%2Bexplosion

https://www.newspapers.com/image/609679134/?terms=119%2Bmyrtle%2Bindependence

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Marty Holt
Marty Holt
1 year ago

I used to go here & watch movies. They really need to re-do it.

Hoite Caston
Hoite Caston
1 year ago

Thanks, again, for all the excellent work on the Booth article, Emily! I was a bit confused on how to post it on the Booth page, so I wasn’t able to give you the initial credit for your authorship there. I paid Facebook for a “boost” ad through July 17th.

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