Saturday, January 15, 2022
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All Around Town: Four downtown theaters, four different stories

A dome surrounded by circular windows and large reproduction marquee define the AMC Mainstreet. Bottom right: The Folly Theatre remains one of Kansas City’s most active theatre venues.
A dome surrounded by circular windows and large reproduction marquee define the AMC Mainstreet. Bottom right: The Folly Theatre remains one of Kansas City’s most active theatre venues.

A flashy 50-year anniversary sign adorns the stately, columned entrance to the Lyric Theatre, commemorating the Lyric Opera.

But the luster seems to have left the Lyric Theatre these days.

The Lyric has lost its primary tenants, the Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera, to the new, $300 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The sleek contemporary architecture and impeccable acoustics of the Modis Safdie-designed Kauffman Center received grand accolades in the national press.

Now 85 years old, the Lyric Theatre has seen its glory days come and go.

The classical revival-style façade resembles the Temple of Vesta in Rome, with Corinthian capitals and exquisite architectural details, but the streetscape around it isn’t as pleasant.

Hailing from across the street is the tall, blank, ivy-covered service entrance brick wall for the downtown Marriott.

Currently, no plans to reuse the Lyric have been announced, although the theatre has been speculated as a potential site for a proposed downtown campus for the Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The Lyric isn’t the only downtown theater to cycle through.

Not too far away, the recently-renovated Midland by AMC and AMC Mainstreet have once again re-established themselves.

The façade of the Mainstreet has strong French Empire and Neoclassical influences, boasting an ornate dome and terra cotta architectural embellishments, which have been allowed to deteriorate over the years.

Once used to host Vaudeville performances in its 3,200 seat theater, the building was converted to a screen theater in the 1950s, and had declined to a seedy grindhouse showing second-rate films by the time it was shuttered in 1985.

By the time renovations began in the mid-2000s, a mature tree was growing out of the roof, and the interior of the theater suffered extensive damage. When plans were announced to revamp the theater, some believed it was beyond repair.

The turnaround at the Mainstreet is a 180-degree difference. Once used to host Vaudeville performances, the Mainstreet has been transformed with the infusion of technology.

The theater includes AMC’s novelty Cinema Suites concept, which allows patrons to order food and drinks from their seats during the movie. The auditoriums are also smaller in size than most movie theaters and have larger screens, creating a pleasant movie going experience.

The Midland, which never experienced the same level of disrepair as the Mainstreet, benefited from a top-to-bottom remodel. The original hand-painted plaster has been restored, and most of the building’s historic details, from the furniture in the lobby to the bathrooms, have been meticulously preserved.

Now one of Kansas City’s premier indoor venues, the Midland is looking more and more like its former self. When the building was completed in 1927, it was the third-largest theater in the U.S., and the first air-conditioned theatre in Kansas City.

The Midland’s ornate exterior includes both French and Italian Baroque influences. A four-story window above the marquee welcomes visitors. Engaged pillars and exquisite details cover the glazed terra cotta brick façade.

The Folly Theatre, completed in 1900, was one of Kansas City’s first burlesque and Vaudeville halls.

Today, it remains one of four noteworthy historic theater venues downtown, and is the smallest with 1,078 seats.

A large palladium window is the focal point of the front brick and rusticated limestone façade.

Like other downtown theaters, the Folly has had rough times, featuring striptease performances and adult movies until it finally closed in the 1970s. Status on both the National Register of Historic Places and local historic register saved the Folly from demolition; and a complete renovation took place in the early ’80s.

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