201-215 S. Ninth St. – Missouri Theatre, 1928

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The Missouri Theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places on June 6, 1979. With its 1,043 seat auditorium, it is the only pre-Depression movie palace built in central Missouri, according to the National Register nomination form. It is, the historic document notes,  “fine example of the restrained yet elegant style of the Boller Brothers of Kansas City, Missouri,” notes the  NRHP document.

The Missouri Theatre was named to Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission’s Notable Properties List in 2000.

The cinema architecture which gave rise to the Missouri Theatre building, the document states, “had its beginning in Paris, France around 1894 … and developed into the ‘Cathedral of the Motion Picture, which … created, or tried to create a world of its own, more fantastic than any ordinary citizen of an industrial society could have ever seen — and it was available to all for just 25 cents,” the NRHP document explains.

The Missouri Theatre Building was built at the height of this era, the document continues.

The building was built by a company created to finance and build it, headed up by J.D. Stone of Columbia as president. Stone was the son of Elvira and Josiah Stone of Columbia.  Josiah Stone was responsible for building the Columbia Theatre at 1101 E. Broadway, which currently houses an Indian restaurant  and luxury apartments, and the Elvira Building at 1109 E. Broadway, which currently houses Willie’s Field House, a sports bar.

The Missouri Theatre opened on October 5, 1928 with a capacity crowd, and, the HRHP document notes, ” Telegrams of congratulations were displayed … from stars such as John Barrymore, Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and film makers such as Carl Laemmle and Samuel Goldwyn.”

The program featured the Missouri Orchestra, the Missouri Rocket Girls, a newsreel, cartoon and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” which featured Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence and an “obscure comedian named Bob Hope, who was not even billed,” the document continues.

According to the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts website, an full-page ad in the October 4, 1928 Columbia Tribune proclaimed: “Formal Opening of your new Missouri Theatre-Friday Evening … A $400,000 Showhouse of Unrivaled Beauty and Extravagant Setting in Central Missouri. The Magnificent Splendor of This Palace of Amusement Will Dazzle and Thrill You.” The website goes on to note that at that time, the price of admission was 25 cents for matinees, 25 cents for the balcony and 35 cents for the floor seats for evening shows. Children’s tickets were 10 cents at all times.

The NRHP document notes in the footnotes the economic impact of movies during this time period. Moving pictures made up the fourth largest industry in the United States by the mid-1920s. “By 1927, there were 20,500 theaters in this country with a total seating capacity of 18 million,” states a footnote in the document.

The footnotes reveal something else — that sometimes loss accompanies improvement. The theatre was built on the site of the 1841 home of  Robert L. Todd, which was first occupied by G.D. Foote, the builder of Academic Hall. Todd was the first cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln and one of the first two students to graduate from the University of Missouri.

After vaudeville and live entertainment attendance waned, the Missouri Theatre became just a movie theatre.

In 1953, Commonwealth Theatres leased it and extensively remodeled the building. In 1968, the facade and shops were remodeled. In the 1979 historic document, it states the building is excellent condition and Commonwealth’s lease had been recently renewed. When the owner, who lived in California visited around the time the National Register nomination was being written, the document continues, “local preservationists … urged her to continue operation of the theatre due to the importance of its interior decoration. Since the theatre is still a money-making concern, she responded favorably to these requests.”

At the time, the retail space surrounding the theatre housed Woody’s Mens’ Furnishings, Car Tunes, Telegift, Et Cetera Gifts, Second Nature Health Foods and Allens’ Flowers.

However, between the time of the 1979 nomination to the National Register and 1983, the theatre ceased being a “money-making” venture for Commonwealth due to the development of multi-screen cinemas, the MTCA website notes.

On Jan. 7, 1988, the Missouri Symphony Society (MOSS) bought the 1209-seat theatre, according to the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts website, “to serve as the home venue for the orchestra.”

In 2007, the Missouri Theatre launched a fund-raising effort and renovation project described in a Dec. 21, 2008 Columbia Tribune article written by Lynn Israel:

“The marvelously maddening, sweat-filled, 10-month, $10 million renovation of this jewel was the talk of the town when David White III and his hardworking staff opened the doors in a May 21 gala with champagne, circus acrobats, vintage films and Charles Digges Sr., who attended the theater’s 1928 opening night at age 9. The work included burnishing the chandelier, new seating, a restored proscenium, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, and — gasp! more restrooms. Only legendary singer Tony Bennett could do justice to such an event, and he did not disappoint.”

Despite these accolades at the end of 2008, all was not well. In June 2009, White resigned “amid a flurry of lawsuits over the arts center’s unpaid bills and lingering debt from the theater’s $10 million restoration project,” noted a June 2, 2009, Columbia Daily Tribune article written by Jodie Jackson Jr.

Today, the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts seats 1,216, and its website notes, it serves as a performing arts venue hosting events such as “the annual Mozart-Higday Music Trust series, the Columbia Civic Orchestra, the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, the Boone Heritage Foundation Ragtime Festival, and First Night Columbia.”

The MTCA’s website lists the following organizations as having a home at the Missouri Theatre: Boonslick Chordbusters, Columbia Chorale, Columbia Civic Orchestra, Junior Strings, Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Missouri Symphony Conservatory, Missouri Symphony Orchestra, the Missouri Symphony, Missouri Technical Theater Institute, MOSSCC (MOSS Children’s Chorus), MOSSYO (MOSS Youth Orchestra), Ragtag Cinema’s Missouri Theatre Film Series, Show-Me Opera, The Blue Note, Treblemakers and the Women’s Symphony League

Today, the retail space houses the Columbia Art League on one side and Yogoluv, a frozen yogurt shop on the other side.

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