By STEVE QUAKENBUSH
Special to The Telegram
People who remember first seeing "The Jazz Singer," "Casablanca," "Giant," "Love Story" or even "Raiders of the Lost Ark" at a local theater — in the days before Red Box, DVDs or even videotape — may want to visit the latest exhibit at the Front Door Gallery in the Finney County Historical Museum.
The museum is now featuring a small display titled "The Theaters of Main Street," focusing on the Victorian era Stevens Opera House, the former Ritz Theater on south Main Street and the familiar State Theater.
The exhibit is open with viewing hours of 1 to 5 p.m. seven days weekly, and includes historic photos of all three structures. Launched eight months ago to offer a frequently-changing series of displays on history and culture in southwest Kansas, the gallery is located just inside the museum's entrance at 403 S. Fourth St. in Finnup Park.
"The Theaters of Main Street" was assembled previously at the museum and displayed in the State Theater lobby during stage presentations by the Garden City Recreation Commission and other organizations. It is the sixth successive Front Door Gallery exhibit, and follows "Trees of Christmas Past," which was shown during the holidays. Earlier displays in the space have included "Dia de los Muertos," the Landmark Homes and Buildings Art Collection, a group of rustic Kansas landscape images by photographer Shirley Creeden, and "Celebration of Culture."
Admission is free.
The theater display includes images of the opera house, which stood from 1886 to 1953 on a site just south of the Windsor location; the State, which opened in 1929, was remodeled in 1967 and closed as a commercial operation in 1999; and the Ritz Theater, built in 1930 in the 100 block of North Main Street, and now altered and occupied by L & L Floor Covering.
The opera house, which preceded the Windsor, was constructed of locally-fired brick at a cost of $40,000. Like the Windsor, the live theater facility was an endeavor of John Stevens, one of the community's four founding fathers. In addition to the Front Door Gallery scenes, museum visitors can view actual opera house audience seats in "Garden City Then and Now."
The State Theater, now owned by the city of Garden City, opened with 700 seats as silent movies were giving way to "talkies." It operated commercially for 70 years, has hosted periodic community productions the past 15 years, and is at the center of a proposed theater-in-the-round development today.
The Ritz, built shortly after the State, also has been known as the Dickinson Theater and briefly as the Kimo Theater. After refurbishing in 1954, it was called the Town Theater until closing some years later. No longer recognizable as a former motion picture venue, the structure is located on the east side of Main Street, across from the Women's Clinic.