Orpheum Theatre (Wichita, Kansas)

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Orpheum Theater and Office Building
Orpheum Theatre (Wichita, Kansas) is located in Kansas
Orpheum Theatre (Wichita, Kansas)
Location Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas
Coordinates 37°41′17.16″N 97°20′07.16″W / 37.6881000°N 97.3353222°W / 37.6881000; -97.3353222Coordinates: 37°41′17.16″N 97°20′07.16″W / 37.6881000°N 97.3353222°W / 37.6881000; -97.3353222
Built 1922
Architect John Eberson
Architectural style Late 19th and 20th century Revivals, Atmospheric[2]
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 80001473[1]
Added to NRHP November 28, 1980

The Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kansas constructed by a group of local investors and operated by theatre mogul Carl Hobitzelle,[3] opened on September 4, 1922, and was the first atmospheric theatre in the United States though whether or not it can be considered a true "atmospheric theatre" has been contested by some.[2] In 1984, it was given to the Orpheum Performing Arts Centre, Ltd., a non-profit corporation created to the preserve, restore and utilize of this significant part of the city's cultural and architectural history.[4] The magnificent 42 ft (13 m) high by 40 ft (12 m) wide proscenium arch is the main feature of the auditorium.[5] The sidewalls of the auditorium were accented by niches with mock tile roofs, grills and wooden lattice arches across the ceiling to create a courtyard effect.[6]

The theatre once held 1,700 seats [4] but now only seats 1,281.[5] The theatre was designed by renowned architect John Eberson with the concept of creating the ambiance of a specific locale. The Wichita Orpheum was designed to invoke a garden of old Andalusia. Its entire design, including that of the asbestos curtain, was that of a Spanish garden or court.[6] The Orpheum Wichita was an integral part of the famous Orpheum Circuit and in its heyday virtually every major star of vaudeville graced its stage, including such luminaries as Eddie Cantor and Fannie Brice.

Wichita Orpheum.jpg


The Orpheum Theatre has significant associations nationally and internationally with the development of a whole new concept and style of theatre architecture. During this period, more than 17,000 acts appeared with the playbill changing three times each week.[2]

By the time it closed in 1974 it was an adult film venue and the structure had considerably deteriorated. As Orpheum Theater and Office Building, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.[1]

A group of investors bought the structure in 1984, but a legal entanglements kept the board from taking over until 1992. In total, the theatre remained dark for 17 years. The board chose to open the theater for events and complete renovations as money was available. As of 2011, most funding has come from private grants and donations. [7] In 2011, the Orpheum Theatre underwent a change in leadership when longtime President Mary Eves retired in December 2010. Jennifer Wright assumed the position of President beginning in 2011 [8]and began a new approach to programming which served to elevate the theatre's image and level of activity. [9] In 2012, the theatre received a $1 million gift from Wichita philanthropist Jean K. Garvey. [10]


Restoration work on the Orpheum is being conducted by the California based John Ash Group, a national historical preservation architecture firm. Although the building cost about $750,000 to construct in 1922, the Orpheum board estimates the total cost of renovations will require another $13 million in addition to the $4 million already invested. Areas still to be addressed include a new auditorium flooring and seats, concession stands, electrical upgrades and decorative plaster work. The theatre directors kicked-off a public fund-raising campaign in April 2011 and hope to complete work in 2013.[7]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ a b c Johny Buchanan-Spachek and Paul Salley. "Orpheum Theatre". Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  3. ^ "Orpheum Theatre-Wichita". StubHub.com. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  4. ^ a b "Orpheum History". The Orpheum. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  5. ^ a b "Technical Specifications". The Orpheum. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  6. ^ a b "Orpheum-About Us". Wichita360.com. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  7. ^ a b Lori Linenburger (27 April 2011). "Classic theater turns to classic rides". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  8. ^ http://www.kansas.com/2011/05/08/1840554/orpheum-president-started-as-volunteer.html
  9. ^ http://www.kansas.com/2011/08/21/1981989/back-on-top.html
  10. ^ http://www.kansas.com/2012/05/16/2336813/orpheum-theatre-gets-1-million.html

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