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The 1,400-seat theatre opened at the end of June 1927 with Rough House Rosie (1927) starring Clara Bow. The movie followed a welcome by Publix Theaters, a dramatic short feature, and a demonstration of the Wurlitzer organ by organist Howard Peterson.
The theatre was built for local attorney and theatrical promoter Joseph Goldman by the Capital Building Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, although before opening it was leased to the Paramount-Publix Theaters Corporation to operate as a first-run movie house. It was primarily designed as a movie theatre however provision for live shows was made and the theatre boasted a large stage, fly tower, orchestra pit, and dressing rooms.
The auditorium has been described as “an exotic fantasy beneath the desert tent of Persian kings”. A plaster tent canopy is suspended from the ceiling which evokes blue skies dotted with fleecy clouds. The canopy appears to be secured by large plaster ropes however is actually hung upon fine wires from above. The decoration of the auditorium derives from motifs commonly found in the arts of ancient Persia, Babylon and Assyria. Specifically, the ideas for these designs were taken from stone sculpture and reliefs found at the ancient sites of Susa, Persepolis, Nimrud, and Nineveh, dating from circa 900 BC to circa 500 BC.
The theatre was designed by architect firm the Boller Brothers, who specialized in designing movie palaces during the first half of the twentieth century. Interior sculptural work was by Waylande Gregory, and although only 20 years old at the time led the design and sculpting with a team of between 20 and 30.
At its opening the theatre was equipped with a 3-manual, 11-rank Wurlitzer theatre organ (opus 1603). The organ was removed from the theatre sometime in the 1960s.
The theatre screened movies until 1970, when it became a community theatre. In 1976, Town Hall Center, Inc. was organized by a group interested in saving the building from possible demolition or conversion into a multiplex cinema. Town Hall Center purchased the theater for $125,000 in October 1976 and was active in booking professional shows into the theatre and securing local promoters to back them.
Following the success of the Town Hall Center deal, the local citizenry voted for a bond issue of $750,000 for the purchase and renovation of the theatre as a performing arts center. The city of St. Joseph took possession of the building on 24th April 1978. Architectural firm Patty, Berkebile, Nelson and Associates oversaw the renovation project which included a new roof, complete electrical rewiring, new seating, new audience and backstage facilities, and ADA compliant bathrooms.
In 2002 the theatre underwent a $1.9 million renovation, designed by St. Joseph-based Ellison-Auxier Architects, Inc. Fresh carpet, repaired plaster, cleaned seat upholstery and remodeled dressing rooms were among the scheduled projects. Restroom facilities were added and handicapped accessibility was improved. Upgraded lighting and sound systems were also installed.
On 19th February 2011, in the early morning, a fire broke out in the Missouri Theater complex, in the northeast corner of the second floor, used by Robidoux Resident Theater as their costume shop. Three fire doors failed to shut, allowing extensive amounts of smoke to damage the theatre. Two local businesses became uninhabitable, and several arts agency offices were forced to temporarily relocate. No shows had to be rescheduled and the Missouri Theater opened mid-May of 2011.
As of the early 2020s the Missouri Theater remains a vibrant and popular arts and entertainment venue in downtown St. Joseph.
Photographs copyright © 2002-2023 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos unless otherwise noted.
Text copyright © 2017-2023 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos.
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