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Historic Theaters

McPherson Opera House

McPherson, Kansas

The McPherson Opera House nearly became a parking lot. But a committed group of volunteers saved it from the bulldozer.

“It was real close to being no more,” said John Holecek, executive director of the McPherson Opera House Co. “Were it not for the grassroots participation of a coterie of supporters, it would have never happened; what those early volunteers did was heroic.”

The three-story, 900-seat theater opened in 1889 to a full house. A 1913 remodel added a Western-themed mural over the stage. A late 1920s renovation removed the second balcony and reopened the opera house as a movie theater.

When the last tenant moved out of the building in 1983, it sat vacant until it was nearly bulldozed to make way for a parking lot. But in 1986, volunteers launched efforts to save it from demolition, and over the next two decades, the McPherson Opera House Co. raised money and restored the theater in stages, completing the work in 2010. The restoration rebuilt the auditorium’s second balcony and upgraded the seating to modern standards. It now has 488 seats.

“People are absolutely overwhelmed when they see it,” he said. “They cannot believe something like this exists in a town of 14,000 people.”

Although much of the theater’s programming is concerts and musical acts — jazz, country, even Elvis tributes — the McPherson Community Theater and the high school orchestra also perform there. Groups often rent the theater’s 1,350-square-foot ballroom and its community rooms and classrooms for lunches, dinners and receptions before a show.


Grand Theatre Center for the Arts

Tracy, California

Since opening in 1923, the Grand Theatre has been used as a vaudeville venue, a movie theater and a dumping ground.

The Grand closed in 1977, and the front of the building was eventually converted into apartments. As it slid into disrepair, the auditorium became the residents’ dumping ground; when the city bought the building, crews “had to sift through huge mounds of trash and garbage; it was awful because the theater is so beautiful,” said Kim Scarlata, division manager for the Cultural Arts and Recreational Division in the City Manager’s Office.

The massive renovation restored the bright colors and ornate woodwork in the historic Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Theatre, as well as the sleek neon marquee that was added in 1941, which remains the Grand’s glowing signature today. The city also bought the neighboring building, which was the old jail, and transformed it into the Grand Galleries.

Today, the 37,000-square-foot theater complex houses the original 584-seat theater and the flexible Studio Theater, which can seat up to 104 people, as well as several galleries, studios and classrooms.

“We’re one of the few facilities like it in the U.S.,” Scarlata said. “You have syndication classes, the performing arts theater and the galleries, all built into one.”

The Grand’s programming is meant to be both accessible and diverse, she said. Country acts do well — Joe Nichols, Kellie Pickler and Willie Nelson have all performed there — and comedy is popular. Concerts include a mix of jazz ensembles, ’80s rock groups, Motown tributes and mariachi bands.

Groups often rent a room or a gallery at the theater and pair a luncheon or a reception with a show or even an art class, Scarlata said.

“We’re able to customize almost anything they’re looking for,” she said.