Gillis Opera House
Photo from the Kansas City Public Library collection
500 Walnut St|
Kansas City MO 64106
|Record #10549 |
Opened: September 10, 1883|
Capacity: 1700 seats|
Architect(s): Asa Beebe Cross
Current Organ: none
| Also Known As: |
Information for this tour was contributed by Kansas City Public Library.
The imposing Gillis Opera House, as pictured on this postcard of the early 1900s, owed its existence to the philanthropy of Mrs. Mary A. Gillis Troost.
Mrs. Troost was a niece of William Gillis, one of the 14 original members of the town company of Kansas (later Kansas City, Mo.) and inherited her uncle’s entire estate at his death.
Mrs. Troost died in 1872 and when her will was probated it became known she had directed that a theater be built in Kansas City with the proceeds of her estate. The income from the theater was to go toward the maintenance of a home for children, the Gillis Orphans home.
Litigation over the will delayed construction of the theater 10 years, but when it was finally completed in 1883, at the southwest corner of Fifth and Walnut streets, at a cost of $140,000, it embodied the finest and most modern features known to the theater builders of the day.
Opening night, awaited so long, was September 10, 1883, and was one of the city’s most important social events. More than 1,700 persons saw Mademoiselle Rhea in “Adrienne Lecouvrer.” Seats sold for from 50 cents in top gallery to $20 for the most expensive boxes.
Mayor James Gibson and Sen. William Warner were speakers of the evening.
The theater drew the top stars and attractions. It was a mecca for lovers of the opera for miles around Kansas City. The Boston Opera company played “Bohemain Girl, “ and Joe Jefferson performed in “Cricket on the Hearth”; Sarah Bernhardt in “Fedora” and "Camille”; Robert McWade in “Rip Van Winkle" and Robert Mantell in "Monbars.”
As the town moved south the theater had to depend on plays that appealed to the people frequenting the market district. There were blood-thirsty melodramas, such as “Nellie the Beautiful Coak Model”, "Bertha the Sewing Machine Girl” and “Alone in the Big City".
Finally in its last days it offered motion pictures and midnight burlesque.
An explosion and fire destroyed the theater and 14 shops in June, 1925.
Under the direction of Judge E. L. Scarritt and E. S. North trustees of the Troost estate a new fireproof brick and stone building with storerooms and a motion picture theater was built on the old site, in 1926
Today the theater is not in use, but the store rooms are rented and continue to help support the Gillis home, now located at 8150 Wornall.
Kansas City Star
December 13, 1969
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Postcards from the Kansas City Public Library collection.
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Last featured 3/8/2005. Last edited 9/6/2014.