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Located in downtown Kansas City in Jackson County, Missouri, the four-story Mainstreet Theater is one of the city's most visible historic landmarks. First opened on October 30, 1921 during the vaudeville era, it was built for promoter Martin Beck by the distinguished architectural firm of C.W and Geo. L. Rapp of Chicago, who designed some of the most significant theaters in America in the 1920s and 1930s. It was the largest theater in the city until the Midland Theater was built in 1927, and it is distinctive for its Beaux Arts design and prominent Byzantine-style dome. With a seating capacity of 3,250, it was one of the first theaters of its type to cater to the working class. Between 1921-1949 it presented vaudeville acts, movies and traveling shows. It reopened in 2009 after being shuttered for a long period, and is currently owned by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

  • Exterior of Mainstreet Theater
  • Mainstreet Theater at night
  • Audience combining dining and filmgoing at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet theater
In the late 19th Century, a German-speaking Czech immigrant named Martin Beck tried to establish a career as an actor in America. Unable to fulfill this dream, but still wishing to remain in show business, he met a man named Morris Meyerfeld, Jr., also an immigrant, who served as president of the Orpheum Theater chain, to ask for advice. Meyerfeld was so impressed by Beck that he immediately hired him as a booking agent, and he later rose to the position of general manager of the Orpheum Circuit. The circuit at that time, with 60 theaters, had a monopoly on vaudeville houses west of Chicago, while the rival Keith-Albee Circuit covered the east coast. 

Beck's objective, in his own words, was to "make the Orpheum Circuit bring the highest forms of art within the reach of the people with the slimmest purses." He quickly decided to construct a "junior Orpheum" theater in downtown Kansas City, employing the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp. Unusually for the time, the structure had a cooling system that made the building comfortable even in the summer months. The theater even provided, for parents who wanted a night out without worrying about their offspring, a free nursery in the building, complete with a trained nurse and assistants. Featured live acts included Charlie Chaplin, Cab Calloway and the Marx Brothers.  

The design of the Mainstreet Theater was similar to other Rapp and Rapp theaters, such as the Chicago and Tivoli Theaters, in that a monumental arch was employed at the main entrance. The rusticated terracotta and brick building differed from those other designs, however, due to two distinctive features: the Byzantine dome at the entrance, embellished with golden tiles, and the storefronts lining the building's east facade. 

Although films were beginning to outstrip vaudeville in popularity, Beck, a lover of live theater, resisted, and for that and other reasons, he was ousted from his position as Orpheum's president. (He went on to construct and manage the Martin Beck Theater in New York, now known as the Al Hirschfeld Theater.) The Mainstreet began to show films, but during the Depression, it was difficult for such a large theater to maintain an audience, even with a 10-cent admission charge. In 1938, it partially closed, then closed completely until 1949, when it was refurbished and reopened as the R-K-O Missouri. This theater had the historic distinction of showing the first 3-D movie in Kansas City. In the mid-1950s, the Missouri installed the complicated and expensive Cinerama process to attract a new audience, but the novelty of this widescreen technology soon faded, and the theater closed yet again. 

In the 1960s, it opened under a new name - the Empire - with a much reduced seating capacity: only 1200 seats. The Empire was eventually split into a multiplex with four separate theaters, but still could not remain viable. In October, 1985, AMC, its owners, closed it for the third time, and it remained so for over 20 years. The developer who purchased the property wanted to demolish the Empire and build office space, leaving only the dome, but the City of Kansas City resisted and bought the property in 2004. On May 1, 2009, AMC, which partnered with a local developer, reopened the theater as part of the Power & Light District as the AMC Mainstreet Theater (restoring its original name).  A reported $30 million was spent on the restoration. In May, 2009, the theater was awarded the "Dr. George Ehrlich Achievement in Preservation Award" by the Historic Kansas City Foundation.

The building was purchased from AMC by Alamo Drafthouse, which runs it today under the name Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet. The theater combines film screenings with in-theater dining to provide a novel moviegoing experience. It also hosts special events, in some of which the actors who appear in the films being screened show up in person to interact with audiences: a curious revival of its "live theater" tradition. On the blog The Noir Factory, the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet was voted one of the 12 best theaters in America to view "film noir" movies.  

Millstein, Cydney E. and Warfield, Mary Ann. "Mainstreet Theatre NRHP Nomination Form." National Park Service, US Dept. of the Interior. Publication date: 12/28/06. Access date: 4/1/18. URL: 

Trav S.D. "Martin Beck: The Man Who Built the Orpheum Circuit." Travalanche (blog). Publication date: 7/30/13. Access date: 4/8/18.

"Mainstreet Theater." Revolvy. Access date: 4/8/18.

RobbKCity. "Kansas City’s restored Midland, Mainstreet Theaters will reopen." Cinema Treasures. Publication date: 8/24/07. Access date: 4/8/18.

"Mainstreet the best theater around." Helix Architecture + Design (via Kansas City Star). Publication date: 2/23/10. Access date: 4/8/18.

Sederstrom, Jill and Velikaya, Valerie. "Movie theaters make big changes to lure people back to the big screens." Kansas City Star. Publication date: 3/10/15 (Updated 3/11/15). Access date: 4/1/18. URL:

Gomez, Steve. "Darkness Around the Silver Screen – The Twelve Best Theaters in America to Experience Noir Film." Publication date: 9/7/14. Access date: 4/8/18.