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La Belle Theatre
201 E. Fourth
Built 1904 - Torn Down 1964
 
 
La Belle Theatre - postmarked 1908
 
 

William Wils "W. W. " Bell came to Pittsburg in the spring of 1889 and operated a paint and wallpaper store at 116 E. Fourth with his brother for several years venturing into the entertainment industry in 1901, when he purchased the old racetrack located west of the bypass on West Fourth west of Cow Creek and south of the old Hull & Dillon Packing Company. He called the new amusement Forest Park. At the close of the 1903 season, Bell formed the Pittsburg Theatre Company with W. H. Braden and began construction on a new Opera House on the northeast corner of 4th & Locust, which he would name the La Belle Theatre. It opened to grand fanfare on 9 May 1904, with the comedy drama “Sag Harbor” by James A. Herne. The three-story building had a large stage, 34 feet by 63 feet and a seating capacity of 1600. The lower floor and balcony had red plush opera seats, while the third floor or the "chicken roost" had wooden seats and was usually reserved for the African-American citizens in the area.
The La Belle Theatre soon became home to some of the most elaborate opera, musicals, comedies and minstrels of the day. The stage was graced by top-notch performers of the time including Junius Brutus Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. Mr. Frank Botefuhr, who owned and managed a large music store and music publishing house in Pittsburg, directed the La Belle’s orchestra, which was composed entirely of local talent.
It was one of the finest theatre houses in southeast Kansas and became so popular that the Opera House on the northeast corner of 4th and Broadway was forced to close in 1905 due to the lack of shows willing to play on the smaller stage. With the popularity of moving pictures around 1910, W. W. Bell decided to sell his interest in the La Belle Theatre to his partners in The Pittsburg Amusement Company and move on to other interests which included theatre advertising and painting. The Pittsburg Amusement Co. sold the theatre to Hugh McMullen and his brother Michael J. McMullen, in 1911, who renamed it the Orpheum. After a $10,000 renovation, the theatre was reopened in September 1911. In August of 1915, they leased the theatre to Perry Rhine. On 24 November 1915, a fire broke out next door to the Orpheum in the Braden Livery Barn and spread into the theatre, destroying the building and its contents. Despite calls from civic leaders, the Orpheum wasn’t rebuilt and the building was rebuilt into the Elizabeth Apartments around 1920. The building was eventually torn down in February 1964, and the site became a parking lot for the Besse Hotel across the street. The main site is still a city parking lot today.

 
 
La Belle Theatre Images
Click on an item to see a larger image
 
Contract for foundation work on the
La Belle Theatre - Sept 23, 1903

Final Bill for work done by A. A. Staneart on the La Belle Theatre
- Mar 16, 1905

La Belle Theatre Grand Opening Ad for "Sag Harbor" - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, May 10, 1904 La Belle Theatre letter head with signatures - Mar 16, 1905
 
 
La Belle Theatre Articles
 
 
 
Site Information
City Directory Listings for 201 E. Fourth
 
  • 1905: La Belle Theatre: Crawford, Bell & Olendorf--Lessees; W. W. Bell--Manager
  • 1906: La Belle Theatre: W. W. Bell--Manager
  • 1908: La Belle Theatre: W. W. Bell--Manager
  • 1912: Orpheum Theatre: Charles S. Smith--Manager
  • 1914: Orpheum Theatre: Charles S. Smith--Manager
  • 1915: Orpheum Theater is damaged by fire--Nov 24, 1915
  • 1916-1921: No listings for this address
  • 1923-1963: Elizabeth Apartments A1-A6 & B1-B6 Upper Floors
  • 1930-1949: Myers Motor Supply Company, Lower Floor
  • 1951-1956: Union Bus Depot, Continental Bus Systems, Kansas Trails, Lower Floor
  • 1958-1961: Lower Floor Vacant
  • 1962: Decor Unlimited, Interior Designers-- William V. Black, Lower Floor
  • 1964: March-April Building Torn Down
  • 1964: Besse Motor Hotel Parking Lot

 

 
updated April 15, 2008
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