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Orpheum Theatre
(formerly the La Belle Theatre)

201 E. Fourth
Built 1904 - Torn Down 1964
 
 
La Belle Theatre, became the Orpheum Theatre in 1911- postmarked 1908
 
 

In 1911 The Pittsburg Amusement Company, owner of the La Belle Theatre at the northeast corner of Fourth and Locust sold the theatre for $49,000 to Irish immigrant brothers, Hugh and Michael J. McMullen, who renamed it the Orpheum Theatre. They embarked on a $10,000 renovation of the theatre and reopened it September 2, 1911 with a show bill of over 40 attractions, including the John Phillip Sousa's Band. The McMullen's leased the theatre to Perry Rhine in August of 1915. He made several improvements to the interior and had a full line up of entertainers and moving pictures ready for the holiday season.
On November 24, 1915, the performance was a local production called "The Follies of 1915," organized and performed by The Knights of Columbus and local citizens. At around 2 a.m. a policeman was making his rounds and noticed smoke and flames coming out through the rear roof of the theatre and the Braden Livery Barn, which was next door to the east. He sounded the alarm, a shot of his revolver, and rushed into the barn to arouse workers who had been asleep in the office. They were able to get 56 of the 60 horses in the barn to safety. Two of the horses lost belonged to the Wells Fargo Express Company. The front of the second and third floors of the theatre housed the 28-room Murray Hotel. When the initial alert was given, the night manager of the Busy Bee Cafe across the street heard the commotion and ran into the theatre and aroused the occupants of the hotel, with all 35 of them getting out safely.
The fire department showed up with in minutes of being alerted and began the task of fighting the blaze. Since the fire was so large by the time they arrived, the fire department and volunteers spent most of their efforts in making sure the fire didn't spread to adjoining structures. It took them about 7 hours to extinguish the flames.
The theatre and the adjoining livery stable were a complete loss. Among the items lost was $1,500 worth of film, $3,000 in equipment, two pianos and show paper. These were large paper advertisements for upcoming attractions that would be printed by the owner of the theatre and put up throughout town. Rhine had just received the finished papers for the upcoming shows in December that included "Robin Hood," "The Winning of Barbara Worth" and "Daddy Longlegs." It was suspected, but never proven, that arsen was the cause of the fire being set in the hay loft of the livery stable.
Before the embers were cooled there were calls from the city and the Chamber of Commerce for the McMullen brothers to rebuild the theatre. But it wasn't rebuilt. The building remained a burnt out shell until 1920 when it was remodeled and renamed the Elizabeth Apartments. It included the Meyers Motor Supply Company, an automotive garage, on the first floor and the apartments on the second and third floor. Between 1951 and 1956 the first floor housed the bus depot for the Union, Continental and Kansas Trail bus lines. The Braden Livery Barn was torn down and a mechanic garage was built on the site.
The Elizabeth Apartments were torn down during March and April 1964 and the site became a parking lot for the Besse Hotel, which had been built across the street west in 1926. Today the footprints of where the Orpheum Theatre stood remains a parking lot with a nightclub on the northern edge.

 
Orpheum Theatre Images
Click on an item to see a larger image
 
   
Orpheum Theatre Fire, Nov 24, 1915
- photo courtesy of Prentice Gudgen Jr.
Orpheum Theatre Day After the Fire, Nov 25, 1915
- photo courtesy of Prentice Gudgen Jr.
       
Orpheum Theatre Ad
- Purple & White Yearbook May 1912

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map,
Orpheum Theatre - 1913
- courtesy Gene DeGrusen Axe Library

Orpheum Theatre Ad for Grand Reopening - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, Aug 21, 1915 Orpheum Theatre Ad for "Nineteen-Fifteen Follies" - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, Nov 22, 1915
       
   

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Former
Orpheum Theatre Building - 1923
- courtesy Gene DeGrusen Axe Library

   
 
 
Orpheum 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 16, 2008
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