LARNED — Saturday afternoon, the Larned State Theater Association marked the 70th Anniversary of the opening of the State Theater at its 617 Broadway location with a step back into the past. President of the board, Jim White welcomed all comers to the theater where he gave a brief presentation about the history of the theater, followed by a cake cutting and the showing of the first movie shown at that location — “An Innocent Affair; Don’t Trust Your Husband” starred Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carrol. Attendees paid 1949 prices to get into the show: 50 cents for adults and 12 cents for children 11 and under.
Outside, members of the Santa Fe Trail Auto Club showed vintage automobiles out front of the theater in tribute to a 1949 newspaper photo of the theater’s opening night. One member, Tracy Eye, recalled his Saturday routine as a kid in the 1950’s and 1960’s growing up in Larned.
“Mom would give me 60 cents. I’d ride my bike to the corner gas station, get a cherry pop for a dime,” he said. Then, he’d stop at the barber shop next to the theater and get a haircut for a quarter.
“I’d wait until 2 o’clock for the matinee, and pay another quarter and go to the movie. That was my Saturday.”
Another member, Craig Miller, remembered paying 9 cents to see a movie in the theater’s original location a few blocks south on Main Street, and noted that prices went up a few cents when the new theater opened.
“That was the start of inflation, and it never quit,” he said.
According to White, owners of the State Theater in the 1940’s had to petition for materials to build the new location. Following World War II, building materials were scarce. One letter on display in the theater’s lobby Saturday was addressed to Mr. D.E. Burnett, manager of the State Theater, from Congressman Clifford R. Hope, dated Sept. 23, 1947, advising that his request to the Non-Residential Construction Branch had been denied because it was for a “place for amusement.”
Burnett kept applying, and finally got approval. That happened in 1948, and construction began shortly after, allowing for the April 6, 1949 grand opening.
According to an Aug. 26, 2018 feature in the Great Bend Tribune, ownership of the theater changed hands more than once over the following 50 years. The most recent previous owners shuttered the theater around the turn of the 21st century. In 2002, the theater association was created, and volunteers began raising money through private and business donations to raise enough money to purchase the building and its contents. Then, the real hard work began.
“Getting an idle theater up and running again isn’t as simple as turning the key in the door,” White said. “Some of the existing equipment could still be used, but just as much needed to be updated or replaced.”
The grand re-opening finally occurred on July 4, 2002. The theater is run as a non-profit community organization, and is staffed completely by volunteers from various community groups who sell tickets and concessions for nominal prices. Last week, members of the Pawnee County Young Professionals met at the theater and deep cleaned in preparation for the weekend celebration, according to Larned Area Chamber of Commerce Director Alex Filbert.
Earnings are put back into the theater, and many improvements have been made possible, including upgrading to digital projectors and sound equipment, and 3-D movie capabilities.
The association occasionally offers free admission and discounted concessions during community-wide events like the Santa Fe Trail Days annual celebration.