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A Short History


A Bold Plan

McPherson, founded in 1872, quickly developed a degree of prosperity because of its rich agricultural land. Nevertheless, the men who formed a stock company to build the Opera House in 1888 had a bold vision. The Opera House, one of the first with electricity, had no equal between Kansas City and Denver.

On opening night, all 900 seats were sold—this in a town of less than 2,500 people—and the Opera House quickly established itself as the county’s cultural center.

For the next 30 years, a steady stream of performers graced the stage of the Opera House. Because of its opulence and superb acoustics, it was a favorite venue of the assorted acts that crisscrossed the country by train.

The Opera House also hosted political rallies, suffrage meetings and numerous local productions and events. It was the primary place where the citizens of McPherson could meet, interact, and understand themselves to be a community.


A Major Remodel

The local press described the 1913 remodel this way:

"When the McPherson people see the opening show early in the fall, they will hardly know that they are in the McPherson Opera House, for nothing will look like it used to. It is a happy transformation wrought by the Malm brothers of Lindsborg who have decorated it, and when the Malm brothers do a job, it does not appear like a paper hanging job—it is decoration and the finest.

"The painting over the stage arch is a real work of art. It represents a western scene, the Indian near his tepee and the river flowing nearby. The sky in the background is a marvel of colors. The receding sides of the main arch are in the latest color of the dark brown, and the panels are pretty, and the overhead effect is in harmony, as is the entire color scheme."


Competition from the Movies

The advent of movies—and, to a lesser degree, radio—changed the entertainment dynamics of America.

In the 1910s, a number of movie theaters opened in McPherson. Attendance at the Opera House, where admission was five to 15 times greater, began to dwindle.

In the spring of 1925, the Opera House quietly closed its doors, only to reopen, completely remodeled, as the Empire [movie] Theater in 1929. On opening night, 200 people had to be turned away.

The Empire, in turn, folded in 1936, to reappear as the Mac Theater just three weeks later.

The 50s & 60s

Making Memories

Most of the living memories of the McPherson Opera House center on the Mac Theater. For young children it was a place for summer daytime fun, with double features, cartoons and a serial. For young teens, it was the scene of many an awkward first kiss. For older teens, it was a place for dates. For adults it was a source of entertainment.

Television, however, effected an even more radical change in entertainment habits than the arrival of the movies, and one by one McPherson’s movie theaters closed: first the Ritz, then the Manor. The Mac was the last downtown theater left standing, but it went dark in March 1965.


The Death of the Opera House

The Opera House was more than the auditorium, with the west portion of the building devoted to commercial interests. Street level was retail, and the two floors above were converted to apartments during the 1925–1929 remodel.

Use of these spaces dwindled over time, and the last tenant, Continental Trailways, vacated the building in 1983.

The once proud McPherson Opera House fell derelict and was purchased by Peoples State Bank at a sheriff's auction with the intention of demolishing the building and replacing it with a parking lot.

Victorian stencil used during the renovation of the McPherson Opera House

The McPherson Opera House,
with its six unique rental spaces used singly or in combination,
offers the perfect solution for every occasion, business or family.

219 South Main Street
PO Box 333
McPherson, KS 67460

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McPherson Opera House Auditorium McPherson Opera House Grand Ballroom NCRA Meeting Room Rose Morris Conference Room Mary Anderson Arts Center Room 1 Mary Anderson Arts Center Room 2

Host your next event at the McPherson Opera House for an artfully decorated setting, high-tech conveniences, and exceptional service. Centrally located off Interstate 135 – 50 miles north of Wichita – the McPherson Opera House offers a convenient destination for your next business meeting, family reunion, wedding reception, or other event. Please explore the Rental Facilities page for more information.