The above is a
quote from Arnold J. Simmons, when asked why a hillbilly town like
Lamar should have such a modern theater. His answer was short and to
Simmons, a one
time road show treasurer and automobile sales manager envisioned a
grand theater, one the likes of this area has never seen. A theater
that would entice people from all over the area to hop in their cars
and make the drive to Barton
County. A theater so grand
and modern that it would compete successfully with other playhouses
such as the Fox Theater in Joplin and the Gillois Theater in
Springfield. But to tell his story we must go back over a century.
On April 3, 1908 E. E. Wagner opened the Bijou theater on the north
side of the Square
in Lamar. A fire in December of 1909 destroyed most of the north
side of the Square including the Bijou. Wagner quickly relocated the
theater to the south west corner of the Square in the Tucker-Banks
building. He remained there until 1918 when he moved to the north
east corner of the Square, which was known as the Air Dome.
Ironically, the Tucker-Banks building was also destroyed by fire in
Wagner owned and operated the Bijou until 1928 when he sold it
to A. J. Simmons. It was only 5 short years later that Simmons’ dream of a
modern and “state of the art” playhouse in Lamar would be brought to
In July 1934
construction began. A vacant lot on the south side of the Square
would be the home of the new theater. L.P. Larsen, who designed the
Fox Theater in Joplin and the Gillois in Springfield, was hired as
the architect. The theater will be 43’ wide, 130’ long and 38’ high.
It will have 585 seats and such modern conveniences as warmed heat
from steam and cooled air from water.
On October 25,
1934 the Plaza Theater opened, a full week ahead of schedule. Over
50 Western Union telegrams came from all over the country
congratulating Simmons on his new theater, including such stars as
Clark Gable, Barbra Stanwyck, Mae West, Al Jolsen and Joan Crawford.
Representatives from every major movie studio were among the 500
people who were at the opening. The night started at
with an hour long concert by the Lamar band, followed by short
speeches by Arthur Aull, Thomas Martin, Larry Larsen and Tom
Edwards. The night’s entertainment continued with a vaudeville act
from Carthage and wrapped up with the motion picture Student Tour.
After the movie patrons were invited to a dedicatory dance at
Memorial Hall next door.
In 1945 the
Plaza had its first of many renovations. Headed by Designer Robert
Boller of Kansas City, the Plaza underwent several cosmetic changes.
The snack bar was moved to the lobby and the white, metal tin that
covered the ceiling in the main screening room was replaced with
beautiful tile and artwork.
owned by the Simmons family up until 1978 the Plaza changed
management several times. In 1979 it was sold to a local couple who
removed the aging marquee and applied vinyl siding to the front. In
December of 1985 a fire at the clothing store next to the Plaza
resulted in major smoke damage to the theater. It eventually closed
on April 3, 1986. The smoke smell was so bad that people stopped
coming. The last movie played was Iron Eagle. On May 24, 1986 an
auction was held and many items were sold confirming that the Plaza,
as Lamar knew it, was no longer.
building was sold to O’Sullivan Properties and was mainly used for
storage. In 1993 when rumors surfaced that the Plaza would be torn
down Lamar’s Betty Kuhn gathered a select group of individuals at
City Hall and explained her intentions - to save the Plaza Theatre.
She felt it was an asset to the community and should not be
destroyed. The committee, named CPR (Community Plaza Rescue)
consisted of Betty Kuhn, Lynn Calton, Kathy Jenkins, Jerri Finley
and Richard Scroggs. Talks were underway and tours of the building
soon started. In 1995 a new roof was added and in 1996 the NAP
(Neighborhood Assistance Program) approved part of the funding for the restoration.
After 5 years
of generous donations, fund raisers and countless hours of volunteer
work the newly remodeled Plaza Theater opened on November 5, 1998.
In 2013 the Plaza was converted
Plaza Photo Gallery