This is the third of a four part series on the Dickinson Theatres. Read Reel One here, Reel Two here, and Reel Four here.
In November of 1991, AMC opened their Ward Parkway 12 theater inside the Ward Parkway Mall on the Missouri side of 86th and State Line where, decades prior, they had operated the Ward Parkway Twin Theaters (1963 to 1978). It might not seem like much by today’s standards, but at the time 12 screens was the most of any theater in the area. The Ward Parkway 12 was a huge success from the start, and it meant trouble for Dickinson Theatres (particularly their Plaza and Glenwood theaters), and other nearby theaters. Representatives of AMC specifically told the Kansas City Star that by early 1992 they expected to be able to show distributors attendance numbers from their new theater that would pull exclusive bookings away from the Glenwood, which would have been celebrating its 25th birthday that month. Heck of a birthday present.
Dickinson Theatres put on a brave, unconcerned face in the press, but behind the scenes they were gearing up for battle. And not just with AMC. In the spring of 1992, Johnson County newcomer Cinemark received approval from the city of Overland Park to build a 10-screen theater (to be the Cinemark Movies 10) in the northwest quadrant of the bustling intersection at 119th and Metcalf. A few weeks later, Dickinson received preliminary approval to build a 12-screen theater in the southeast corner of the same intersection. This was to become the majestic SouthGlen 12.
That fall, Kent Dickinson chose to step down from running the company and pursue other interests. His brother Glen Wood Dickinson III (hereafter referred to as Wood Dickinson), who had been serving as co-vice-president and mostly working on computer support, took over running the company.
The SouthGlen project ran into some troubles early on. First, there were some grumblings from the city planning commission about the illuminated 30-foot tower planned to rise out of the middle of the theater, but Dickinson and their builders assured them that it would not disturb the nearby neighborhoods. Then there were delays, publicly attributed to weather. In 1993, hopes for a late May or early June opening turned into an announcement for a July 30th opening, which was further pushed back into August. In the meantime, AMC’s prediction that the Ward Parkway 12 would spell trouble for the Glenwood proved to be completely accurate. They landed the summer’s hottest blockbuster: “Jurassic Park.”
The SouthGlen 12 opened at last on Friday August 20th, 1993, bringing Dickinson up to 38 locations and 148 screens in 21 cities. The Kansas City Star’s film critic Robert Butler gushed over the new theater, comparing it in an August 19th write-up to Xanadu (the paradisiacal Chinese city described in Coleridge’s poem, not the club in the Olivia Newton John film of the same name, I assume). The SouthGlen was an $8 million luxury theater that would seat 3,300 people (at the time, Ward Parkway could only fit a measly 2,700). The aforementioned rooftop tower built of glass blocks and metal rose high into the sky, giving the building a classic art deco kind of look. Inside was a massive lobby featuring a state-of-the-art concession stand that used fiber optic illustrations (a movie theater first) on the menu board above and behind the counter to display bubbling soda and popping popcorn kernels. And perhaps most memorable of all for local moviegoers, the lobby had a 1,000 gallon saltwater aquarium housing dozens of fish stretching along the back wall leading to the auditoriums.
An auditorium at the SouthGlen 12. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
The auditoriums had the classic movie house look, embodied by the Glenwood. In fact, Dickinson’s marketing director Gary Downs told the Star that they wanted the SouthGlen to be “the Glenwood of the ’90s.” Gold curtains hung along the walls, and the floor was tiered, sloping down toward the screen. The seatbacks were tall and the seats were covered in a soft dark red fabric. Also, there were cup holders and plenty of legroom. It was deluxe.
Unfortunately Dickinson couldn’t exactly sit back and celebrate their accomplishment. The SouthGlen 12 made them a much stronger contender in the film booking arena, and even allowed them to start bringing better pictures back to the Glenwood, but AMC was still a force to be reckoned with, and the Cinemark Movies 10 opened virtually across the street a month and a half later on October 8th, 1993. The SouthGlen 12 and Movies 10 announced that they wouldn’t be booking the same films at the same time, and Dickinson said that the Glenwood and SouthGlen also wouldn’t be playing “day and date.” With 26 screens between those three theaters and only so many new movies to go around, this meant that somebody was going to get left out – maybe even two somebodies.
Fortunately for Dickinson, in the first weekend the two theaters went head to head, Dickinson landed the biggest film (“Demolition Man”), but Cinemark probably did pretty well with the number two and three (“Cool Runnings” and “Malice” respectively), not to mention a special sneak preview of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The Glenwood, meanwhile, made do with the fourth biggest earner that weekend, “The Good Son” and the month-old “Joy Luck Club” (sixth at the box office). It should be noted that all five of the top-five earners that weekend were playing at the Ward Parkway 12.
Starting around this time, Dickinson officials regularly dismissed speculation that the company wanted to close the Glenwood Theatre and sell the valuable real estate it sat on.
The Metcalf Theatre. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
In January of 1994, First International Theatres of Prairie Village (who also owned the Ranch Mart theater, which became a discount house soon after Ward Parkway 12 opened up) took the Metcalf Theatre inside Metcalf South Mall at 95th and Metcalf off of Dickinson’s hands. Dickinson had run the two-screen theater since 1980, and was already running it as a discount house at that time.
That March AMC announced that the Ward Parkway 12 had been such a huge hit that they planned to add 10 screens and 1,000 more seats to it, making it the country’s largest movie theater. They proceeded to build two new screens on the upper level of the mall, and eight on the lower level beneath the theaters they already had there. An AMC spokesperson told the KC Star that they were selling out too many shows, which was actually discouraging people from going there, so they decided to add more. That same month, Dickinson announced plans for another luxury theater, this one more contemporary than the SouthGlen: The WestGlen 12 at Midland and Renner.
In the fall of ’94, Dickinson reported that the SouthGlen 12 was doing great and that the company had been very pleased with their new multiplex. They also signed a deal with King Features to use Popeye and his friends in pre-show advertising and posters and such. In more good news, Gary Downs told the KC Star at the end of the year that Christmas season ticket sales were up throughout the company. Then, that following spring, Dickinson announced plans to build a 14-screen theater in the upcoming Great Mall of the Great Plains. Things appeared to be going pretty well.
The WestGlen 12 opened on June 30th, 1995. It was substantially bigger than the SouthGlen, and got another rave review from Robert Butler. He was particularly taken with the mural over the concession stand. In a June 27th write-up, he said that after entering the theater, one of the first things you’ll see is “an eye-popping 3-D mural… This 8- by 24-foot explosion of light and color combines such astronomical elements as the planet Saturn and a speeding comet, a re-creation of the famous Hollywood sign and a cornucopia of moviegoing treats (popcorn, jellybeans, sodas) that seem to leap off the wall and into the air over the viewer’s heads.” He was also very impressed with the state-of-the-art sound systems in the four biggest auditoriums, and Dickinson’s typically generous legroom.
The concession mural at the WestGlen 12. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
Best of all for Dickinson, the theater was the only theater in its booking block, so it didn’t have to compete with AMC or Cinemark or anybody else for the top films. It was able to open with “Apollo 13,” “Batman Forever,” “Judge Dredd,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” and “Pocahontas.” Not to be completely outdone, AMC opened the first eight of their ten new screens at Ward Parkway on the same day the WestGlen opened.
In 1993, Johnson County had 36 screens in a handful of theaters. With the arrival of the WestGlen in the summer of 1995, the county was up to 70, or 90 if you counted the 20 at Ward Parkway just across the state line. It was a frenzy that couldn’t go on forever, but it could go on for a few more years.
On Saturday November 25th, 1995, AMC’s Ward Parkway 20 announced that they had sold out all 20 of their screens during the evening showtime. Dickinson reported a great weekend, as well, attributing the success to new films like “Toy Story,” “Casino,” “The American President,” and “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls.”
In December of 1995, AMC won approval for a 20-screen theater at the new Leawood Town Center Plaza, less than two miles down the road from the SouthGlen 12 and the Cinemark Movies 10. This would put 42 screens within two miles of each other on 119th Street.
In September of 1996, well-before the planned AMC 20 opened, an employee at the concession stand of Movies 10 unofficially/accidentally confirmed to the KC Star that the theater would be converting to a dollar house on September 20th. It was a victory for Dickinson’s SouthGlen 12, but with AMC 20 on the horizon they may not have felt too much like celebrating. Still, the company had plenty of things to be happy about. That summer the KC Star staff had ranked the Glenwood as still the best first-run auditorium in the Kansas City area, and said that the best sound to be found in the area was at WestGlen’s four THX-outfitted auditoriums.
Also that month, Dickinson began managing eight KC area theaters previously run by Cinema Ventures Partners/CCC Theaters (the Blue Ridge East, Blue Ridge West, Blue Springs, Chouteau, Red Bridge, Truman Corners, Seville, and Watts Mill), bringing them to 96 screens in the Kansas City area. AMC only had 82 in the area at that point, but had plans to open 104 more. Most of the theaters Dickinson inherited from Cinema Ventures Partners were quickly closed or converted into discount houses. The proliferation of discount houses in the area in the mid-to-late ‘90s was hard for first-run theaters, but pretty cool for people that liked to go to the movies.
In November of 1996, Dickinson announced that the WestGlen would be adding six screens some time in 1998, indicating that business was booming in their little corner of the county.
The Great Mall theater’s box office. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
The lobby of the Great Mall theater. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
An auditorium at the Great Mall theater. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
On July 25th, 1997, Dickinson opened the Great Mall 16 a few weeks ahead of the Great Mall of the Great Plains’ grand opening on August 14th. It was their biggest theater yet, and was the Midwest’s first all-THX, all-rocker seat, all-stadium-seating movie theater. Dickinson put a lot into the theater, hoping it would give them an edge later that year when AMC’s 30-screen Olathe theater opened about six miles away.
That fall was a busy one. Plans were approved for Dickinson to build the EastGlen 16 in Lee’s Summit, and it was announced that the company was in talks to sell its prized Glenwood Theatre. The now four-screen theater was just over 30-years-old and having a very hard time competing in the new movie market. On top of that, the real estate it was on had become extremely valuable. In October, two developers that had teamed up to buy the Glenwood (but had not yet completed the purchase) submitted plans to turn the site into a retail center. That December plans were approved to raze the magnificent old Glenwood.
On December 19th, 1997, AMC pulled off a titanic feat that was surely seen as an iceberg from Dickinson’s perspective: They opened up 74 new movie screens in the Kansas City area on the same day. The BarryWoods 24, the Town Center 20, and the Olathe Station 30 opened simultaneously, reportedly enjoying a lot of sold out shows. Dickinson officials admitted their numbers for that weekend were down a little. The KC Star reported that the BarryWoods took a bite out of the Dickinson 6 up north, and the Olathe Station outperformed the SouthGlen and the Great Mall with “Titanic.”
For fun, let’s take a look at the 119th Street showdown between AMC’s Town Center 20, Dickinson’s SouthGlen 12, and Cinemark’s Movies 10 that first weekend. The big new releases that weekend were “Titanic,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and “Mouse Hunt.” Of the new releases, the SouthGlen scored the booking for “Titanic,” which did not play at the AMC 20 in its opening weekend. However, the AMC 20 scored “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Mouse Hunt,” which combined grossed more nationally (I don’t have local numbers) that weekend than “Titanic.” (Obviously “Titanic” would go on to be huge, but it had a fairly modest opening weekend considering its later numbers.) Movies 10, meanwhile, only managed to book “Mouse Hunt” of those big weekend openers, and it shared it with AMC 20. Movies 10 was the clear loser of the bunch. The SouthGlen had the biggest picture of the weekend, but when you consider that AMC 20 had the second two biggest openers, as well as the holdover “Scream 2” which was third biggest film that weekend (and amusingly also played on four of poor Movies 10’s ten screens), AMC 20 looks like the winner overall.
(Author’s Note: I lived in the area at the time, and looking at the old showtimes now, I think my choice would be to go see “Titanic” at the Glenwood. According to my ticket stub collection, however, I didn’t see any movies in any theaters that weekend. Also, it appears that my first visit to the AMC 20 was six days after it opened when I saw “Mr. Magoo” on Christmas day. “Oh, Magoo, you’ve done it again,” indeed.)
Dickinson wasn’t finished yet, however. In 1998, the international powerhouse AMC was putting the squeeze on them, the fate of the Glenwood was still up in the air, their Plaza theater was on a month-to-month lease, and customer traffic at the Great Mall was about a third of what the mall owners had projected causing Dickinson to offer discounted tickets to draw business. But in 1998 the theater chain opened up a spectacular new luxury theater in Wichita called the Northrock 14 that showed it was still a force to be reckoned with.
A “Gem” auditorium at the Northrock 14 in Wichita. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.
Nevertheless, in September, Dickinson Theatres announced that Wood Dickinson was exploring selling the company. That October the company fired half of its corporate staff (17 out of 36 people), reorganized, and named John Hartley president. Hartley was the first non-family member to preside over the company.
In January of 1999, Dickinson closed the Olathe Landing 8 and the Gladstone Cinema, and announced that Goodrich Quality Theatres would be buying nine of their theaters, including the long-in-limbo Glenwood and the SouthGlen 12. The company’s owner, Robert Goodrich, stated that his plan was to keep the Glenwood open, improve it, and book movies aggressively. The Glenwood kept its name, and the SouthGlen 12 became the South Quality 12. (The other seven theaters were located throughout Missouri.)
In two different interviews in March and August of 1999, Wood Dickinson told the KC Star that the company had recently made it through some hard times that were impacting the entire industry. He explained that in the fall of ‘98 the theater chain was failing financially, having trouble paying vendors, and too top-heavy with upper management. But with the various closings, firings, and sales Dickinson Theatres had its finances in good order, and – even better – they had a plan. Going forward, the plan was to be that Dickinson would look to venture into smaller markets instead of large metropolitan areas. (They still intended to open the EastGlen in August, however.)
That spring, Dickinson closed the Plaza Theater in Kansas City, and began installing deluxe new sound systems at the WestGlen and Great Mall theaters in anticipation of the May 19th opening of “Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace.”
Meanwhile, back at Goodrich’s Glenwood, in June of 1999, Goodrich announced plans for up to six new screens at the old theater. He would keep the two largest auditoriums intact, but would demolish the Glenwood III and IV, and build the new screens in their place. He had already renovated the Glenwood I with a new sound system and projectors in anticipation of “The Phantom Menace,” and had expanded its already enormous screen as well. He also mentioned plans to renovate the ticket booth, lobby, and concessions area, and expand the movie choices to include both mainstream and arthouse fare.
Then, in February of 2000, plans were again filed to raze the Glenwood, along with plans to close the South Quality 12. Goodrich told the KC Star that he’d tried his best, but no matter what plan he had come up with for the Glenwood, he could only realistically expect modest business. Goodrich expected to about break even on the sale of the two theaters. In another interview with the KC Star, Wood Dickinson said he was sad to see the old Glenwood go, but agreed it was the right decision.
Sunday March 19th, 2000 was the South Quality 12’s last show before it was closed and turned into a gym. Estimating from showtimes and run-times, their final film to end that night was “Anna and the King,” which would have clicked off just after midnight. Or, if nobody showed up for that one and they never ran it, maybe “Eye of the Beholder” or “The Beach.” The world may never know for sure.
Sunday April 30th, 2000 was the Glenwood’s closing day. The last movie it showed was “Erin Brockovich.” The KC Star’s Christopher Hearne documented the last day of the theater. An employee told him that a few weeks prior to the closing, somebody had stolen a row of five seats and snuck them out the back door in one of the auditoriums. On the day of the closing, nostalgic theater patrons tore up strips of carpet for souvenirs.
Back at Dickinson Theatres, in April the company announced they would be building the NorthGlen 14 in North Kansas City. Then, in September, Wood Dickinson sold the company to a group of Dickinson executives (John Hartley, Ron Horton, and Brett Miller), ending 80 years of family ownership at the company. The plan was still for the company to focus on smaller markets, as the multiplex boom of the ‘90s had left metropolitan markets overbuilt.
Reporting for the Kansas City Star on September 9th, 2000, Jennifer Mann wrote, “Dickinson’s mission is to differentiate and distance itself from the overbuilt woes besetting the big players in the industry… Of the six largest theater chains in the United States, two have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization within the last month, and three are expected to violate terms of their bank agreements, which could send them into Chapter 11 as well. Only AMC is adamant that it will not take that path.”
As we will see in the fourth and final chapter of Dickinson’s saga, the company was not going to dodge the bankruptcy bullet. But they still had at least one great Johnson County theater in them.
End of Reel Three.
-Mike Keller, Johnson County Library
The End Credits.
I’d like to thank Wood Dickinson for answering several questions I had and sending me so many great pictures to use. Make sure you check out his website , for a look at his blog, photography, and films. He has also written a book, “The Madness of Robin Randle.”
I’d also like to thank Wade Williams for helping to answer some of my questions about the Fine Arts Group’s theaters.
Thanks to the fine folks over at CinemaTreasures.org. I consulted the site often and was helpfully pointed in the direction of a few scoops by the commenters.
And a huge thanks to all of the writers at the Kansas City Star and at the Kansas City and Wichita Business Journals, whose reporting made putting this history together possible. Readers should note that former KC Star film critic Robert Butler still reviews films at his blog.
Also, if anybody out there knows where the Glenwood’s chandelier ended up, let me know. I was unable to track it down. (It’s not at the Church of the Resurrection, as rumored online.) And if anybody has any pictures of any of the theaters they want to share, send them my way as well! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d particularly love more photos of the SouthGlen 12. I’d also love to see some pictures of Cinemark’s Movies 10 if anybody happens to have some.