A History of Dickinson Theatres: Reel Two 1970 – 1989

This is the second of a four part series on the Dickinson Theatres. Read Reel One here.


 

King Kong/Orca movie newspaper ad

A great 1977 ad for a “King Kong”/”Orca” double feature playing at the Shawnee Drive-In (among others).

At the beginning of the 1970s, the movie scene in the Kansas City area was thriving. There were a lot of movie houses, and a lot of good pictures to fill them. Looking at the showtimes for one week in April of 1972, I was delighted to think that at one point in history a person could have had their pick between seeing “The Godfather” on the massive Glenwood screen, “The Cowboys” with John Wayne in the smaller auditorium, “Billy Jack” at the Aztec, “ZPG: Zero Population Growth” or “Silent Running” at the drive-in, or “The Stewardesses” in 3D at the Kimo South (say what you will, but it made a lot of money). And that’s just in Dickinson owned theaters.

The strange party seems to have continued throughout the decade, even as many area theaters and drive-ins built decades ago started to show their age and/or close. My understanding is that cultural changes of the 1960s put Hollywood into a bit of a financial and artistic slump, which opened the door to more experimental and diverse independent fare, and then the mainstream studios recovered by focusing on making fewer films in general, but making the films they did produce more artistic and challenging to appeal to this hip new audience. This began to change in the mid-70s with the release of “Jaws,” generally considered the first “blockbuster.” And then, in 1977, the blockbuster trend put the pedal to the metal with the release of one very special film. The film’s name? You guessed it: “The Other Side of Midnight.” Starring the ravishing Marie-France Pisier, John Beck, and Susan Sarandon, and based on a popular novel, the nearly three hour film is about a French woman who starts a passionate romance with an American pilot during World War II…

Wait. Let me check my notes real quick.

Ah, yes. My mistake. The game-changing film was not, in fact, “The Other Side of Midnight.” It was…

A 1977 advertisement for Dickinson’s various offerings.

On May 26th, 1977 “Star Wars” opened in the Kansas City area, playing exclusively at the Glenwood Theatre for its first ten weeks. The film wound up playing there (first on the Glenwood I screen, then on the Glenwood II screen) for more than a year, grossing over $1,250,000 at that theater alone. It was the biggest moneymaker in Kansas City history up to that point, and the KC Star reported estimates that around 355,000 people saw the movie at the Glenwood in its first six months. It was unprecedented. By the time “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” opened that fall, the managers at Dickinson Theatres (and at other theaters around the country) were already adapting to a new, more profitable business model by scheduling more showtimes to maximize opening week profits for these “blockbusters.”

As the ‘70s closed, some older, smaller theaters were struggling. The Dickinson in Mission (opened in 1938) shut down in March of 1978, with management saying that the single-screen model just wasn’t working anymore. On top of that, increasing property values around Johnson County meant doom for many area drive-ins. The Leawood Drive-In appears to have ceased operations in 1977, and the land was sold by Dickinson in the spring of 1978. Then a fire broke out at the Shawnee Drive-In in the concession stand in September of 1978. Nobody was there at the time, but a passerby spotted the fire and called for help. It shut down soon after, and in May 1980 was torn down to make way for additional Bayvet facilities.

One strange story of note: In May of 1979, the Glenwood Theatre was robbed of $2,700 on the same night that Ronald Reagan spoke at a Republican fundraising dinner at the Glenwood Manor Convention Center just across the parking lot (on the spot where Borders was in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and Natural Grocers is now). Thankfully there were no injuries, and my understanding is that former California Governor and then-soon-to-be President Reagan was at no point a suspect.

Newspaper ad of Dickinson showtimes in July 1980

An advertisement for Dickinson’s showtimes from July 1980.

In a 1980 article about the bustling film scene in Johnson County, Kansas City Star staff writer Eric Palmer wrote that the Johnson County was an ideal place to be in the film exhibition business, as it was full of mobile, affluent young people. “Try driving by the Glenwood Theater in Overland Park any weekend night,” he wrote. “Lines of people wind around ticket windows and off into the distance. Lines of cars block every entrance to the complex. And the Glenwood isn’t alone. The Ranch Mart, the Oak Park Mall, Trail Ridge… it’s standing room only at virtually every other theater complex in the county every weekend night.”

In 1982, Denise Putrah and Wade Williams bought the recently-closed Dickinson in Mission, and re-opened and renamed it The Fine Arts with equipment and a name they’d purchased from the non-Dickinson Fine Arts Theatre in Fairway. If you find the long history of the Dickinson Theatre confusing, don’t worry: I do too. Still, there’s going to be a test at the end, and it counts for half your grade, so pay close attention.

Sad news came in February of 1983, when Glen Wood Dickinson Jr. passed away. He had been running the company since his father passed away in 1963, and after his passing, his son Kent stepped up to run the company. Soon after taking the helm, plans were announced to expand the Glenwood by adding two auditoriums, the Glenwood III and the Glenwood IV, to help keep it competitive in the changing industry. The new auditoriums would hold 450 and 300, respectively.

Just after midnight on the morning of July 5th, 1983, the Glenwood Theatre was robbed again, but this time not for money. The thief caught projectionist John J. Smith in the parking lot, pulled a gun on him, and took him back into the theater where he demanded to be given the theater’s 70mm print of “Return of the Jedi.” (Well, first he took him back in, saw that there were other employees around, and then took Mr. Smith back out to his car where they waited for twenty minutes until the theater was actually empty.) Once they got up to the projection booth, the thief made the projectionist take apart the seven reels of film (which took about an hour) and put them in their metal film canisters for transport. Then, around 2 AM, he had him carry the canisters down to the parking lot and stack them, and go back up to the projection booth where he was instructed to wait without calling anybody for at least twenty minutes. Police were called around 2:15 AM, and later that day the Glenwood obtained a 35mm print they could screen so as not to miss any showtimes. An employee for 20th Century Fox that was interviewed in the KC Star expressed confusion about what a person would do with a 70mm print, and said he wasn’t too worried about piracy. Typically pirates went for 35mm prints, as they were easier to handle and duplicate onto 16mm, but with a 70mm print, it sounds like the most logical option was to screen it and make a videotape of the screening to sell as a bootleg. Or just have the ultimate collectible, I suppose.

The eighteen-year-old culprit successfully made off with the print, but was apprehended a few weeks later. He had apparently kept the print in his parents’ basement for several days before trying to sell it to the manager of a video store, who declined the offer, then alerted authorities. The FBI set up a sting where two agents posed as a couple wanting buy a print for their own personal use for $10,000. They met the thief in an Alameda Plaza Hotel room, screened one reel, and then arrested the man. He was sentenced to five years of closely supervised probation and 600 hours of community service – a very light sentence considering that it could have been a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine, but one that the judge felt was fair for the first-time offender.

1984 newspaper movie ads

June 1984 showtimes at Dickinson’s theaters.

In 1985 Dickinson Theatres ran into a bit of legal trouble itself when federal investigators began cracking down on “film splitting.” In some markets, theater owners from different companies were getting together and deciding in advance which theaters would get which new movies – from the predicted box-office bonanzas, to the expected duds. This way they wouldn’t be bidding each other into bankruptcy for the rights to various movies, and they weren’t as subject to the demands of distributors that often wanted higher and higher percentages of the box office earnings, advance payments, and/or guaranteed runs regardless of how well a film performed. This was called “the split” or “film splitting,” possibly because another way to describe it was “price fixing.” Though illegal, it was a fairly commonplace practice, and many exhibitors were fined throughout the late ’70s and ’80s. Dickinson got busted for arrangements with other operators in Topeka, Kansas, and Quincy, Illinois, and was fined. Reports indicated that they stopped splitting and fully cooperated with the government once the practice came into more light.

19 1986 The Olathe Landing 8 - Provided by Wood Dickinson

The Olathe Landing 8. Photo Courtesy Wood Dickinson

20 The Trail in Olathe - Provided by Wood Dickinson

The Trail in Olathe. Photo Courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

In 1986, Dickinson Theatres opened up the Olathe Landing 8, hitting 100 screens company-wide – a new personal record from what I could tell. This brought Johnson County up to about 30 first-run screens between Dickinson and their competitors, with more opening every year – quite a change from when a handful of theaters managed more-or-less exclusive bookings area-wide for the latest Hollywood movies. But it didn’t make much sense if there weren’t thirty new movies coming out every few weeks, which, back then, there weren’t. The distribution model began to change again, and gradually the area appears to have been broken up into smaller and smaller geographic and demographic blocks where mini-“exclusives” were granted to various theaters (presumably now through legitimate, cutthroat bidding), allowing each chain to have a shot at the hot new movies coming out without having to directly compete with other nearby theaters over the very same film. (I should note that there was still an incentive for the distributors to limit product because the cost of printing and shipping films on celluloid was considerable. Distributors didn’t necessarily want every movie house in town requesting to rent two copies of every picture, splitting the audience around and increasing their costs.) For exhibitors, the competitive key now was positioning.

And position they did! In the first sign of the seeming insanity that was to come in the 1990s, in June 1987 AMC opened a new theater, The Metro North Plaza 6, just north of the Metro North Mall, where AMC already had a six-screen multiplex (the Metro North Mall 6, open since 1976 and remodeled to coincide with the opening of the Metro North Plaza 6). One week later, the Dickinson Cinema 6 opened on the opposite side of the mall. This put 18 screens in the immediate vicinity of Metro North Mall, where previously there had been only six.

21 1989 August Movie Times

Showtimes for Dickinson’s theaters in August of 1989.

This was one of the first local stirrings of an aggressive expansion program by the similarly Kansas City-based but much larger movie theater chain AMC that would result in an absolutely brutal industry-wide bloodbath that would occur in the 1990s, bringing Dickinson Theatres and virtually all of the major chains to the brink of destruction by the decade’s end.

I may have spiced that up a little to hook you for next time, but just wait. The 1990s get wild.

End of Reel Two.

-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 kellerm@jocolibrary.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.

Thanks for reading!

1 Comment

Filed under Research

From Kansas to the World: The “Expanding Oz” Exhibit

Kansas is obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. There are multiple Oz museums in Kansas. There was almost a Disney-style Oz theme park here in Johnson County (more on that in a future post!). A Kansas City regional plumbing company has played on Oz themes with their recent billboards advertising to help with a “Land of Clogs.” Kansas even had a tourism slogan in the 1970s inspired by Oz: Kansas, the “Land of Ah’s.”

 

As a matter of fact, the entire United States loves the Wizard of Oz. Author L. Frank Baum wrote the original children’s novel in 1900, but just look at the continued success of Oz-inspired blockbuster movies, Broadway musicals like The Wiz and Wicked, and popular Halloween costumes year after year. Yet it might surprise you that people in Tokyo, Japan, and St. Petersburg, Russia love the Land of Oz just as much as Americans. In fact, Russian children have an original series of Oz books that has been produced for the stage and screen. Children in Japan and other countries learn to read by reading Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What started as an American children’s novel has led to a global phenomenon!

Expanding Oz, the newest temporary exhibit at the Johnson County Museum!

Expanding Oz, the newest temporary exhibit at the Johnson County Museum!

On June 1, 2019, the next Museum Free Day, the Johnson County Museum will unveil its newest temporary exhibit, Expanding Oz. This family-friendly, brightly colored exhibition complements the 80th anniversary of MGM’s classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, as well as the 100th anniversary of Baum’s death. To accomplish the exhibit, the Museum staff took a deep look at the history of the Wizard of Oz franchise and worked with a local collector of all things Oz.

Jane Albright, Kansas City-based Wizard of Oz collector. Her collection fills the gallery.

Jane Albright, Kansas City-based Wizard of Oz collector. Her collection fills the gallery.

Jane Albright, a native of the Kansas City area, has collected Wizard of Oz related items for nearly her entire life. It began with the original series of books that Baum authored, a collection for which she won a book-collecting competition as a student at KU. Since then, she has pursued not only rare Oz books, but artwork, posters, games, toys, household goods, clothing, music, and so much more. Albright helped Museum staff to narrow down her vast collection to a sampling of over 200 items that help tell the story of the growth of the Wizard of Oz.

"Expanding Oz" explores the international obsession with the Land of Oz through pop culture objects and books.

“Expanding Oz” explores the international obsession with the Land of Oz through pop culture objects, posters, and books.

One of the first things that was recognizable in Albright’s collection was a large amount of material that was not in English—or made in the United States. Oz-themed chopsticks, Kinder Eggs, and a series of Oz books in Russian, Spanish, French, and nearly two dozen other languages, show just how far the story of the Wizard of Oz had travelled from Kansas. While we think of Baum’s book as the quintessential American novel and the MGM movie as an iconic American film, they have led to, literally, an entire world of Oz merchandise, stories, and international Oz enthusiasts. Global pop culture has felt the same level of influence as American pop culture.

This costume was worn by a resident of the Emerald City in the 1995 U.S. Tour production of the Wizard of Oz Broadway musical.

This costume was worn by a resident of the Emerald City in the 1995 U.S. Tour production of the Wizard of Oz Broadway musical.

Expanding Oz explores L. Frank Baum’s surprising life, as well as the life of his greatest creation since his death 100 years ago. In rich color and with a staggering array of objects, artwork, and other visuals, the Wizard of Oz will never have felt more familiar yet more surprising than in Expanding Oz. With fantastic photo-ops pulled from Baum’s original book (illustrations by famed children’s book illustrator, W. W. Denslow), an opportunity to tell the Wizard what you would ask for, and dozens of recognizable toys, games, and household objects all branded for the Land of Oz, this exhibit is one that the whole family will enjoy.

—————————————————

The Expanding Oz exhibit opens Saturday, June 1, and will be on display through November 2, 2019. Don’t miss the associated programming: Wizard of Oz Tea Party and Fashion Show (7/19 and 7/20), Lunch & Learn: “Collecting Oz” with Jane Albright, and Theatre in the Park’s production of “Wizard of Oz,” beginning Friday, August 2nd! 

Leave a comment

Filed under Research

A History of Dickinson Theatres: Reel One 1920 – 1969

This is the first of a four part series on the Dickinson Theatres. Read Reel Two here.


In November of 1920, Glen W. Dickinson opened the two-screen Dickinson Marshall Theatre in Manhattan, KS. Business was good from the start. Dickinson had quit the family business for this (a Ford tractor dealership in Brookfield, Missouri), so the success probably came as a relief, but no surprise. If you had told him that the theater he had just started would eventually grow into a Johnson County-based company worth millions of dollars, with almost 400 screens at its peak, and that his descendants would some day be doing battle with enormous international chains in one of the hottest movie markets in the country though… that probably would have surprised him. At least a little. I mean, I never knew the guy, but surely.

After the rollicking success in Manhattan, Dickinson ventured into Lawrence, KS, opening the Dickinson Bowersock Theatre, and then another in the city. Business continued to thrive. By 1930 Dickinson had more than 30 theaters in Kansas and Missouri. He first reached into the Kansas City area in November of 1930 with the refurbishing and re-opening of the Bijou at 50th and Prospect. The theater’s first screening under Dickinson’s rule was of Victor Fleming’s “Common Clay.”

The KC Star reported that in October of 1931, bombs were set off in or outside of three theaters in Kansas City. The theaters, it seems, were attempting to operate without the two projectionists required by the union, so the union took action. One of the theaters that was bombed was the Bijou, but lucky for Dickinson it was the least damaged, as the bomb went off at the rear of the building. It blew out a window in the theater (as well as several nearby shops and homes) and damaged the electrics, but the manager estimated the damage to have only been around $50 worth (about $750 in 2019 money). Not nothing, but certainly better than at a competitor’s theater, where the lobby and projection machines were all ruined by a bomb.

A little more trouble came Dickinson’s way in 1932, this time in Lawrence, where two theater managers (only one of whom worked for Dickinson) were arrested and charged with violating Sunday “blue laws” by opening their theaters to the public on a Sunday – a day of rest, don’t you know. The Dickinson manager, CJ Topping, reported that crowds had turned out for the shows anyways, presumably with a shrug of his shoulders. Dickinson applied for a restraining order to prevent state and county officials from closing his theater on Sundays, alleging that the county attorney had unfairly singled them out among many other blue law violators. This appears to have worked, as I couldn’t find any other news of arrests, and I am currently able to go to the movies in Kansas on a Sunday.

Also in 1932, a Dickinson creditor, Mrs. Regina Frasier, claimed that $20,000 was owed to her in back rent for Dickinson picture houses in Osawatomie and Paola, and a man who had common stock in the company accused the theater chain of operating without a board of directors. They said that the company had debts of $125,000, and was solvent but mismanaged. Dickinson said that the actual rent owed was closer to $375, and the company was briefly put under court supervision. After three days the judge removed the supervision and had the plaintiffs pay Dickinson’s legal costs.

In 1938, Dickinson announced plans for a 1,000 person theater in Missionhill Acres (now Mission, KS) to be called The Dickinson Theatre. By the time it opened (with a double bill of “Stolen Heaven” and “Blonde Trouble” and a live performance by Colorado Pete, the singing cowhand), it seated about half of the original 1,000 goal, but the building is still standing strong at Johnson Dr and Woodson Rd, and is used as an event space.

In 1939, Dickinson sold half interest in 27 of his theaters to Griffith Brothers for reasons I was unable to discover. It looks like they continued operating together, so perhaps it was more of a merger and expansion than a move of desperation.

Soon after, the company hit the road… the road to the drive-in that is! Dickinson opened their first drive-in theater in Pittsburg, KS in 1946, followed by the 81 Drive-In Theatre in Salina, KS in 1948.

81 Drive in Theatre building showing The Hurricane on a marquee.

The 81 Drive-In in Salina, KS. Photo Courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

In 1947 Dickinson had an amusing run-in with the Kansas City censorship board. The company attempted to screen the Czech film “Ecstasy,” featuring Hedy Lamarr swimming in the buff, but was blocked. When Dickinson appealed the decision, Kansas City officials realized that they had never gotten around to swearing in (no, censors, not that kind of “swearing”) the five film censor appeal board members they had named a few months earlier. The city manager quickly called in three of the five members in to be sworn into office. Immediately after this, the city film censor Mrs. Eleanore Watson advised the banning of the film, and the board did so without even viewing it.

In August 1948, Johnson County Commissioners approved a Dickinson drive-in, which would become the Shawnee Drive-In. The Shawnee Drive-In opened on April 1st, 1949 with a screening of “Two Guys From Texas.”

Shawnee Drive-In advertisement, grand opening Friday, April 1, 1949

An advertisement for the opening of the Shawnee Drive-In. Photo Courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

Another censorship battle began in 1953 over “The Moon Is Blue,” which dragged on and on over the decade, spawning a lot of coverage in the KC Star, but perhaps that is a story for another post. The most important thing about 1953 in my opinion is the June opening of the Leawood Drive-In!

Leawood Drive-In advertisement, grand opening, Friday June 26, 1953

An ad for the Leawood Drive-In. Photo Courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

entrance to the Leawood Drive-In

The entrance to the Leawood Drive-In. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

It had a 1,000 car capacity, and the screen building had a colonial façade on one side. In its relatively short life, it would be used for church services and concert/speaker events. Somebody set off a stink bomb there in 1958 and made the papers. There was also an incident where a woman either jumped or was pushed out of a moving car in 1963 after a man made unwanted advances on her. She was okay, and he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for assault. Also, the concession stand and vending machines were robbed periodically throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, but you know what didn’t make the headlines? All the great times people had there! You had to go to the showtimes page for evidence of that.

06 1954 Leawood Drive-In The Robe Ad

An advertisement for “The Robe” which was playing at the Leawood Drive-In. Source: Kansas City Star

07 1959 Dickinson Showtimes

Showtimes for all the various Dickinson theaters from 1959. Source: Kansas City Star

08 1962 Halloween Ad

A 1962 ad for a Halloween Midnight Show Spook Spree Jamboree. Not at the drive-in, but still. Too good not to share. Source: Kansas City Star

Oh, but you know what else about the Leawood Drive-In made the headlines? Beside crime? An epic, decade-long zoning battle that ensued after the land the theater was on sold in 1978. Again, maybe that’s a post for another day.

Now where was I? Looks like we’re about into the 1960s here. By 1961 Dickinson headquarters was in Mission, KS (having moved to Johnson County from Lawrence at some point in the ‘50s), and locally the company had the Dickinson in Mission, the Overland in Overland Park, the Aztec in Shawnee, the Trail in Olathe, the Englewood in Independence, the Kimo and the Glen in Kansas City, and the two drive-ins in Shawnee and Leawood. Business was good, and Johnson County was growing every day. Sadly, in 1963 Glen Wood Dickinson Sr. passed away. His son Glen Wood Dickinson Jr. took over running the company, and he would oversee one of the company’s finest achievements.

09 1966 Glenwood Opening Ad

A two-page ad for the Glenwood Theatre featured in the KC Star in 1966. Source: Kansas City Star

In 1966 a two page ad appeared in the Kansas City Star detailing what would become known as the grandest movie palace in the Kansas City area for decades: The Glenwood Theatre.

10 1966 Artist Rendering of The Glenwood - Provided by Wood Dickinson

An artist’s rendering of The Glenwood. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

Glenwood lobby with front desk and large chandelier.

A photo of the Glenwood’s lobby. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

A view of the Glenwood under construction.

A photo of the Glenwood under construction. Photo courtesy of Wood Dickinson.

After $500,000 (more than $4 million in 2019 money) and five years of planning, The Glenwood opened on Tuesday November 22nd, 1966 at 91st and Metcalf in Overland Park. Although it might have looked fairly plain out front, inside it was a one-screen luxury movie palace with a huge, ornate lobby featuring a fireplace, nine gothic windows, high vaulted ceilings, and an enormous, imported chandelier. The auditorium seated 816 people yet allowed for more legroom than any other local theater, and boasted a 70ft wide by 35ft tall screen covered by 40ft high drapes. The theater could screen 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, and one-lens Cinerama.

The Glenwood opened with a for-charity screening of “Is Paris Burning?” and public showings started the next day. In his review of the film, the KC Star’s motion picture editor Giles M. Fowler gave the film a poor review, but the theater a rave. “By any standards,” he said, “the new Glenwood theater is an excellent one that should be visited. But the purpose here is to review films, not theaters, and I only wish the Glenwood’s opener were a more successful film than ‘Is Paris Burning?’”

“Is Paris Burning?” played for about two months (a short run by the standards of the day), and then the Glenwood switched over to running the then-two-year-old film “The Sound of Music” for about three months. Then it was “The Taming of the Shrew,” a new picture starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for about seven months, followed up by 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.”

movie poster for Gone With the Wind

A newspaper ad for “Gone With the Wind” at the Glenwood. Source: Kansas City Star

(Author’s Note: I looked into it and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which I imagined would have been perfect for the Glenwood, started in the KC area on June 12th, 1968 in an exclusive engagement with the Empire Cinerama by Durwood Theatres, and from what I could find it didn’t play at the Glenwood any time in its first run. It may never have played there, but I only looked through the first year or two.)

The 60s were a big decade for Dickinson Theatres, and they closed it out with a few more changes. In 1968 the Overland became the Kimo South after (I think) having been closed and remodeled some. And in February of 1969, they added a second theater onto the Glenwood, making it the Glenwood II. The second auditorium seated 601 people, and opened with the 1968 film “Oliver!” With their 50th anniversary as a company approaching, the folks at Dickinson Theatres had a lot to look back on and feel proud about. Little did they know, Wars was on the horizon.

End of Reel One.

-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 kellerm@jocolibrary.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.

Thanks for reading!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Organizations, Research

Kansas and its Disappearing Prohibition Legacy

For more information about Kansas State and National Prohibition history, view the Johnson County Museum’s temporary exhibit, The Turbulent Twenties. This exhibit closes on Saturday, May 11, 2019, so do not delay!

—————————————————————-

Earlier this month (April 2019), one of the last remnants of the Prohibition era was swept away in Kansas. The 3.2 Beer Law, which limited the sale of beer to that containing less than 3.2% alcohol by volume (ABV) in grocery stores, had been in place since 1933. That was the year National Prohibition was repealed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some Kansans believed that National Prohibition, enacted in 1920, was modeled on Kansas’ own anti-alcohol laws. The history of prohibition in Kansas is a long one, both before and after the 1920s.

Law enforcement officials emptying alcohol into a storm sewer, probably on the East Coast. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Officials emptying alcohol into a storm sewer, probably on the East Coast, in 1921. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1881, Kansas passed its first prohibition legislation, the Benson Law, which limited the sale of alcohol to medicinal purposes. This exception became a popular loophole. Within twenty years, so many Kansans had access to alcohol that saloons began to operate openly, including the Senate Bar, a favorite of state politicians in Topeka. In 1901, Carry Nation, the famous hatchet-wielding, liquor-hating activist attacked the Senate Bar. She broke the taps, kegs, bottles, and bar with her hatchet, and repeated the destruction in towns across the state. Her spectacles—or efforts, depending on one’s viewpoint—whipped Kansans into a fervor. Prohibitionists received a new victory when in 1909, a state law went into effect that declared the total prohibition of in-state liquor sales. Then in 1917, the “bone dry” bill was signed, making it unlawful for any person in Kansas to “keep or have in his possession, for personal use or otherwise,” any intoxicating liquors. Thus the state of Kansas entered a state of total prohibition—illegal to sell, buy, drink, or possess alcohol.

Kansas Governor Arthur Capper signing the 1917 “Bone Dry” Law. Image courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

Kansas Governor Arthur Capper signing the 1917 “Bone Dry” Law. Image courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

The state line complicated things, however. After Kansas declared prohibition, a string of bars were built in Missouri facing Kansas. Thirsty Kansans could simply step across the border and onto the porch of the saloons. In the early 20th century, many Johnson County residents rode trolleys across the state line for a few drinks. The Strang Line ran in the evenings, generating a substantial revenue. Even after National Prohibition was passed in 1919, Kansas City, Missouri residents continued to drink without fear. The local political machine run by Tom Pendergast saw no reason to shut down lucrative bars, saloons, and jazz clubs. A lively music scene evolved during the Prohibition era, and residents from both sides of the state line enjoyed the night life in Kansas City.

 

Despite state-wide and nation-wide prohibition, some Johnson Countians continued to make their own booze. The German-immigrant Zarda family, well-known for their prosperous dairy operation, produced home-made beer in their basement. Similarly, the Rieke family, also of German extraction, owned a 20-gallon crock in which they made sauerkraut (a fermented product), as well as beer. Each Saturday, the Riekes bottled the previous week’s batch for enjoyment when friends and neighbors stopped by. The Rieke family also produced wine, experimenting with different ingredients, leading to unique drinks such as “dandelion wine.”

Johnson County's Rieke and Hauser families picking fruit. Many German immigrant and German American families continued to make their own alcohol during Kansas’ prohibition periods. Courtesy Johnson County Museum.

Johnson County’s Rieke and Hauser families picking fruit. Many German immigrant and German American families continued to make their own alcohol during Kansas’ prohibition periods. Courtesy Johnson County Museum.

In Johnson County, both the eagerness to uphold the law as well as a small-time criminal element were visible. For example, the Johnson County Democrat reported the capture of illegal home stills. In one example, Johnson County Sheriff John S. Steed seized a 50-gallon still, 6 barrels of “mash,” but just 3-gallons of corn whiskey, from private property. The Olathe Mirror reported in October 1924 a man was arrested after he walked 20 feet into a corn field and uncovered his stash of “hip scotch.” The Brown Derby lunch room in Olathe was a place known for illicit alcohol. In fact, in one law enforcement raid, the sheriff and his men seized 70 gallons of wine, three gallons of whiskey and eleven bottles of homebrew. For the most part, however, Johnson Countians publically obeyed the law. The Democrat wrote in January 1922 that troopers from the Attorney General’s office found Olathe and its residents “disgustingly good.”

This photograph was taken near the courthouse in Olathe, during the 1930s. Courtesy Johnson County Museum.

This photograph was taken near the courthouse in Olathe. It shows illegal alcohol confiscated from a single vehicle in 1938. Courtesy Johnson County Museum.

When National Prohibition was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment, Kansas continued state-wide prohibition. It did allow 3.2% beer starting in 1933, but hard liquor continued to be outlawed. In 1934, a state referendum resulted in 89 of the 105 counties (85%) voting to retain state prohibition. Although prohibition was repealed in 1948, it was not until 1986 that Kansans approved the sale of individual drinks inside saloons (drinking in clubs that retained one’s bottle had been approved by voters in 1965).

 

On the whole, Kansas remains a patchwork quilt of varying liquor laws today. Of its 105 counties, three remain completely dry, having never approved the 1986 amendment. Johnson County and 66 others approved the 1986 amendment but with a food sales requirement for bars and restaurants. Only 35 counties sell alcohol without limitation. So-called Blue Laws passed after National Prohibition was repealed (i.e., restricted alcohol sales on Sunday, no sales after a certain hour in the evening, etc.) remain in effect across the state (and the nation).

This map shows the breakdown of “wet” (blue), “dry” (red), and mixed (yellow) counties in the United States. Kansas contains all three types of designations.

This map shows the breakdown of “wet” (blue), “dry” (red), and mixed (yellow) counties in the United States. Kansas contains all three types of designations. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

So what does the change in the 3.2 Beer Law mean? Likely more sales for grocery stores and gas stations. Kansans will not have to travel to liquor stores or across state lines to purchase their favorite craft beers. For a state that had strong restrictions on alcohol from 1881 to 1948 (and some may argue until 1987, or even through today), the change is indicative of fluctuating social, religious, and political forces and expectations. Prohibition’s influence on Kansas’ history, especially dating to the pre-1933 era, falls deeper into the past.

Leave a comment

Filed under Research

Ashner Greenwood Dairy

The corner of 49th Street and Lamar Avenue is now dwarfed by apartment buildings, but more than 90 years ago Bessie (Penner/Pencharz) and Charley Ashner rose early each morning to work the first Jewish-owned dairy farm in Johnson County. Greenwood Dairy supplied nearby neighbors (and the Ashner’s family of ten) with milk, cream, cheese and butter for three decades before the press of post-war suburban development demanded other use of the land.

a view of the Charles Ashner dairy farm, the Greenwood Dairy, at 49th Street and Lamar Avenue in Mission. A frame farm house is at the center, surrounded by hillsides. Several outbuildings are partially in view. The bare branches of a tree in the foreground obscure portions of the image at the left and upper two-thirds. Out of focus in the distance are buildings in a nearby residential area.

Charles Ashner dairy farm, the Greenwood Dairy, at 49th Street and Lamar Avenue in Mission (Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Penner (Pencharz) was born in Ciechanowiec, Russian Poland about 1901, and arrived in New York City on the Zeeland on September 9, 1913, with her father Jacob, mother Freda, and brothers Isadore (Itzig Tajbel) and Joseph (Abraham Joal.) The family settled at 3023 Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri and Jacob set up a shoe shop. Five more siblings followed: Fanny, Minnie, Maurice, and Samuel. The 1920 Census notes the family’s native tongue as Hebrew and all family members speak English, but the children are able to speak and read in English, too.

Charles “Charlie” Asner was born August 16, 1896 in Lieda, Russia to Louis and Ida Ashner. The Ashners immigrated in 1906 and by 1910 owned a dairy in Kansas City, Kansas. The family’s first language was Hebrew and all spoke, read, and wrote English. Charley served in the United States Army from September 11, 1918 to February 14, 1919; he applied for and was granted American citizenship at Camp Funston during the course of his enlistment.

Charlie Ashner in a World War I army uniform

Charlie Ashner in a World War I army uniform (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

Charlie and Bessie married March 5, 1922 by Rabbi Simon Glazer of the United Synagogues of Kansas City, who also happened to be responsible for the bottling of kosher l’Pesach milk for the Jewish community of Kansas City. The young couple lived and worked with the Ashners at 1885 Benton Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas for several years before venturing into the wilds of Johnson County with their children Fern Ruth “Eva” (1923-2009), Leo (born 1925), and Anna May (1927-2007). Five more children followed in their home on the Kansas City Road, later 4946 Lamar Avenue: Dorothy (1929-2016), Frances (born 1932), Louis (1934-2015), Bernard (1936-2017), and Herbert (born 1938).

10 member Ashner family at farm.

Anna Ashner, center of second row; Barney Ashner, far right in front of mother; Bessie Ashner, on right behind small children; Charlie Ashner, center back row; Dorothy Ashner, far left 2nd row; Fern Ashner, standing between parents; Francis Ashner, to left of mother; Herb Ashner, smallest boy in front of mother; Leo Ashner, far left by father; Lou Ashner, in foreground with overalls. Ashner family at farm (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

Unfortunately, Bessie suffered a stroke and passed away at Menorah Hospital in 1953. Work at the dairy continued for a few more years; the Greenwood Dairy or Ashner dairy listing disappears from the local directories between 1955-1958. Charlie never remarried. He passed away in June 1990.

The loss of their mother did not dissuade the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ashner family. Several Ashner children became successful business owners in the area, thanks to their start on the first Jewish-owned dairy farm in Johnson County.

Identification for the back row, from left to right: Louis Ashner, Anna Mae Ashner Rice, Frances Ashner Feldman, Barney Ashner, Herb Ashner. Middle row: Eva Ashner, Dorothy Ashner Parness and Leo Ashner. Seated in the front is Charlie Ashner (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

-Melissa Horak-Hern, Johnson County Library

Works referenced

 

Bernard Ashner obituary (9 Mar 2017). Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved from

http://kcjc.com/index.php/community/913-obituaries.

Louis Ashner obituary (5 Aug 2015). Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved from

http://kcjc.com/index.php/community/913-obituaries.

Jackson County (MO) Office of Recorder of Deeds (1922). Marriage license of Charlie Ashner and Bessie

Penner, 28 Feb 1922 (number A935). Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Johnson County (KS) Farm Bureau (1929). Johnson County, Kansas, Farm Directory. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

  • Ibid. (1950).

Missouri Department of Health (13 May 1953). Certificate of death number 14023 for Bessie Ashner.

Retrieved from

https://www.sos.mo.gov/images/archives/deathcerts/1953/1953_00014021.PDF.

Polk’s Directories (1953). Northeast Johnson County Directory, 1953. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

 

  • Ibid. (1955).
  • Ibid. (1957).
  • Ibid. (1958).

 

Schultz, J. P. and C. L. Klausner (1983). Rabbi Simon Glazer and the Quest for Jewish Community in

Kansas City, 1920-1923. Retrieved from

http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/1983_35_01_00_schultz_klausner.

pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau (1910). Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1920). Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920 Population. Retrieved

from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1930). Fifteenth Census of the United States: 19300 Population Schedule. Retrieved

from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1940). Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration and Naturalization Service (1918). Naturalization Index for the

Western District of Missouri, compiled 1930-1950, documenting the period ca. 1848-ca. 1950:

Charles ASHNER Form No. 1-IP. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (2010). Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death

File. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Western District of Missouri (1926). Missouri Federal Naturalization Records, Petition no. 4311 for

Naturalization of Abraham Joal Pencharz. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Western District of Missouri (1926). Missouri Federal Naturalization Records, Petition no. 4312 for

Naturalization of Icze Lajbel Pencharz. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Charley Ashner registration number 265, Draft Board

2, City of Kansas City, Kansas. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Leave a comment

Filed under Research

Johnson County Speaks Out about The Turbulent Twenties

Although it seems like the Johnson County Museum’s special exhibit, The Turbulent Twenties, just opened, it closes very soon—May 11, 2019. That means there are only a few weeks left to view this full-scale exhibition. It is never too early to reflect on an exhibit, and perhaps the best way to do that is to take a look at comments visitors have left on the “feedback wall” at the end of the exhibit.

"Let your voice be heard!" interactive wall in The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

The “Let your voice be heard!” interactive feedback wall in The Turbulent Twenties exhibit at the Johnson County Museum.

After learning all about the 1920s, exhibit-goers are faced with modern headlines on a variety of topics. These headlines closely mirror topics presented in the exhibit. Yes, the 2010s are not unlike the 1920s in many ways. In addition to these headlines, which are meant to pull visitors back to the present-day, they are asked to consider three questions:

 

  1. How is the period of the 1920s still influencing American politics and society today?
  2. Of today’s issues, which is the most important to you?
  3. If the 1920s brought the “Modern Age,” how would you describe American society today?

 

Nearly 350 visitors have responded, placing their comments, thoughts, and exhibit reviews on stark white post-its. Some contain just one word, others a short essay. Many address multiple topics of concern. Not all answer the questions posed, but all offer insight into what Johnson County museum-goers think. We have collected every post-it, and our curatorial staff developed categories against which to tally the responses. The Turbulent Twenties clearly got our visitors thinking!

Bar graph of the responses on The Turbulent Twenties feedback wall. Answers were grouped by rough topics.

Bar graph of the responses on The Turbulent Twenties feedback wall. Answers were grouped by rough topics.

After viewing the exhibit, the topics of race and racism—in the past and the present—were on visitors’ minds. Some responses dealt specifically with the KKK, whose regional 1920s history is revealed in the exhibit. Immigration as a theme or word was another topic that saw a high number of responses. Visitors wrote: “Most important—solving immigration issue,” “We need to realize we are All immigrants,” and “Struck by how little some things have changed, e.g. attitude toward immigrants.”

 

In a related topic, equality or the theme “all people” were common.  Often, these comments were paired with the theme of “love,” another category with many responses. The topics of civility, ethics, and truth were also on peoples’ minds. Some of the comments relating to these topics were accompanied by religious messages, including one that included a quote attributed to the Buddha.

Comment on the feedback wall about equality.

A comment on the feedback wall regarding equality.

Three other notable themes emerged. First, visitors urged others to “learn from the past.” This idea, that similar events occur across time and that we must learn from history, was mentioned in fifteen post-its. As one visitor wrote, “Always learn from the past. Never overwrite history. Learn to use that knowledge to CHANGE THE FUTURE.” On the opposite side philosophically, and appearing in an equal number, was the idea that “nothing changes.” Both of these responses suggest that exhibit-goers saw parallels between the 1920s and today. Lastly, and perhaps a call to action from both of those existential positions, was the theme “vote.” This most often appeared as a lone word, typically accompanied by at least one exclamation point. “Vote” appeared during the November election season in the highest numbers.

 

Other topics that repeatedly appeared included the president and the government, environmental activism (“Protect the environment,” “save water!”), and post-it comments that were reviews of the exhibit (“Excellent exhibit—vital info & message for today!”).

Comment on the feedback wall about the emotional power of The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

A comment on the feedback wall about the emotional power of The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

Comment on the feedback wall observing parallels between the 1920s and the 2010s.

A comment on the feedback wall observing the parallels between the 1920s and the 2010s.

Most exciting, post-its were placed on the board in conversation with one another. They were written directly in reply to other post-its already on the board, often with arrows or other references that made the relationship clear (such as positioning). In this way, the feedback wall served as an on-going conversation about history and its relevancy to current events.

Five responses on the feedback wall in conversation with one another on the topic of race relations.

Five responses on the feedback wall in conversation with one another on the topic of race relations.

One goal of the exhibit was to help visitors understand how the events and themes of the 1920s inform our current society and culture. The responses on the feedback wall provide evidence that this goal was met. Exhibit-goers were thinking, making connections, and applying history to their own lives in the present-day. So what do Johnson County museum-goers think? You will just have to come see The Turbulent Twenties exhibit for yourself! And add your own thoughts to the board. But don’t wait: the exhibit closes May 11.

—————————————————————————-

The Johnson County Museum opened The Turbulent Twenties exhibit on August 25, 2018. It will close on May 11, 2019. The Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00am to 4:30pm. Please see our blog posts from August 2018 through February 2019 for exhibit related content. For an overview of the exhibit, see this post specifically: https://jocohistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/the-turbulent-twenties/.

Leave a comment

Filed under Research

Dairy Farming: Johnson County’s Most Prominent Industry

With the current expanse of suburbs covering much of Johnson County, it’s hard to imagine that dairy farming served as the county’s leading industry from the 1870s to the 1950s. Family dairies dotted the countryside, and in the 1870s, the county had over 2,500 farmers producing almost 25,000 pounds of cheese and nearly 220,000 pounds of butter. By 1929, farmers  in Johnson County regularly produced over three million gallons of milk a year. At one point, 285 dairy farms thrived in the Kansas City metro area. These dairies primarily produced milk, cream, and butter for the family and farmhands who resided there before excess product was sold to local residents and grocery stores.

Horizontal rectangular black and white copy photograph of man identified as Medard "Boots" Vankeirsbilck standing next to delivery truck marked "MAPLE DAIRY" He wears dark colored cap, long sleeved shirt and overalls; holds a wire basket/tray containing 6 bottles of milk.  Snow on ground.

Medard “Boots” Vankeirsbilck standing next to a Maple Dairy delivery truck. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

A typical day at a dairy began between 1:00 and 2:00 am when milking started. This continued until about 6:30 am when trucks started delivering milk to individual homes and grocery stores. Milk delivery went out daily, regardless of weather conditions. The left over milk and separated cream would then be made into cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products. The entire family worked on the farm by completing various chores including herding cattle, gathering eggs, bottling and delivering milk, canning, and cleaning milk bottles. Usually, additional help came from farm hands who lived on the property with the family. Gene White recalls his mother cooking three meals a day for not only her family, but also their farm hands during his family’s time operating the Wolverine Dairy Farm, located at 85th and Metcalf. Hugh and Mary White bought the farm from F.O. Hebeler and operated the dairy from 1941 to 1949. When the family sold the dairy, they opened the White Haven Motor Lodge.

Black and white photographic print, an informal portrait the four children of Hugh and Mary White on the Wolverine Dairy farm. The four are near a shed on the farm. Three stand while Gene, the youngest, sits on a horse. Bob White stands at the left. Joe stands at the center. He wears a cap and holds a light-colored rabbit. Louise, at the right, wears a dark-colored sweater, light-colored skirt, and holds a dog. The silo is visible in the background at the left. A fence is at the extreme right. Museum label: ""2013.22.12"" Handwritten on back of original print: Bob 15 Joe 8 Louise 14 Gene 4 Pony 2

Bob 15, Joe 8, Louise 14, Gene 4, Pony 2: the four children (and pony) of Hugh and Mary White on the Wolverine Dairy farm. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

Black and white photographic print, an exterior view of the cow barn at the Wolverine Dairy farm. The light-colored, single story frame building has a row of small windows along the side and three in the gable end. The roof sags and bricks weight down a section at the left. A cylindrical metal vent is at the peak of the roof at the left. A small lean-to is at the right. A gate and fence is at the far right.

Barn on the Wolverine Dairy Farm Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

As men left for the war in the 1940s, seventy-five dairies in Johnson County closed because of the lack of farm hands. In the 1950s, industrialization began to overtake Johnson County’s rural infrastructure. In 1951, dairy farmer Harry Walmer sold the farm his family established in 1879. He explained his decision by stating, “workable land is becoming too scarce and the taxes are getting too high. The real estate men are beginning to call more and more – but that’s what you have to expect when each acre will sell for $1,000 – $1,500.”  Though it seems much of Johnson County’s farming past has made way for shopping centers and subdivisions, dairy farming is still a thriving, billion dollar industry. Residents can even take a tour of a working dairy barn at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead located at Switzer and 135th St in Overland Park. Here, visitors can see live milkings twice daily and view a video on the history of the dairy industry in Kansas, in addition to many other activities on the farmstead.

Black and white photograph of Richard Jorgensen standing beside a cow in a yard. Richard wears a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled. He stands to the right of the spotted cow. Behind him there are several other cows, a partially visible silo, and two partially visible structures. This photo is a part of the 1950-51 F.F.A. Scrapbook; "Supplemental Section." Typed on white paper above photo: "Jorgensen, Bill- Sophomore; 2nd yr. vo-ag; Greenhand; One Reg. Holstein Bull Calf; One Reg. Holstein Cow; One red Feeder Calf; Dairy, Beef, Corn, etc.; 15 acres of field corn and ¼ acre of potatoes; Chapter Property managing and Repair Committee; C Judging Team."
Richard Jorgensen circa 1950 Source: Johnson County Museum College on JoCo History

-Amanda Wahlmeier, Johnson County Library

Leave a comment

Filed under Research