The Stiefel Theatre, located in Salina, Kansas, was opened in February 1931 as the Fox-Watson Theater, named after its founder W. W. Watson and the Fox Theater Company which purchased it just before its completion. The Fox-Watson, designed by the prominent Midwest architectural firm of Carl and Robert Boller in Kansas City, was built for $400,000. It featured a lavish Art Deco style, with gleaming chandeliers, mirrored ceilings, a glamorous staircase and glittering gold leaf throughout.
At the theatre’s opening, Salina Mayor Charles F. Dobbs stated, “This is an event of great importance, not only to the citizens of Salina but the entire central and northwestern territory. It brings to our door a dream of metropolitan entertainment and a place in the front rank of theaters second to none of any city in the middle-west.”
The primary mission of the theatre was to entertain the community with films and indeed it did, playing all of the great films of its six decades in the film business: “Gone With the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “You Can’t Take it With You,” “Shane,” “Carousel,” “The Sound of Music,” “Star Wars,” “ET” and hundreds more. These were promoted with many ingenious gimmicks including “Bank Night,” when filmgoers could win money, “Copper Collection Day,” during World War II when a person could get in for four ounces of copper, and “Bond Premieres,” when Savings Bonds were sold in the lobbies.
Many live performances and events also took place here through the years. Live theatre productions, beauty pageants, and big bands such Gene Krupa’s and Paul Whiteman’s all played at the Stiefel. In 1950 as a part of Dr. Franklin’s Hypnotist Show a man was hypnotized, buried alive at 3rd and Iron streets and was then unearthed and reawakened two days later on the Fox Watson stage.
The theatre closed as a film house in 1987, and in 1989 its current owners, Dickinson Theatres, gave the theatre to the city of Salina. The city repaired the roof of the theatre and mothballed it until 1997 when it was turned over to a non-profit group for restoration, which was completed in 2003. The grand re-opening took place in March 8, 2003, with a sell-out concert by Jim Belushi and The Sacred Hearts.
The Stiefel Theatre has become a major concert venue in the Midwest, taking advantage of a perfect routing location and size for tours that travel all over the country. Last year over 30,000 people attended concerts at the Stiefel. In the last few years Jackson Browne, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Merle Haggard, Chris Cornell, George Carlin, Darius Rucker, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, The East Village Opera Company, and many, many more have performed at the Stiefel Theatre. As a 501 C3 non-profit the Stiefel relies on donations to cover overhead and generates enough ticket income to pay for the costs of the shows. To learn more about the Historic Stiefel Theatre call 785-827-1998