Why Saving the Jayhawk Theatre is So Important

By Ralph Hipp

WIBW aired the show on a Kansas Day Saturday night, and again with probably a lot bigger audience before the UConn-Butler game Monday night.  It was the half-hour special featuring filmmaker Juli Pitzer's very nice 20-minute documentary "Preserving the Past: The Jayhawk Theatre."

Kathy Duncan and many other outstanding Topekans have been at this effort for a long time, saving the Jayhawk Theatre.  It was without a doubt, as I found out in interviewing Juli and Kathy, the premiere movie theatre of the late 20s, 30s and 40s and even well into the 50s. (The doors officially opened in August of 1926.) Connected to the famed old Crosby Brothers department store and cooled by air refrigeration, the audience was seated in grand style under a rare, almost circular beam to hold up the arched ceiling.

They watched their favorite silent and early-talkie film greats on the giant screen.  George Burns performed his live vaudeville show here quite a few times.  WIBW Radio aired its very first broadcast 83 years ago from the Jayhawk Theatre stage.  And a young girl singer named Marilyn Maye cut her teeth, and her wonderful singing voice here too.  She went on to become the singer who appeared more than any other, on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.  A ten-year old boy named Bill Bunten sitting in the audience, claims to be one of her biggest fans.

With the unique design and history of the Jayhawk, wouldn't it be a shame.. almost a crime.. to let it slip away from us?  Time is already slipping away, Juli and Kathy say, because the theatre could not be reproduced in its original state if Topeka waits too much longer.  WIBW-TV encourages you to stop by at 7th and Jackson to visit the art gallery just a few steps away from the Jayhawk's side door.. and make a donation right there near the artwork.  (First Friday Art Walk is also a great time to stop and contribute this summer!!

For the more adventurous and generous, you can be a part of the "Take Your Seat" Campaign with a donation of $1,500 to $3,000 to have a seat named in the honor of someone you select.  You can even select the seat location.  Please log on to www.jayhawktheatre.com, or get in touch with Kathy Duncan at the Jayhawk Theatre to help in this very worthy preservation effort!  Thank you!

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