I only knew it as the Star movie theatre. It occupied the northeast corner of tenth and Fort St. and I had no idea of its history. The Strand theatre on Main St., next to the Paisley Pear was built in 1916. It was our first class theatre but the Star filled a needed niche as our “B” movie house. Only history tells us of it’s interesting past. It was created in 1915 as our “New” Opera House.
The “Opera House” — as most of us knew — (or thought we knew) was the Krueger building cattycorner across the railroad tracks at 9th and Fort. It was always referred to as “The Opera House.” The one recently demolished. Actually, the second floor of the new general merchandise store was referred to (and functioned) as the opera house.
The original opera house was on the second floor. It was built in the 70’s (actually ’78-79) by Henry Krueger, pioneer merchant, who operated a grocery and general merchandise store on first floor, with the second floor, the opera house.
“Traveling troupes of professionals made Hays their last stop between Abilene and Denver. Best known of all was the Louie Lord Players who catered to the popular taste of the time with ‘East Lynne’ and ‘Ten Nights in a Barroom.’ All dances and church socials were held on the second floor – of our “Opera House.”
During the decade before the Krueger building was built (1879) Hays City seemingly was transformed from the wild frontier to some form of civilization. The Krueger building became the focal point of our respectability.
Headline of Nov. 13, 1915. “New Opera House Will Open.”
“The beautiful new opera house, erected at a great expense by Mr. Fridorewitz will open for the first time next Monday evening with the Elizabeth Morrill Company, a stock company, of great merit.” We have all heard of Vaudeville, this was Vaudeville. “Mr. Fridorewitz has accomplished for our city the thing that should have been done years ago, but which apparently no one dared to do, he has given us a first class little opera house. While in size it may not compare with houses of similar character, yet in the matter of equipment, internal arrangement, beauty and comfort it will not stand back to any in the state. Mr. Fridorewitz has spared neither time, labor nor money to give the people of Hays the best.”
“One new feature of this opera house is The Wurlitzer Orchestration, an instrument that combines in its self a complete orchestra. It can be played by anyone, being run by electric power. The curtains of the stage are beautifully designed and executed. The first one is a real painting and represents a scene from the Vatican gardens at Rome.”
The grand opening was Nov. 15, 1915. The Elisabeth Morrill Company presents “The Aristocrats of Repertoire a High Class Vaudeville. A four act comedy drama. Doors open at 7:30 – Curtain up at 8:30 – Tickets at King Bros. Come bring your wife and children, see the New Beautiful Opera House.” A matinee was advertised for the benefit of the “Country People.” King Bros. was a pharmacy located several doors east of the Opera House on tenth.
Vaudeville was “theatre on the move.” The masses couldn’t get to the large city theatres so the acts came to the masses. Elizabeth Morrill was a booking company. We continue with its equal today - our “Encore Series” at Beach Schmidt Auditorium.
On May 2, 1918 we had a recital of local talent - Rudolph Roth Violinist and Francis Metzger Pianist. “This is the first time these young men are making an appearance in public. Come and show that you believe in encouraging and supporting home talent.”
Well — our Opera House lasted four years and six months. In May of 1920 It became home for the Knights of Columbus. In March of 1925 it became the “Civic Club.” I cannot find any information for the “Civic Club” which lasted 9 years. In 1934 it became “The New Theatre” and in 1935 the “Star.”
Headline of January 17, 1946 – “St Joseph’s sells the Star theatre.” “The Star Theatre building has been sold by the owner, St Joseph’s Parish to F.L. Lowe of Lebanon Mo., and W.A. Snell of Sterling Ks., subject to the approval of Bishop Frank A Thill, Salina.” Evidently, St. Joseph Parish purchased The New Opera House from the original owner and retained ownership until 1946.
In the late 1940’s Midwest Fox Theatres bought most of the first run movie houses in Kansas (and other states). Our Strand theatre was one. It was replaced in 1950 by the New Fox Theatre we still have on Main St.
The management of the Star moved into the Strand building and continued as the Strand. Sometime in the late 50’s, it too faded into the twilight zone.
Bud Dalton is a Hays resident and frequent HDN contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org