Michael Bushnell

Located on the Northwest corner of 12th and McGee, the Empress Theater was built for the Sullivan and Considine Vaudeville circuit. The theater opened on May 29th, 1910 and featured Gertrude Dean Forbes as well as The Eight Schiavonis Troupe of acrobats, coming directly from the Wintergarten in Vienna. 

Other opening night acts included The Mullini Trio of Street Musicians and Mr. Joseph Callahan. The announcement in the May 29th, 1910 Kansas City Journal Post also noted that each performance would be concluded by “The Empressoscope with exclusive picture animation.” 

The $180,000 fireproof building of concrete, steel, marble and tile opened and touted three vaudeville and motion picture shows daily at 2:30, 7:30 and 9:30 pm, priced at 10, 20 and 30 cents per ticket.  An electric sign strung on cables over 12th street is seen in the foreground of this postcard published by the Elite Postcard Company of Kansas City, Missouri.

In 1933, the Czech film “Ecstasy” was released starring Hedy Lamarr; it debuted at the theater under much controversy given its racy content. The film played in spite of its many conservative critics.

Vaudeville, by that time, was in sharp decline given the advent of talking motion pictures and the Empress was converted to a burlesque house. The theater closed in 1936 after a scheduled 40-week burlesque show lasted only 12 weeks. It continued its life subdivided into individual shops. In 1956, it was razed to make way for a multi-level parking garage for the new Traders National Bank. The basement of the old building was reinforced and used for bank storage. 

Newspaper clippings courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Digital Newspaper Archive.