I have been putting off writing about this theater, because of my personal connection to it. How do you write a short story about a place you considered your second home? How do you encapsulate everything it meant to you growing up?
Let’s start with a little history of the theater. The theater opened on March 25, 1970. A March 22nd article in the Wichita Eagle noted, “The one-story theater features interior decor in shades of green, gold, and blue. The large lobby, in tones of blue and gold, is highlighted by two polished brass and crystal chandeliers and natural walnut ceiling beams.” Man, I remember climbing up the ladder to dust those chandeliers and wash the glass globes.
“The 804- seat auditorium is decorated in antique green with gold seats (made by American Standard, they make toilets too!) and a green and gold curtain. Side wall indirect light gives the appearance of arches.” I don’t remember green in the curtain, does anyone remember that or were there green lights shining on it? It was all gold and was super heavy, as I remember.
The paper stated that the Mall Cinema’s opening marked the end of the Miller Theater’s 48-year run. Of all the National General Corporation dignitaries listed at the opening, James “Speed” Martin was the only name I recognized. Although both the manager and the assistant manager were people I remember, Zeb Pruner as the manager and Cliff Godfrey as the assistant.
The theater opened with “Marooned” starring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, and David Janssen.
The Wichita Eagle covered the opening, the morning after, March 26, 1970, Mayor Don Enoch said, “The gun is in your wallet and your purses… Let’s keep the screen clean.” After the film cutting (no ribbon, film for theaters) the American Legion Thomas Hopkins Post No. 4 filled the hall with the sounds of the drum and bugle.
“The house lights dimmed, and a stentorian voice announced mysteriously; “This is the voice of the theater. I bring you greetings from the National General Corporation.” (Bill Warren would later create the voice of the theater in his own theaters. For movie theater folks, long time manager, Bill Moore, was the voice of the Warren Theatre.)
On June 10, 1977, Bob Curtright at the Wichita Beacon wrote about, “some expensive new equipment” being installed at the theater so they could present “Star Wars” in Dolby Stereo when it premiered at the Mall Cinema on July 1st. When Star Wars hit the theater, they played seven showings a day.
On July 8th the Wichita Beacon quoted my dad, Ken Crockett, they had, “a hair over 12,000 people in the first days.”
A May 18, 1980, article in the Wichita Eagle touted the installation of, “nearly $30,000 worth or projection and sound equipment to be able to play it (Empire Strikes Back) in 70mm and 6-track stereo.” Manager Larry Robertson (a dear friend of the family) said, “the auditorium now has the most sophisticated sound system in the area with 19 speakers for total surround sound.”
Several years later, the Mall Cinema would also play Return of the Jedi in 70mm.
My Dad was the manager/city manager/district manager at Dickinson and ran the Mall Cinema for years. My biggest memories are watching Star Wars every afternoon of my kindergarten year, riding my bike up and down the aisles and roller skating to the soundtrack from Xanadu at the front of the auditorium. I remember working the kid shows, by stamping all the free tickets (that included a free chicken leg and biscuit from Grandy’s).
I remember standing at the back of the auditorium to hear people laugh at the glow in the dark condom scene in “Skin Deep” or watching the audience jump when the head popped up against the glass in “Independence Day.” It was so great to see a group of strangers all reacting at the same time. The Mall was my first job, I started at 15, tearing tickets. I worked there through high school and college and for a few months out of college. I went from roller skating in the aisles to the assistant manager.
I have written several stories about the Mall Cinema already; you can check them out here.
- I was born during “The Sting”
- We had a tradition: Christmas with the Crocketts
- I might have seen a ghost AKA Buddy the Friendly Ghosts
The Mall switched to a discount theater in 1991. The final curtain closed March 2, 1997. We were showing Space Jam at the time. My dad and I wanted the last reel shown in the theater to be special. Dad had a reel of all three Star Wars original trailers, a few Looney Tunes, a Pink Panther, and a Raiders of the Lost Ark trailer. We ran the reel and watched from “our seats,” center seats, in the middle of the auditorium (Row K). Once the reel finished, we took the projector apart guaranteeing that was the last reel to run. The last clip was Porky Pig saying, “That’s all Folks.”
Check out some of the other theaters of Wichita.