Kansas City, MO

The Folly Theater building is over 100 years old and began with a different name booking vaudeville and burlesque shows

CJ Coombs

Folly Theater, Kansas City, Missouri.Public Domain; Library of Congress, Prints & Photos Div, MO-264. Call No.: HABS MO,48-KANCI,14-1.

The Folly Theater used to be known as the Standard Theater. It’s also been called the Century Theater and Shubert’s Missouri. It was a location for burlesque and vaudeville in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Folly Theater initially known as the Standard Theater was built in 1900. An adjoining hotel, Edward Hotel, used to also be called Hotel Missouri. This hotel was torn down in 1965.

Standard Theater

In September 1900, the theater opened as the Standard Theater. This venue had 2,400 seats. The Standard Theater was built by Colonel Edward “Boss” Butler from St. Louis, Missouri. The cost for building the theatre was $250,000 which is $8,699,286 in today’s dollars.

Butler was an interesting individual. He was a millionaire and a politician and served time for attempted bribery by trying to influence someone’s vote. One of his sons, James J. Butler, was a Congressman.

Century Theater

In 1902, the theatre changed its name to Century Theater featuring acts that included Al Jolson and Fannie Brice. The Century Theater also showed wrestling and prizefighting. In 1923, the theater was purchased by the Shubert brothers and renamed again to Shubert's Missouri. Plays were booked there including Shakespeare. Interestingly, the Marx Brothers also performed there playing "I'll Say She Is."

The Folly Theater

With business decreasing, the theater ultimately closed in 1932. It reopened in 1941 as The Folly featuring striptease performances that included Gypsy Rose Lee.

The theater started showing adult films in 1969 which led to someone putting a stick of dynamite in a drainpipe in December that year.

In 1974, it was announced by theater owners, Annbar Associates and Elk Realty of New York, that if there wasn't a buyer by the close of the year, it was going to be torn down and turned into a parking lot.

With the formation of a nonprofit, the Performing Arts Foundation, the goal was to raise enough money to buy the theatre and restore it. It was put up for sale for $950,000. The foundation was able to raise $350,000 and negotiated with Annbar Associates to donate $600,000 to satisfy the balance.

In 1974, the Folly was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It took seven years for a complete renovation.

In the theater's 100th year in 2000, there were improvements and additions made. With Folly's 25th anniversary, the original color scheme of the theater's auditorium was restored.

Folly Theater in Kansas City Missouri (photo taken May 2010).Iknowthegoods at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons.

When the Folly reopened in 2001 after renovations began in 2000, it was a celebration. Dancer Gregory Hines performed. In 2006, celebrating its 25th anniversary since its 1981 opening, comedian Bob Newhart appeared and there was a special surprise appearance by Walter Cronkite. (Cronkite who was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, passed away July 17, 2009.) A new marquee sign was installed in 2012.

Rick Truman became the new Executive Director of The Folly earlier in the year 2022. There will be some summer renovations including new carpet, new seats, and other updates. In fact, if you want to own an ornate theater seat or two, click here for information.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author; 30 years of legal secretarial experience; BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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