Let's Go to the Movies!

By Larry Horton

No town in the late 19th and early 20th century was complete without entertainment. It just wasn’t enough to swap tales at the barbershop or lodge meeting. Folks in the big city were enjoying a new popular culture called Vaudeville and the small towns followed suit within a few years.

The first talk of a theater venue was around 1880 or so when there was talk of a new “Opera House” to be built in Bentonville. Previously, plays and music were enjoyed in venues such as picnics or churches.

People in Bentonville saw all types of vaudeville and stage shows here. It is said that after the railroad came (1882) some of the best acts in the country stopped and made a one-night show here.
— J. Dickson Black, History of Benton County

Throughout the year there would be programs. As on the night of February 3, 1888 when there was a band benefit concert by Alex Black's band, a local group with other short acts to fill in. Alex Black's cornet solo of the Lauterback Waltz and a violin solo, The Last Rose of Summer... were highlights of the program that played to a full house. On August 31, 1892, Richards and Pringle brought their famous minstrel show to town for a one-night stand. The Famous Georgias, as it was called, was the only "legitimate all-colored minstrel show in the country." (please - this language is directly from Mr. Black.)

The night of January 2, 1893 was a benefit night. The program was put on by the children and parents of the ‘colored school.’ They were raising money to repair the roof of the school. Price was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children, and this included a light lunch.
— J. Dickson Black
Another highlight in the entertainment world here at the opera house was the political speeches. If the weather was bad they would hold the rally here. The old-timers say that these old time politicians had a lot more wind and talked longer than a candidate does today.

In 1898, along came a new and different entertainment that was (known as) the Chautauqua era, and for a few years each summer you could hear a lecture, band music, singing, oratory, or maybe a little of each if you stayed for the whole program.

I (Black) found no one who could remember what the inside of the opera house was like at first. The building was two stories and there were two business rooms in the front at ground level. You went in from the front and upstairs. Some think that the inside was all balcony and it looked down at the stage that was in the back of the building...
— J. Dickson Black
Sometime around 1900 the building was remodeled. The upstairs had a stage and seats; the downstairs was made into a store. At one time Jackson’s Grocery was here. In 1914, the Ozark Trails Garage moved in downstairs in place of the store, and it stayed here until about 1921. It was run by Ed. Pace and Clyde Adams.

The Mo-Hawk Dance Club was held here upstairs every Saturday night from about 1911 to 1914. At that time there was a stairway outside the east side of the building. In 1914 the building was condemned and they stopped using the upstairs.

During World War I the US Government used the upstairs as an armory. The 142nd Field Artillery was stationed here for some time. they slept upstairs and drilled in the street in front of the building.

About 1922 the building was bought by M. J. Kilburn who had it rebuilt into a movie picture house. The entrance was again moved to the front of the building. The inside had a stage downstairs and seats down, as well as up in the balcony. There were two small rooms in the front that opened onto the street in front of the building. These were rented for small cafes or real estate offices. The big outside balcony was taken down and a marquee was put up. The building was used as a theater until a few years before it was taken down. The last few years before the building was razed, it was used only for storage.
— J. Dickson Black

The Royal Theater began outside prior to 1917. These theaters were popular during that time, as they were cooler than indoors. They were known as "airdomes" and Bentonville's became the “Royal Airdome.” They sold tickets at the Jackson Dry Goods store which was in the downstairs part of the building. The Jackson Grocery was located on West Central across from the vacant lot where the outdoor theater was located, next to the Plaza Theater. As noted, by 1922, the building in which had been occupied as the Opera House was opened as a movie theater.

The Royal was one of four movie theaters that the town had at one time or another. There was also the Cozy, which was in the spot where the Station Cafe is now. The Leukens Building which was later Black's Clothing Store was originally also a theater.

The Meteor, later the Plaza Theater was where the current Meteor Guitar Gallery is now on Central. It was built in 1927. It was the Plaza as most of the Bentonville natives alive today remember it. It was pretty run down by the 1960’s and closed in the mid 1970’s and was used as a beauty shop for several years until the guitar gallery took over the lease.

The Meteor, later the Plaza Theater was where the Meteor Guitar Gallery is now on Central. It was built in 1927. It was the Plaza when most of the Bentonville natives alive today remember it. It was pretty run down by the 1960’s and closed in the mid 1970’s and was used as a beauty shop for several years until the guitar gallery took over the lease.

 

Looking Forward...

The future of Bentonville entertainment lies next in the new theater building being constructed at the corner of SW A and 4th. But gone are the days of 10 cent admission for all day, and a good spot to escape the summer heat.