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Hooray for Hollywood - And Ottawa, Kansas! - March 23, 2018

Q: According to Guinness World Records, the Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kansas, is the world's oldest movie theater still in operation. Specifically, Guinness says the Plaza Cinema in Ottawa is the Oldest Purpose-Built Cinema in Operation. When did it open? (We want the month and the year!)

A: May 1907

The Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kansas, has been named the Oldest Purpose-Built Cinema in Operation by Guinness World Records. The deco-styled downtown movie theater opened at 211 South Main Street on May 22, 1907, and still shows current-run movies.  Here's a link to the listing by Guinness.

(We are aware that as of this writing on 03/19/18, the Plaza Cinema’s website says “Est. 1905” but new research indicates 1907 was the first year of operation. The website just hasn’t been updated yet.)

The Plaza’s record beat the previous record holder, the Korsor Biograf in Denmark, which opened in August 1908, by more than a year.

According to a news release from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Plaza Cinema owner Rita “Peach” Madl has spent years collecting evidence to secure the record ever since archivist Deborah Barker, who recently retired from the Ottawa Historical Society, uncovered a trove of photographs that indicated the theater was already operating in Ottawa’s early horse-and-buggy days. Madl, Barker and film historian Bill Shaffer compiled and authenticated evidence using documents, news reports and photographs from the Franklin County Courthouse, Franklin County Historical Society and Ottawa Library, all in Ottawa, Kansas, and newspapers.com, an online database. Convincing Guinness was a daunting task that required submitting documentation in the form of articles, movie ads and photographs for every year in the cinema’s 111-year history.    

Over the years, the theater changed names and owners and expanded but never moved. It opened as The Bijou and for a time was called The Yale and The Crystal before opening as The Plaza in 1935.  (See historic photos, below.)

When the cinema opened, tickets cost five cents and usually included two moving pictures and an “illustrated song” performed by a live singer. Behind the current twin screening rooms at the Plaza, in the original stage area, Madl has created the Movie Memorabilia Museum. Exhibits include a numbered original Edison Kinetoscope, one of the earliest motion picture devices, movie scripts, posters and props.

Visit a treasure trove of interesting Kansas information in KPR's archive of Kansas Trivia questions.

Editor's note: The photograph of the Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kansas, used at the top of this web page was taken by Jean Hutchison, of Ottawa, and used with her permission. Please do not copy, duplicate or otherwise steal this photo. See more of Jean Hutchison's work and learn how you can acquire your own prints at jhutchisonphotography.com.