The Esquire Theater, 824 Broadway, may not turn into a parking lot after all. John Buckner, the building’s new owner, has announced plans to spend up to $2.4 million to renovate the 67-year-old building as an art-house theater. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)
New owner like a kid with a toy
Buckner is tackling the project with a lot of enthusiasm and a healthy dose of fun. He couldn’t wait to get a message on the marque, even though a cold front was moving in and dropping lots of chilly rain down his collar.
The place is a mess
The Esquire closed as a motion picture house Oct. 7, 1984, with a showing of Purple Rain. After that, it tried to be a second-run movie theater; a teen club; a gospel music theater, and ended up a repository for junk, including the set from the Tom Hanks movie, The Green Mile.
This photo, taken from the projection booth, gives only a hint of the clutter. Wife Lila’s brother, John Perry, is helping Buckner clean out the accumulated stuff so Penzel Construction can begin renovation. He said that the building was crammed so full that they could barely get the lobby doors open.
Tiny concession stand
The concession stand, with the candy counter still showing prices, was much smaller than I remembered. Another thing mis-remembered by me and some of the curious folks who wandered in on Tuesday was a balcony. Most of us would have sworn that the Esquire had a balcony, but it didn’t. The Broadway must have been the only theater of the three on Broadway to have upstairs seating.
(The dishes weren’t used by the theater. They were some of the miscellaneous stuff stored there.)
Short of seating
The men’s room had a urinal and a toilet – and you’d better be skinny to use the former – to handle the needs of the audience. Maybe they didn’t serve extra-large drinks in those days.
- Scott Moyers did a long piece in The Missourian on plans for the building. I’ll point you there for the details. An accompanying sidebar has a historical timeline of the theater.
- Missourian photographer Laura Simon made it into the Esquire a day before I did (and went to the trouble of lighting it better) to produce a photo gallery.
- I ran a collection of exterior photos of the theater in March of 2010 and went into a little of its history.
- In September 1965, I used infrared flash and film to capture kids watching The Beatles movie Help! It was the first (and only) time I used that technique.
Esquire photo gallery
I prowled from the boiler room in the basement to the projection room high above the viewing area. I discovered the old projectors, boxes of tickets, the plastic marque letters, the 1947 Workman’s Comp placard and a devil’s brew of mold that will either cure anything I have wrong or kill me.
Many of the things I photographed won’t bring back memories because they were just items that were stored there and had no connection with the theater we remember. I’m including them to give an idea of the scope of the project in the before stage and as a reminder of how far the building has come (assuming that the project is completed).
Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the picture to move through the gallery. Please, leave comments. It seems like everyone who walked into the place had a story to share. I wish I had set up a video camera on a tripod to capture those memories.