When the bulldozers finally razed the sleazy porno shop — formerly the Rockhill Theater — at 46th and Troost, more than a decade ago, one portion of the building was left standing: a two-story buff-brick tower from the original entrance area. This piece of the 1923 structure retained the original metal dome, long rusted but surrounded by the original finials installed when the second-run theater was opened, with great fanfare in 1923. I always wondered why this portion of the theater was saved. Were there plans to incorporate the structure into a newer building on the site? Much of the original footprint of the Rockhill Theater was used for a Walgreens Pharmacy. This week, the remaining tower was quietly torn down behind a white-washed wooden barrier.
The Rockhill Theater was one of a dozen or more neighborhood film houses running the length of Troost Avenue from the 1910s through the 1950s (other cinemas on the street included the Bagdad, the Isis and the Strand, which is one of the last theaters standing and still an entertainment mecca, of a sort), but had the added cachet of being designed by the Kansas City-based Boller Brothers architectural firm. Carl and Robert Boller designed movie houses in several states; their designs were used for the Plaza Theater (still standing, but now a retail store), the Benton Theatre (now a church) and the lavish Midland Theatre, built for MGM owners Loews Inc. in 1927 and still operating in the Power & Light District.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City took over the then 40-year-old cinema in the late 1950s, opening its first performance of La Boheme in the building on September 29, 1958. The organization continued to use the theater until a fire — reportedly set by an employee — nearly destroyed the structure in 1968. The Lyric moved downtown to another former film house, The Capri — a former Ararat Shrine Temple — renaming the building the Lyric and staying put until moving to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts a year ago.
Now there's nothing left to evoke the long history of a theater that evolved from silent movies to opera to nude dancing girls in less than a century. Maybe that's a good thing.