Consider the Barron Theater's important place in history, and in the current life of Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
The Barron Theater at 313 S. Mainin Pratt brings a combination of old charm and new life to the downtown area. Fundraising efforts now underway are focused on flooring and bathroom improvements.

The Barron Theater remains an iconic landmark and a hub of Pratt activities in the 21st Century, hosting weekly youth group meetings, weekend movie showings and business and pleasure meetings for groups of all sizes. Built in 1930 to accommodate both stage and film, the former wildly popular WWII GI entertainment venue (for soldiers stationed at the Pratt Army Air Field north of town) has seen minimal changes during required structural improvements over time, but Barron Theater Development Director Sheryl White said she is now hoping the community will come together to raise funds for needed bathroom and carpet updates.

"Our next major renovation project at the Barron is to replace the flooring," White said. "If you are one of our regular movie goers, you already know that we have some obvious flooring needs. The carpet in the lobby and on the ramps into the theater need to be replaced; and there are cracks in the flooring around the concession stands and in the restrooms."

In 2019, the Barron Theater marquee was restored to it's former glory, with community fundraising efforts paying for new neon tubing and electrical wiring and sockets. Completed in May of that year, the re-furbished lights have been coming on every evening at 5 p.m., even during the COVID-19 shut-downs when just seeing the working lights was a boost to moral in the community. Donations to the current flooring project will be honored in several ways, choice left to the donor, in the same fashion that donors for the marquee have been noted, White said.

"We place plaques on the back of theater seats, give out VIP benefits that include free movies, popcorn and pop, and have few other incentives," she said. "With our thriving outreach programs for kids here we have so many people who benefit from being able to come to the Barron Theatre, donation efforts do not go unnoticed."

A recent traveler through Pratt also took notice of the historic, and current, value of the Barron Theater, much to the delight of White and Youth Core Ministries personnel who maintain the building. Christopher Smith, a professor of theater preservation and Urban Neighborhoods project manager in Trinidad, Colorado stopped by on March 28, 2021 and shared his Barron Theater discoveries in a Facebook post shortly after his visit.

"On every trip, there are destinations one is unaware of. I've had good luck knocking on doors of historic theaters, so was thrilled when Patty (Fox) running the thrift shop next door saw me gawking and asked if I wanted a tour. Two hours later and I'm substage in the former orchestra pit looking for tunnel entrances (yes, Pratt KS has 'em too!). I am so thankful for her time," Smith said. "Pratt, Kansas is lucky to have its community theater intact. The Barron was cut in half in the 1960s and operated by a chain until its non-conversion to digital and closure in 2013. The building was purchased in 2017 by a youth ministries program, Youth Core Ministries. The back theatre is now full of Foosball, air hockey, and other gaming tables. The front theatre is intact, seating a few hundred (originally 900!)."

Smith said what amazed him most about the Barron Theater building was the mystery its architecture, and it's similarity to the Warner in Atlantic City.

"What firm would have been able/willing to design a multipurpose space (performance and film), along with two retail bays, a massive brick shell, stage right passageway, trap door, two dressing rooms, rehearsal space... well, by 1930 Rapp and Rapp of Chicago was well-established as the nation's foremost firm in theatre design. Mr. Charles Barron had already been operating a theatre across the street (in the Pratt Tribune building), since 1924. He just wanted another, and for it to be grand," Smith said.

Smith also noticed the thriving pigeon population that lives in the attic of the building and suggested they be removed, though he may not be aware that they might very well be descendants of the very birds that first inhabited those very spaces some 90 years ago and are as much a part of the Pratt downtown skyline as well, the top of the IOOF building across the street and many other long-time Pratt facades.

Nevertheless, Smith said it was a joy to see a historic theatre not only meeting the needs of its community, but thriving.

White would like to keep hold that line with a little help from the community on the flooring project.

"We are so very thankful to the Pratt community for its continued support of our theater in a variety of ways: enjoying movies, sponsoring movies, entertaining through parties at the Barron, and promoting the theater to others," White said. "All of this helps us support our work with the youth in the Pratt community as well as to keep this important piece of Pratt's history alive."

For those who haven't been inside the Barron Theater recently (and for those who have), a special community event is coming soon on Thursday, April 22, when at 7 p.m. Mitch Holthus - the radio voice of the world champion Kansas City Chiefs will be hosting a free showing of the Kansas-made film, "Home on the Range." This film tells the story behind the iconic Kansas song by the same name, which was written in a rustic Smith County, Kansas cabin in 1872. The free admission to the event is made possible by The Peoples Heartland Foundation.

White invites everyone with an interest in Kansas and Pratt history to make a special attempt to attend the Barron Theater for the Holthus "Home the Range" event and consider making a donation to support  the flooring project.

"We are extremely fortunate to have such positive collaborations with the Pratt Public Library, the Teen Center, the Blythe Center, the Pratt Chamber of Commerce, Pratt Recreation, Pratt Travel & Tourism, the City of Pratt, and many others," White said. "It is our goal to keep our Barron in good shape to continue to amaze and bless our community and those who visit here."

Donations are accepted at the Barron Theater, 313 S. Main, Pratt, Kansas 67124 via mail or at any time during open hours. For more information call White at 620-672-1596.