The Granada Theatre was constructed in 1929 at a cost of $350,000 ($4.82 million in 2016 dollars). Its 1,400-seat capacity made it one of the largest movie palaces in Kansas. The theatre was dedicated on October 3, 1929, in a speech by “The Sage of Emporia,” William Allen White. During its early years, the theatre attracted many famous performers. In addition to screening movies, it was used for everything from beauty contests to traveling vaudeville acts. It was leased for many years to the Fox Corporation and became known as the Fox Theatre.
The theatre’s exterior is designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style popular during the late 1920s. The stucco front façade features intricate terra cotta details, including five clowns, which provide a theatrical touch. The Spanish style is carried into the theatre with alcoves surrounded by gilded plaster details. Ornate plaster panels also lined the balcony rail and the proscenium arch.
Like many grand old movie palaces of its era, the Granada’s popularity declined during the 1960s and 70′s. During this period, the building suffered from neglect and damage resulting from a leaking roof. It was closed in 1982. In April 1985, the theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but, it was not until demolition threatened the building in 1994 that a group of citizens rallied to save the theatre.
In cooperation with the Kansas Preservation Alliance, the Emporia Granada Theatre Alliance was formed and acquired the building, saving it from destruction. Since then, the Alliance members and numerous volunteers have spent countless hours stabilizing and renovating the outside of the building and preparing for the interior phase of the project. Working cooperatively with other local arts, cultural and tourism organizations, the Alliance has developed a plan to make the Granada Theatre a keystone facility – a place that builds community.