Until 2004, the Louise C. Murdock Theatre was simply known as the
theater of the 20th Century Club. The theatre's history is also the
history of the 20th Century Club, the ladies' club which had it built
and has maintained it all these years. Unlike many classic theatres in
the city, it remained in constant use throughout the decades.
The 20th Century Club was founded in Wichita on January 3rd, 1899 by
Louise Caldwell Murdock with a membership of over 100 women. The
non-profit group promoted literacy, educational and scientific
undertakings as well as supporting the fine arts.
In 1923, the Club purchased the former home of Judge R. A. Sankey at 536
N. Broadway for $15,000. The Colonial Revival house was built in the
1890s and is listed on the Wichita Historical Register. The house was
remodeled to accommodate the ladies’ club by opening up the front rooms
of the house for an assembly room. Upstairs, the numerous bedrooms were
altered to create a suite for the club’s resident secretary, plus an
office and another assembly room. After six months of work, the building
was opened as the first permanent headquarters for a Wichita women’s
club. The membership had grown to more than 600 members by that time.
An addition was constructed behind the house in 1925, This was planned
to serve as a connector between the house and the Club’s future
auditorium. This section serves as the main entrance on Elm street.
The theatre was built in 1931 for $50,000. At the time the exterior was
described as “pleasingly artistic and of moderate Spanish influence”. It
was said the the interior presented a “symphony of simplicity” in its
color scheme of natural stone walls, rusty-red curtains, pearl gray back
curtains and dark green seats. The original seats are still in use and
the Club’s original logo can be seen on the front curtain.
During the theatre’s ground-breaking ceremony, one of the speakers said
that the Club was setting a shining example to the city. The Club was
commended for providing employment at the height of the depression and
keeping all facets of the project in Wichita. The architects and the
construction company were both Wichita firms, and all of the materials
used in construction were purchased in Wichita. The banquet hall and the
kitchen downstairs were also built at this time.
The ladies presented a wide variety of cultural events here, and the
parlor was highly popular for weddings, particularly in the 1930s and
1940s. One local resident recalls puppet shows for children that were a
regular feature on Saturday mornings in the 1950s.
The building remained in the possession of the Twentieth Century Club
until late 2003, when a decision was made to sell the property. It was
sold in February 2004 to a local group whose goal is to open up the
property to the community for a wide array of special events, including
music and theater productions. The new owners are working to restore
more of a turn of the century look to the main house, taking up carpets
to reveal the beautiful oak floors, repainting and bringing in
furnishings of the era, such as the Victrola which was found in the
boiler room. Work has been done to expand restrooms, improve the sound
system and repair damaged plaster in the theatre and lobby area. Stage
One, the acclaimed Wichita theater organization, now has their offices
on the 2nd floor.