The Gillioz Theatre is located at 325 Park Central
East, just east of the square, in downtown Springfield, MO. The
theatre is open for performances, prearranged behind-the-scenes
tours, and special events. Call 417-863-7843 for information or
visit the Gillioz Theatre website.
One of the
Midwest’s great old theatres is located on historic Route 66 in
Springfield, Missouri. The Gillioz Theatre opened in 1926 to
tremendous acclaim. The sold-out crowd was enchanted by the
opulent Spanish Colonial Revival design, and modern visitors are
equally impressed today.
The lavish detailing begins with
the façade. The front doors are flanked by terra-cotta tiles,
brick pilasters, and a terrazzo floor. A large stained-glass
arched window in the upper façade features the letter G executed
in blue glass. The corners of the building are banded with
terra-cotta tiles, as is the roofline, and don’t miss the urns
on each corner.
Just inside the front doors, visitors
will find plaster friezes complete with griffins, winged
cherubs, leaf-and-dart designs, and flowers. The auditorium is
an exuberant mixture of molding, medallions, columns, wrought
iron, organ pipes, a Proscenium arch with floral fret bands, and
a recessed oculus in the ceiling. Spanish design plays a role
here, but so do Italian and Moroccan. The theatre reopened in
2006 after 25 years of disuse. The current restoration is true
to the original design, minus all the heavy, flammable drapery
that was in vogue a century ago.
Maurice Earnest Gillioz
was a well known builder and developer in southwestern Missouri
early in the 20th century. He financed and built the theatre,
which was named in his honor. Because of the materials to which
Gillioz had access, the theatre is constructed of steel and
concrete like a bridge, using wood for only the handrails,
doors, and door frames. When restoration efforts began in 1990,
the owners learned that the theatre was so well built that it
would have cost as much to tear it down as to preserve it.
Fortunately, preservation of the theatre and its historic
The theatre officially opened in
1926, when organist Glen Stanback sang the national anthem while
playing the house Wurlitzer. The main feature of the evening was
the movie Take It From Me. Later that year, Springfield,
Missouri was dubbed the Birthplace of Route 66, when the U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture officially designated the Federal
Interstate Highway System in the neighboring Woodruff Building.
The Federal highway ran right in front of Springfield’s premier
The Gillioz introduced talking
pictures in 1928 and Technicolor in 1936. By then, the theatre
was famed for the outstanding service of its 10 ushers and
doormen. Throughout the Great Depression and during World War
II, the theatre hosted community songfests to raise morale. In
an early version of American Idol, the Gillioz featured “Beauty
with a Voice” competitions in which 15 girls sang on stage and
the audience voted for its favorite. Ronald and Nancy Reagan
attended a premier at the Gillioz in 1952, and Elvis was spotted
there (before he died) sneaking away between his matinee and
evening performances at the Shrine Mosque.
customers were leaving downtown for theatres in suburban malls.
A tarp was draped over the old unused Wurlitzer, and the Gillioz
began to fall into disrepair. In 1980, the grand old theatre
closed its doors following a final performance of La Traviata.
By 1986, Springfield’s homeless population had settled into the
abandoned space setting oil barrel fires to keep warm. While
this use of the building did some damage to the interior, the
steady human presence also protected the landmark building from
By 1990, a local group headed by Springfield
business Bass Pro Shop founder John L. Morris had begun to talk
about returning the building to its historic appearance and
identity as a theatre. The group banded together to purchase it
that year and, by 1991, had also formed a non-profit
organization, the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust. Also
in 1991, the building was listed in the National Register of
Historic Places. A year later, the Gillioz Theatre was deeded to
the Trust. The Trust involved public and private partners to
complete the rehabilitation project—a project originally quoted
at $1.8 million and ultimately finished for nearly five times
that amount. Replicating the original marquee was an early
emphasis and interior renovations followed. The Gillioz opened
its doors again in 2006 to rave reviews.