Ritz Theatre

Main Street,
Van Buren, MO 63965

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dallasmovietheaters on September 3, 2015 at 6:21 am

The above reads, “The Van Buren Theatre opened in 1931. In 1940 it was renamed the Ritz Theatre.” Nothing appears to be correct in that timeline. Van Buren had three different indoor theatres. The first was the Harding Theatre opening in 1920 in a 67x105 wood framed building. One of the three operators was Henry Albert Smalley who had a profound impact on Van Buren’s development. H.A. Smalley would also create Smalley’s Motel in 1928 which would operate for nine decades, a package liquor store, a lumber yard, gravel plant and a stave mill.

The city’s first theatre was taken over by John M. Haynes who turned the Harding Theatre into the Van Buren Theatre which was also known to locals as Haynes' Theatre. It operates primarily on weekends only. The theatre is destroyed by fire on August 20, 1931 apparently never converting to sound pictures.

A second Van Buren Theatre is constructed which opens with talking pictures in 1934. On January 25, 1936, Van Buren Theatre #2 also burns to the ground with “the entire city” showing up trying in vain to save the facility. A new theater is constructed but delayed. When the foundation is being prepared, a discovery of civil war soldier body or bodies was discovered. The Ritz Theatre was supposed to have opened in October of 1936 but is delayed opening February 6, 1937. Its address appears to be 701 Main Street in Van Buren.

The theatre closed October 30, 1961 suggesting the end of a 25-year lease. The theater gets one more chance in 1964 as the short-lived home of live Ozark Mountain music. The theatre is reconverted in 1973 for other retail purposes becoming Uncle Dudley’s and then the Craft Corner. And Mr. Smalley died in 1969 with his obituary mentioning his prominence including getting moving pictures to Van Buren. Fortunately, the community would be served by the 21 Drive-In Theatre as the ozoner made the digital conversion still surviving into — as the time of this writing — the mid 2010s.