311 S. Campbell Avenue,
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Firms: Heckenlively & Reed
Though remembered more as a live venue, Springfield’s obscenely large Hippodrome Theatre tried to move Springfield to the echelon of ‘Kansas City-South’. The roots of the project date back to 1906 when Springfield and Joplin were trying to be the ‘third city’ of Missouri behind Kansas City and St. Louis. Located 70 miles apart, Springfield had 23,267 residents in 1900 to Joplin’s 26,023. The concept was a ballot measure that would build a convention center that would spring Springfield forward in the #3 city race in 1906. That proposed Convention Hall measure that was pushed very hard by one of the local newspapers failed in November. That didn’t kill the concept.
From 1908 to 1910 stock was sold at $5 a share to make the Convention Hall a reality. And when the money was fully raised, the money also disappeared. All of it. So the process started over in 1912 with the stock price tripled. This time better attention was paid to the money pool and the Convention Hall became a reality. The architects of the project were James L. Heckenlively and George F. Reed.
The Convention Hall opened April 10, 1913. But Sidney Edward “S.E.” Wilholt - who had been a theatre operator since 1906 and built Springfield’s Princess Theatre as well as owner of the Jefferson Theatre got involved. Wilholt realized that the Convention Hall was simply not going to get the regular conventions and events to make it a success. He decided that summer to fund changes to the Hall that would allow for a Campbell Street lobby and entry to the Convention Hall auditorium which was quickly remodeled again to the plans of Heckenlively and Reed in August and September 1913. The Hippodrome Theatre launched with vaudeville and 4,000 feet of motion pictures on October 13, 1913.
The Hippodrome Theatre was branded as “Where Everybody Goes”. But a better moniker might have been “Where Everybody Can Go (because we can’t sell out)” due to the theatre’s 3,000 seat capacity that was a chore to get filled. (Consider that the Hippodrome Theatre in Los Angeles only seated 2,150.) The Hippodrome Theatre seated everyone for a dime (nickel for kids) but then faced a challenge when a theatre tax was assessed and definitely injured the larger theatres. The Hippodrome Theatre advertisements just kept shrinking in size along with the audiences and it failed spectacularly going of business on November 5, 1916. Fortunately, Wilholt’s more right-sized movie theatres did quite well financially.
As for the Convention Hall, it limped along with sporadic events and was converted more or less to a sportatorium in 1929/1930 which operated into March of 1934. But finances went from bleak to disastrous and the building was finally subleased for 20 years and converted in 1934 to a Sears retail store. Sears was followed by Heer’s Department Store which was there a few years before leaving the building in 1957. Thereafter, there was nobody willing to pay to complete the lease which ran to 1963 and the decision was made to demolish the building in April of 1958 replaced by a parking lot, which is still there in 2020. It was likely that the citizens of Joplin said, “We told you so!”.
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