“Look at history. Everything we have, every great achievement, has come from the independent work of some independent mind.”
The Fountainhead, Howard Roark played by Gary Cooper, 1949
The Aztec Theater is a movie palace, a design that saw its heyday from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. Originally named the Mission Theater, it opened on Monday, September 5th, 1927. In 1927, the theater was a testament to the optimism about the community and its future. It was a design masterpiece of entertainment and anchor to other businesses and the community.
The facility embodied the very best in design, construction, decoration, and equipment. The theater originally offered silent films, as well as “talkies”, and live stage performances. Because of the prevalence of touring entertainment in the state during this time, the building was also constructed with a working stage. For nearly 20 years the Mission Theater primarily showed film and offered occasional live entertainment.
In the 1940’s, as the Dickinson Theaters expanded throughout the Midwest, they purchased The Mission theater and it was renamed The Aztec Theater. Dickinson owned and operated The Aztec until 1974, when their market focus shifted to larger, multi-screen complexes. It was then, that the theater was sold, used solely for storage, and sat dormant for more than twenty years.
In the late 90’s, the theater was purchased by theater aficionado and movie producer, Wade Williams. And although Wade was unable to see his project brought to completion at that time, his dream for the small, Shawnee theater never waned. After more than 10 years of waiting, looking for just the right buyer with the same vision, Wade offered to sell the theater to Chris Calkins. Chris and his brother Jeff are long time Shawnee residents and business owners, and they could see Wade’s vision through to fruition. Along with their friend and business partner, Bruce Young, Chris and Jeff formed their company, Aztec Group, LLC, and purchased the Aztec Theater.
With Wade as their design consultant, the theater would live again as it did in its heyday…a testament to the optimism about the community and its future.