Entertainment

Guinness says Kansas is home to the oldest cinema in the world

The Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kan., was recently named the oldest cinema in the world by Guinness World Records.
The Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kan., was recently named the oldest cinema in the world by Guinness World Records. The Kansas City Star

The cinema on Main Street in little Ottawa, Kan., is officially the oldest, purposely built movie house ever. In the world.

Guinness World Records certifies it.

It opened as the Bijou in the Pickrell Building on either May 20 or May 22, 1907, showing a now-obscure film called "Bad Mother." Tickets cost 5 cents, but that included an "illustrated song" performed live.

It has changed names at least three times and is now the Plaza Cinema at 211 S. Main.

"The oldest purpose-built cinema in operation is 110 years 283 days, and was achieved by the Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kansas, USA," declared Guinness in February. "It shut down for a few years during the Great Depression but was never used for any other purpose."

The current owner, Rita "Peach" Madl, said she has spent years collecting evidence to convince the Guinness people. The core of the claim was a bunch of photographs from horse-and-buggy days that were rediscovered by Deborah Barker, the now-retired director of the Franklin County Historical Society.

She, Madl and film historian Bill Shaffer compiled further evidence, including news articles and movie ads.

"It was a real eye-opener how thorough and professional the Guinness staff were," Madl said.

1915 or earlier Pickrell Building with Crystal Theatre sign.jpg
Pickrell Building with Crystal Theatre sign, circa 1915.

The modern Plaza Cinema has digital 3-D projection and two screening rooms. In the original stage area Madl has created a movie museum with a vintage Edison Kinetoscope, originally patented in 1897.

Madl plans to open a new exhibit Monday with a photo timeline of the cinema along with screenings of the 1903 American silent "The Great Train Robbery." That film was shown in a traveling carnival tent that visited Ottawa in May 1905.

Ottawa is about 35 miles southwest of Olathe.

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