Date: March 1, 2023
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Marshall Theatre in Manhattan, KS

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Marshall Theatre building present day in Manhattan, KS

I have always loved going to the movies, growing up in Western Kansas I was always going to the movies with friends and family. I can still remember when our local Dickinson Theatre expanded to have eight screens, we were BIG TIME then! lol As a child I never really thought about who was behind the Dickinson Theatre brand or where it all started, I just wanted the movie to start!

Yesterday as I was parking downtown to head to my pilates session at Little Apple Pilates in Manhattan, KS. I happened to look up at the Marshall Theatre building. First, I was just admiring the brick and the lettering etched into the limestone, just how truly a work of art it is. To be in such good shape and housing so many thriving businesses in our downtown is really something to marvel at.

As I was waiting for class to start I realized I did not know much about the origins of the Marshall Theatre building so I did what everyone does and went to Google to find out more. Boy was I surprised by what I found! The building was originally built in 1909, and in 1920, the building was purchased by a man named Glen W Dickinson, Sr. Mr. Dickinson who had quit the family business in Brookfield, Missouri to purchase a two-screen theatre in the bustling agriculture city of Manhattan, KS. In 1930, following a remodel, Glen Dickinson renamed the theater, Dickinson Theater. Then, in 1940 it became known as the State Theater and had over 800 seats!

After much success at the movie theatre in Manhattan, Dickinson opened a second theater in another booming town to the East, Lawrence, KS. Dickinson continued to expand the company and opened another theater in the growing community of Overland Park, KS. From 1936 to 1946 the Dickinson Theater Group owned 26 theatres and even opened its first drive-in theater. There was no doubt, Dickinson theater company was a thriving family business.

Photo Credit: Riley Co. Historical Society

After the passing of Glen Dickinson Sr in 1960, Glen Dickinson Jr., took over running the company with his two brothers. The family business continued to grow and be family owned until it was sold in 1999 to John Hartley the head of purchasing for Dickinson Theaters. Mr. Hartley propelled the company to acquire smaller theater chains and in 2012 sold the company to Ron Horton, who was the Executive Vice President of Film Buying and Marketing. Under Mr. Horton's time, the theater group expanded to 18 theaters and 210 screens across seven states. In Oct 2014, Mr. Horton sold Dickinson Theaters to a Missouri-based chain, B&B Theatres.

Knowing what I know now, I don't know that I will ever look at the Marshall Theatre building the same again. While the craftsmanship of the building has been beautifully restored, the story behind the building is pretty awesome too. I can only imagine what people thought when Glen Dickinson quit his job at Ford and decided to open his first movie theatre in a town he was not from and in a business he was not in. I am sure more than a few people shook their heads at him and even more didn't understand this new "thing" of movie theaters.

While I am sure Glen Dickinson had faith he would succeed, I mean why else who he leaves the family business to do this, I wonder if he dreamed he would be building a company worth millions and millions of dollars. Or that a little girl in Western Kansas would love going to the movies and one day be sitting outside his original theater and marveling at the building and his business savvy!

While I never would call myself a history buff, I do love a good story, and that's a lot of what history is, the story of the past.

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