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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Errol Flynn appeared here: Saving the Dodge Theater

  • Local effort organized to purchase and restore the historic downtown building.
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  • The Dodge Theater was built in 1929. It was part of "The Million Dollar Block" which also contained the Lora Locke Hotel.
    In 1939, Warner Brothers agreed to premiere their movie, "Dodge City," starring Errol Flynn and Olivia deHaviland in Dodge City — the first such event the studio had ever held outside the city limits of Hollywood.
    And in 2013, an effort to save the Dodge Theater has been initiated by two young men who are hoping to recruit a large number of friends to the project.
    Mark A. Vierthaler and Lewis D. Mize are trying some new strategies to address the problem.
    "I grew up in Dodge, and I've been sitting around the last 10 years or so complaining that nobody seems to care much about the town's historic downtown area," Vierthaler said.
    "So when I read in the Globe that the marquee was being removed, and I saw it up for sale on eBay, I decided something had to be done," he said.
    And Mize was quick to agree.
    So they launched a campaign and they're working on all the things that entails: setting up a non-profit corporation to accept donations and manage the completed facility, working with inspectors and architects and — of course — raising money.
    Both men have worked at the Depot Theater Company and admire the preservation project completed in 2004 involving the Santa Fe Depot.
    "We're trying a funding source that wasn't even available when the depot was done," Vierthaler said.
    Working with a funding assistance group called RocketHub.com, a web site has been set up and Vierthaler and Mize are hoping that everyone who remembers the Dodge Theater fondly will help save it.
    "It's called crowd funding," Vierthaler said, "And it makes use of the powerful resources of the Internet."
    Citing the building's place in Dodge City history and Hollywood history, the men hope that the project will compliment other efforts downtown and eventually help draw more people to the area.
    "With Main Street Dodge and the Tourism Task Force working to turn things around downtown, we hope to join that process," Vierthaler said.
    "I just love movies," Mize said. "I'm obsessed with them — and when I found out that there had been a Hollywood premier in Dodge City — that's huge. To let a theater with that rich history fall apart just saddens me."
    "When they took down the marquee, it felt like the death of an icon for Dodge City," Vierthaler said.
    "Then we found out the Dodge had been used as a live theater in the vaudeville days. And you throw in a balcony — I'm sold," Mize said.
    Hoping to follow in the footsteps of other successfully renovated movie theaters in the state, such as those in Hays, Kinsley, Emporia, Hutchinson and Wichita, Vierthaler and Mize say "Why not Dodge?" — to borrow a popular local phrase.
    Page 2 of 2 - "They're trying to do a similar thing with the State in Garden City and they don't have the same name recognition Dodge has," Mize said.
    The two acknowledge that previous efforts to save and recycle the theater have failed.
    "We're really hoping the crowd funding strategy works — thousands of people have left Dodge City with fond memories of the theater. They can make a small donation online. Our ability to save the theater is in their hands. They can buy into the project pretty simply," Vierthaler said.
    The goal for the initial RocketHub.com campaign is $80,000, which will be used to purchase the building and then begin the restoration planning process.
    The RocketHub.com site will be up until April 4.
    "Even if we don't meet our goal, RocketHub will let us keep whatever we do raise. They keep a small percentage as a service fee."
    Vierthaler and Mize are working with the current owners to find a way to save the theater.
    "The owners have been very helpful," Vierthaler said.
    They have offered to include the stage space, which had been turned into offices, with the sale of the theater at no extra cost and they are now negotiating with Vierthaler and Mize on the possibility of purchasing the whole property.
    "The building will need a lot of plumbing, electrical and finish work, and the roof is not in good shape," Vierthaler said.
    "But when I saw that the stage and the original fly system are still there, that was exciting," he said.
    Vierthaler and Mize hope to reopen the theater as an entertainment venue, showing movies and also booking touring acts.
    "We don't want to be in competition with the Depot or United Wireless Arena, but we think there's a place in Dodge for a medium-sized facility to book acts too small for the arena or Expo Center and too big for the Depot," Vierthaler said.
    "We want to create a unified entertainment front for Dodge," he said.
    As part of the RocketHub.com strategy, donors will receive a variety of premiums for their donation, depending on the level, and there are also naming opportunities within the project.
    To help save the Dodge Theater, you can go to RocketHub.com or Facebook and search for "Save the Dodge Theater."
    For more information or to get involved with the project, call Vierthaler at (620) 390-9535 or Mize at (303) 503-4327.
    Follow Don Steele on Twitter @Don_dcglobe.
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