HISTORICAL POSTCARDS OF SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI
When the Baldwin Theatre burned down in 1909 the construction of the Landers Theatre, already begun, was greatly accelerated. The new Landers Theatre at 311 East Walnut opened on September 18, 1909, with a production called "Golden Girl." The total capacity of the theater was 824. The theater was the dream of John Landers, a newcomer to Springfield with a lumber business. He was joined in the venture by his son Douglas J. Landers, R.N. Stewart, E.E.R. McJimsen and George Olendorf. The design of the theater is very ornate, reflecting the influences of Napoleon III's baroque and Renaissance architecture. The four-story building even has some architectural features that look like screaming devils. It had the second largest stage in the state.
The Landers Theatre was part of the Orpheum circuit of theaters, showing vaudeville and "tab" or tabloid shows with a different show each week. The Weaver Brothers and Elviry were regulars at the Landers, before they went on to make movies. Some other famous performers who appeared there were George Cohan, Lon Chaney, John Philip Sousa and Lillian Russell. In 1915 "Birth of Nation" was shown in the theater and afterward silent movies were a regular feature with musical or drama productions playing between the motion pictures. In 1927 the Landers became the 35th theater in the United States to show "talkies," showing Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer."
On December 17, 1920, the Landers suffered a major fire. An asbestos curtain and other fireproofing precautions kept the theater from being a total loss. The theater was rebuilt in 1922 by Ensley Barbour. In 1927 radio station WIBM broadcasted from the Landers until it was moved to the Kentwood Arms.
Continuously through the 1960s, the Landers Theatre was a motion picture theater. Since it never sat vacant, there was surprisingly little renovation that needed to be done when the Springfield Little Theatre purchased the building in 1970. Through grants and fundraising, money was raised to remodel the building in the early1970s. The first Little Theatre production shown at the Landers was "The Importance of Being Earnest." In 1980 the Little Theatre expanded the lobby eastward, added a refreshment bar, handicap ramp and a restroom on the main floor. The original open cage from the elevator was used over the refreshment bar. It is said that the Landers is haunted by not one but three ghosts -- a tall man in Elizabethan clothing and a mother and child. A green phosphorescent haze in the balcony has also been reported.
The Little Theatre currently maintains its home in the Landers Theatre and has recently added a Walk of Fame in front of the theater. Honorees have stars with their names on them displayed in front of the building. In 1996 the Landers was featured in Southern Living magazine and in 2001 the Landers Theatre was awarded the McReynolds Award for Historic Preservation.