Our History

The Owners

The O'Keefe Brothers Grocery, owner of the land, built the beautiful and historic 4th Street Theatre in 1913 for use as a motion picture and vaudeville Theatre. They employed the famous Moberly architect, Ludwig Abt. They also employed Robert Sannerman of Kansas City, MO. Everett E. Tritch and Fred A. Selby gave up management, Oliver Penton and Don Robb managed it until 1963 when the O'Keefe Brothers sold it to B&B Movie Company, owned by Elmer Bills of Salisbury, MO who operated it until 1997. At that time Mr. Bills donated the Theatre to the Randolph County Historical Society. It started with vaudeville and movies and continued as a movie house for eighty three years.

The Architect

Ludwig Abt was and aggressive and energetic architect who was able to pursue to advantage his profession in a new society in a new world, unfettered by tradition and dogma. He emigrated from Germany and after working in several cities decided to return to Germany for further studies, especially in the use of reinforced concrete. He returned settling in Kansas City for awhile then answered the need for his knowledge of reinforced concrete. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the first American architect to exploit this material in 1910. After working for awhile he decided to settle in Moberly, MO. A quest for knowledge and pursuit of the best way to create buildings and solve practical problems became a characteristic of Mr. Abt's work. Mr. Abt's advertising motto was "Ludwig Abt, Architect, Ideas Furnished" and this is what he did. he became world known for his designs of churches, movie palaces, colleges, such that his buildings became the most important elements in many a townscape. The 4th Street Theatre project has possession of Mr. Abt's original drawings and plans for the theatre. Abt later brought in Kay Cleavinger a young architect and the firm eventually became J.K. Cleavinger & Associates.

The Opening

The first program on opening day, February 8, 1914, was the vaudeville show, "The Three Elliotts", a high class musical act of famous harpists and soloists, followed by the first picture being shown, a three-reel photo play, entitled "An Hour Before Dawn", starring Laura Sawyer. The seating capacity was 1000 but the newspaper reported that over 2000 passed through the doors to see the beautiful heavy mahogany swinging doors, wainscoting of white marble, ornate terra cotta trimmings in beautiful color schemes of greens and old ivory. The exterior of the building was massive and composed of terra cotta and dark red palens of brick, with a huge copper covered porte cochete enhanced by the suspending and erection of many electric lights.