SHAWNEE, Kan. — For the first time in 47 years, movie-goers will return to the Aztec Theater in downtown Shawnee.
The theater originally opened in 1927 as the Mission Theater. In the 1930s, the building on Johnson Drive was remodeled and renamed the Aztec Theater. The last film shown at the Aztec Theater was “What’s Up Doc?” in 1974.
The building sat vacant from 1974 until it was purchased in 2017 and reopened as a live entertainment space in 2020.
Chris Calkins co-owns the theater along with his wife Tammy Calkins, his brother Jeff Calkins, business partner Bruce Young and his wife Alvina Young.
Calkins said the nostalgia of going to the Aztec Theater as a kid pulled him into the project.
“The last movie I remember seeing here was in 1972,” Calkins said. “From 1974 until 2017, I drove by this place almost daily and hoped it would reopen or something would happen. We just took it upon ourselves to do that.”
Thanks to a partnership with Shawnee Town 1929, the theater will bring the 1931 film “Dracula” back to the big screen Wednesday night.
Shawnee Town 1929 is a living history museum that focuses on the city of Shawnee and the surrounding area in the 1920s.
Shawnee Town Director Charlie Pautler said the museum started working with the Aztec Theater about two years ago to brainstorm ways to highlight the theater’s historic significance.
“‘Dracula’ would have been a film that would have been a big box office smash. It’s one that would have been played here in this theater historically,” Pautler said.
Hannah Howard, curator of education for Shawnee Town 1929, said ‘Dracula’ was one of the first horror movies to have sound.
“It was part of the national culture and the national conversation. The 1920s saw the rise of sound pictures or ‘Talkies.’ It’s a really important part of our history to kind of be able to address with this new audience,” Howard said.
Shortly after, the film studio began producing other classic novels into horror movies.
“Universal became known for their horror films and this was kind of the first true supernatural horror film ever to be produced. This was a big risk for Universal,” Howard said. “When it came out it was incredibly shocking to people. There’s newspaper articles that report people fainted in the audience from seeing this on film for the first time.”
Following the success of ‘Dracula,’ Universal released the movie Frankenstein later that same year.
In less than two days, all 211 tickets for the screening of ‘Dracula’ sold out. The Aztec will host a second screening of ‘Dracula’ on Nov. 10. Calkins said he hopes to expand programming next year to include showings of other classic movies.
“There is so much potential, and we are just barely tapping it right now,” Calkins said.
You can find more information on how to purchase tickets for the second screening of Dracula on the Aztec Theater website.