632 N. Main Street ,
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Previous Names: Melrose Theater
The North End / McKinley Park Neighborhood of Wichita once housed its most vibrant area of African-American businesses and housing. On Main Street in the Old Town / McAdams neighborhoods as they are known as in contemporary times, the first African-American movie house was established at 632 N. Main Street. It launched as the Melrose Theater playing silent films, including those with African-American casts. It was housed in a converted retail storefront.
The Melrose Theater was launched by Roscoe C. Robinson on November 14, 1921 with what are now termed race films. The theatre was not a quick success closing in 1922. George E. Brock of Fort Worth, Texas, came in and reopened the theatre as the Gilpin Theatre on April 29, 1922. The venue was named after famed stage actor Charles Sidney Gilpin who would make an appearance on the stage of Wichita’s Crawford Theatre that same year. African-Americans could sit in the top balcony or the top two balconies when the Crawford Theatre hosted African-American performers including actors, jazz bands, and singers - including both Gilpin’s play and Mamie Smith’s concert, both of whom graced the Crawford Theatre stage in 1922.
The Gilpin Theater’s closing date is not clearly documented but it would not be a stretch to assume that it closed prior to any transition to sound. The sound-era African-American movie venue in Wichita was the Dunbar Theatre which has its own Cinema Treasure listing. The vibrancy that was the North End / McKinley Park area along busy Main Street subsided during the Depression and moved just a bit north to the N. Cleveland Street - part of what is now called McAdams Neighborhood and the renamed McAdams Park. Those are both named after Emerson “Mac” McAdams, former Wichita city policeman and director of, then, McKinley Park for more than 25 years. As for the Gilpin Theatre, it has since been razed.
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