The Blake Theatre, across from the post office, featured retail space in the front of the auditorium.

Ancestors, Legends & Time

The Blake and Civic bring back opera and movie memories

Jeanne Newby

The Blake Theatre started out as an Opera House when it was built in 1901. It was located at 211-219 W. Daugherty St. The front of the Blake Opera House was retail businesses, and the back of the building was the opera house and later the Blake Theatre, with the entrance in the front of the building.

The Blake Opera House, built in 1901, by Roe E. Blake and his father Cyrus, was considered the largest and grandest opera house in the area. The cost of the building was $30,000. On opening night, all 1,200 seats and 10 private boxes were filled. The cost of each seat was $10 – an astronomical fee since most miners only made a couple of dollars a day in 1901. The opera house was eventually changed to a movie theater as the silent movie business of the ’20s became very popular. Dan Murphy was the star of the Blake Theatre, as he played the organ and supplied the sound effects.

The Blake Theater burned in 1931, and the steps of the post office across the street made for quite a viewing stand as citizens watched the building burn. The citizens of Webb City banded together and through pledges earned enough money to replace the Blake with a new theater.

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Due to the civic pride of the town, the new theater was named The Civic. The new Civic did not have any of the architectural designs of the Blake, such as the arched windows and decorative brick patterns. The Civic had more of a modern design, with bright neon lights that the Blake never had. Those neon lights lit up Daugherty Street with a fiesta-like feel that drew people inside to enjoy the magic of movies.

Emily Hardy Kramer once told me that she loved going to the Civic and spending a nickel for her ticket. On Saturdays, when several movies would be played, the ticket for the matinee was 10 cents. But her most unusual memory was when MGM brought their mascot, Leo the Lion, to the little town of Webb City. She said the majestic beast was kept in a cage outside the theater. She always remembered Leo at every MGM movie when he roared at the start of the movie.

She recalled that she was 6 years old when she went to the Blake Theater for the first time. The movie she saw was the “Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson, and it was the first “talkie” movie. She said the Blake and the Civic were used for things other than movies. She recalled going to watch a beauty contest and other fun activities. She was also there to watch the building burn in 1931. The Spracklen building, to the east, had some burn damage. That building held the Spracklen Photography business, a book store, and a barber shop. The Shadwell Shoe Shop was in the Civic Building, and everything burned. Emily’s Uncle C.W. Oldham owned the gas station to the west side of the theater, but the wind was blowing to the northeast, which spared the gas station.

Here are a few of the businesses in the theater building through the years.

(Remember the years listed after the names of business are authorized dates of the business at that location. They may have been there before the dates listed or after. I just didn’t find that verification.)

211 West Daugherty – Webb City Wall Paper & Paint Co., F.E. Walker–1908

211 West Daugherty – Miss L. Fewell, Millinery – 1908, 1909, 1910

211 West Daugherty – Reynolds Grocery, Thomas M. Reynolds, mgr. – 1928

213 West Daugherty – Shadwell Shoe Shop – 1925, 1928, 1931, 1942, 1947, 1961

213 West Daugherty – William Hunter Electric Company – 1922, 1928

217 West Daugherty – BLAKE THEATRE, Clarence Wood, manager – Opera House–1900 burned 1931

217 West Daugherty – Moads Five & Dime–1905

217 West Daugherty–Blake Theater bldg.. – O. McGruder Millinery Notions & Pyrography Goods – 1906, 1910

217 West Daugherty – Blake Theatre Building – Hoffman Music – 1906

217 West Daugherty – Crescent cleaners – 1925,1928

217 West Daugherty – CIVIC THEATER -1932, 1947, 1953

219 West Daugherty – Joplin Globe & News Herald Newspapers – 1947

219 West Daugherty – Hall Greenhouse – 1953, 1959

219 West Daugherty – Rotten Brothers Trophy Company–2003

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.