Arkansas November 23, 2017
There’s An Abandoned Arkansas Theater Hiding In Plain Sight And It’s Hauntingly Beautiful
Arkansas has some fantastic hidden gems scattered around the state. Some require obscure directions or a long drive out to the boonies. Others, like this particular place, manage to hide in plain sight right off of Fort Smith’s busiest street. The New Theatre isn’t currently opened to the public but you can join us for a photo tour of this magnificent piece of history.
Commissioned by George Sparks, the New Theatre was built in 1911.
Fort Smithians may be more familiar with his other building, a small project known as Sparks Hospital.
Mr. Sparks was inspired by a 1903 performance at New York City's New Amsterdam Theatre.
He hired the same architect firm, the Boller Brothers of Kansas City.
Although now abandoned, the theatre can be spotted on your way to Savoy Tea Co. or No. 7 Tattoo.
If you missed the Unexpected Project (which we'll get to later) you may have glanced at this building without a second thought.
The theater could seat up to 1,200 guests and had been quite a popular place.
Tickets were a whopping $10 but the acts were worth it. George Arliss, Evelyn Nesbitt Thaw, Mary Astor and Shirley Temple were some of the performing stars.
Malco purchased the theater in 1942.
The building was remodeled into a movie theater with art deco style architecture.
The theater went through some interesting shifts throughout its history.
After new ownership, it became the only theater in Fort Smith that admitted African-Americans (this was in the midst of racial segregation). During WWII, the theater was further remodeled to add extra seating. The theater had become crowded because of all the soldiers stationed at Fort Chaffee. Later, in the 70s, the theatre became a B movie grind house and showed x-rated films.
Business started to decline and the theater eventually closed.
It was later purchased by Music Fort Smith in 1992 and gutted. The group repaired the roof and exterior brick. In 1999, the New Theater was added to the National Register of historical places. New owners took over in 2004 and plan to restore the theater to its original glory.
This year's Unexpected Project briefly breathed new life into the theatre.
The building was opened to the public for the first time in 30 years during the wide-scale art project. For about three weeks art enthusiasts could view Doze Green's "The Divine Sparks Project" at the theatre.
Hopefully we can keep the conversation going and the New Theatre will continue to undergo restoration.
The Unexpected project definitely put the New Theatre back on the map for Fort Smith. We look forward to hearing more news about the theater's development.
Do you remember going to the New Theatre in the 70s? Did you get to see the building during The Unexpected? Share your experience with us in the comments below!
For another abandoned tour, try this