BAXTER SPRINGS - It's been a while since local residents could catch a flick on Route 66, but thanks to the historic Ritz Theatre in Baxter Springs, that's changing. This past weekend the Ritz, located at 1145 Military Ave, showed films for the first time since 1956.

Theater owner Ron Pucket was busily getting everything ready and taking care of last minute issues prior to the Friday afternoon matinee, but still took time to greet every movie-goer with a smile. Pucket said the plan was to have multiple showings a week by this summer.

Living history

The Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review voted to approve the nomination of the Ritz Theatre, located in downtown Baxter, to the Register of Historic Kansas Places at their quarterly meeting in Topeka, on Nov. 8, 2014.

All properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places are also included on the Kansas Places list; however, the state register recognizes properties that do not meet the National Register eligibility standards, but are still significant to the state's heritage. The Ritz was nominated to the state register under Criterion A for its local significance in the area of entertainment and recreation.

The Ritz Theatre originally opened up as a converted two-story commercial building in 1926. Located on historic Route 66, the building had previously housed John M. Cooper's Dry Goods and Clothing Store, which had been in business since the 1880s. During that time the upper floor served as a public gathering space, used by the townsfolk for various social events.

The building was converted to a theater in 1926 by Joplin architect T.E. Martinie. It opened to a packed house on April 30, showing Paramount Pictures' “The Ancient Highway” with organ accompanist Mrs. Roy Brooks of the Victory Theatre in Rogers, Arkansas.

The Ritz closed its doors in the mid-1950s, largely due to the popularity of drive-in theaters at the time. The building then served the community as the Blue Castle Restaurant from 1957 to 1980.

Ron and his wife Judy purchased the building in 2007 with restoration plans in mind. At the time of the nomination those plans include renovating the building to reflect its former use as a theater.

Being listed in the state register qualifies the property for certain state-funded financial incentives, including the Kansas State Rehabilitation Tax Credit. The listing also qualifies the property for the Heritage Trust Fund grant program.

According to a release from the Kansas Historical Society: “Listing of this property provides recognition of its historic importance and assures that its significance will be considered in federal project planning.”