Massachusetts Street:

Monuments and Milestones

 

Liberty Hall / Bowersock Opera House

644 Massachusetts Street
Liberty Hall, 1870. KansasMemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply. Read More.
Bowersock Opera House, ~1900. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society. Read More.
The burning Bowersock Opera House, 1911. Read More.
The burning Bowersock Opera House, 1911. Read More.
The burning Bowersock Opera House, 1911. Read More.
The new Bowersock Opera House near completion, 1912. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society. Read More.
The Bowersock Opera House,1920. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society. Read More.
The Bowersock Opera House,1926. Read More.
Paper boys in front of the Bowersock Opera House. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society. Read More.
Lawrence residents in line for "A Walk in the Sun", 1935. Kansas Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Read More.
The Dickinson Theater playing "Tundra", 1937. Kansas Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Read More.
Premiere of "Dark Command", a movie loosely based on Quantrill's Raid, 1940. Read More.
Interior of the Jayhawker Theater, 1940s. Kansas Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries. Read More.
Liberty Hall, 1986. Read More.
Bowersock Opera House, 1910s. Read More.
Liberty Hall, 2011. Read More.

 

 

 

         In 1855, the Herald of Freedom newspaper occupied a very different building at the same address as modern day Liberty Hall. Unfortunately, this building was burned down in the attack on Lawrence by Sheriff Jones in 1856. Later that year, Samuel Pool built a two story building with Liberty Hall located on the top floor. The rest of the building was occupied by Poole's retail butcher shop and pork packing firm. Later, the city's post office replaced the butcher shop. Liberty Hall was first dedicated in 1870 by Reverend Bently, a Baptist minister, who suggested the name because Abraham Lincoln had once called Lawrence the "cradle of liberty".
          Liberty Hall competed with Frazer Hall, the very first live performance theatre in Lawrence (located next to what is now the Eldridge Hotel). While both theatres continually made upgrades, Liberty Hall was the larger of the two.
          In 1882, Liberty Hall was sold to J.D. Bowersock, who demolished it to open the Bowersock Opera House. The opera house, along with the Lawrence Journal on the first floor, was built on the remaining foundation of Liberty Hall. Becoming popular practically overnight, the new opera house became the showplace of Lawrence. The Bowersock Opera House survived a small stage fire in 1896, only to be entirely destroyed in a fire in 1911.
          The building was rebuilt in 1912 with reinforced concrete and deemed "fire proof." One local newspaper stated that the opera house offered a spacious lobby, two retiring rooms for ladies, a smoking room for gentlemen, and velvet carpet lining the aisles of the theater.
"The stage is twice the size of the old opera house and is equipped with all modern electrical effects"
          By the 1920s, motion pictures were gaining popularity and the theatre owners installed equipment to show occasional films in addition to the live performances. In 1923, one year after J.D. Bowersock died, the building was sold and renamed the Dickinson Theater, which mainly showed motion pictures. In 1940, it was renamed the Jayhawker Theater.
          The Jawhawker Theater closed in 1956 and reopened in the 1960s as the Red Dog Inn Night Club. Offering live music, it was a popular hangout for KU students. Over the next two decades, the building changed owners and names several times.
          The building made one final exchange of hands in 1986 when it was purchased, restored, and renamed Liberty Hall by David and Susan Millstein and Rob Fitzgerald. Featuring independent films and live music, Liberty Hall has two stages for live performances and motion pictures. A coffee house and independent movie rental offers Liberty Hall patrons options not offered elsewhere.
          While 3 different buildings have stood on this plot of land, the current structure has endured and remains a vital part of downtown Lawrence.
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