The story of the Burford begins prior to its opening in 1924. J.R. Burford and stockholders decided that Arkansas City needed a theatre of beauty and character. They chose a Spanish Renaissance theme to develop the interior decor of the theatre. They wisely chose to build a second building to house retail businesses and offices to support the expense of the Burford Theatre. The Burford Theatre was opened on September 15, 1924 at 6:00 pm featuring the silent movie, “The Perfect Flapper,” starring Coleen Moore. Over 2,000 people attended the opening that evening in the 1,200 seat theatre.
In the early years, the theatre staff did lots of extras… having a gorilla emerge out of the dark and scare the audience, or placing a crocodile in a cage in the lobby during a “swamp” movie. During vaudeville shows in the early years, Ginger Rogers and the Redheads performed on the Burford stage! There was once an elephant on stage and magicians orchestrated their escapes through the center-stage trap door into the basement. Children flocked to the Burford Theatre… often admitted for free if they brought a can of food for those in need.
There were weddings, celebrations, and of course both silent movies and “talkies.” In early 2004, B & B Theatres donated the Burford Theatre building to the Arkansas City Area Arts Council and a dream for restoring the historic architectural centerpiece of downtown Arkansas City was formed.
It took thirteen years of hard work, but on September 29, 2016 at 2:00 pm, the Burford Theatre was dedicated and the doors were opened. A new generation now gets to enjoy this magical place through movies, music, performances, special evens, weddings, celebrations, and live theatrical performances. Now we can carry on the tradition in the restored 1924 version of the theatre.