Folly Receives Key $2M Gift from Sunderland Foundation

The Folly Theater opened in 1900 as a burlesque palace and is the oldest entertainment venue in downtown.

The historic Folly Theater is receiving a $2 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation to boost a capital campaign that includes new seating, the second major donation by the Foundation to a downtown cultural institution this month.

“We’re extremely thrilled and thankful to the Sunderland Foundation,” said Kelly Dougherty, Folly marketing manager. “They’ve been involved with the Folly since our beginning in 1981.”

Earlier this month, the Overland Park-based Sunderland Foundation provided a $5 million gift to Union Station to aid it with a wide-range of maintenance and improvements. It was described as the largest, single donation since the station was renovated 20 years ago.

Three years ago, the Foundation donated $75 million to help build the Children’s Research Institute at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The Foundation was created in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland, founder of Ash Grove Cement Co., and continued by his descendants.

The Folly Theater opened at 12th and Central in 1900 as a burlesque and vaudeville theater. It is Kansas City’s oldest and most historic venue, according to a release. The building was rescued from the wrecking ball in the 1970s and reopened in 1981.

The second phase of the capital campaign focuses on new seats and other upgrades to C. Stephen Metzler Hall at the Folly Theater. (Photo from Folly website)

The Folly also is the sole survivor of the rollicking 12th Street scene, a zone of bars and clubs that jazzed up the city’s pre-World War II national reputation.

The Sunderland gift is going toward the second phase of a capital improvement campaign that began several years ago. It was also described by the Folly as its largest, single gift since reopening 40 years ago.

The $2.7 million first phase, which was completed in 2018 and included a new HVAC system, renovation of the common areas, including the first- floor lobbies, restrooms and the Joan Kent Dillion Patron Lounge on the second level.

The $4 million second phase is focused on the C. Stephen Metzler Hall. It includes replacing all seats with wider and more comfortable options, reducing capacity from 1,078 persons to 1,006.

It also will refinish the hardwood floors on the orchestra level; replace carpeting; replace the stage curtain, box seat drapes, and entry curtains to the hall; renovate the mezzanine lobby and restrooms, and renovate the dressing rooms and backstage areas.

Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.