Folly Theater Fundraising for Ambitious Improvement Plan and Endowment

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The Folly Theater was one of the city's first major buildings illuminated by electricity. it opened in 1900 as the Standard and was designed by renowned architect Louis Curtiss.

By Kevin Collison

The historic Folly Theater, a downtown cultural jewel for 118 years, is in the middle of its most ambitious fundraising and improvement program since it was spared the wrecking ball in 1981.

“We knew we needed to grow,” said Gale Tallis, executive director. “There was a beautiful renovation in 1981, but things are in desperate needed to be replaced.

“Our HVAC (heating and cooling) system is 38 years old. It’s at a point where it needs to be changed for the comfort of patrons.”

A rendering of the revamped Shareholders Room showing a new window opening to the south. (Helix Architecture + Design)

The most visible improvements envisioned as part of the Folly 2020 campaign are upgrading and refurbishing the lobby and second-floor Shareholders Room at an estimated cost of $1.56 million.

Helix Architecture + Design has come up with a plan that includes flipping the bar to the other side of the lobby, relocating restrooms to the back, repositioning staircases leading to the Shareholders Room and installing an elevator to the second floor.

Brian Williams, Folly development director, and Gale Tallis, executive director.

The Shareholder Room will be upgraded with new furniture and a more attractive environment including installing a window on its south side that will open to views of Bartle Hall and Barney Allis Plaza.

The Folly hopes it will make the space more appealing for lectures and receptions.

“We want to create a cool, club-type atmosphere,” Tallis said.

The current fundraising drive began in 2015. It’s first goal was to beef up the endowment from $75,000 to $1 million and create what’s called the Folly Forever Fund.

The endowment is intended to continue the legacy of a lively Kansas City entertainment landmark with a history that includes audiences laughing at the Marx Brothers and the debut of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee.

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

C. Stephen Metzler (Image courtesy Folly Theater)

That initial $1 million endowment goal was reached last summer, and as a result, the 1,100-seat theater followed through on a promise to rename the performance hall the “C. Stephen Metzler Hall at the Folly Theater” in honor of one of its most prominent patrons.

Metzler, who died in 2015, was a tireless advocate for restoring and running the Folly, along with other community leaders.

“I’m not sure the Folly would have been here without Steve and many other civic leaders,” Tallis said.

The other part of the Folly 2020 plan was to raise money to meet capital needs, including the new heating and cooling system.

The capital campaign began in December 2016 and its first goal, raising the $830,000 needed for the new HVAC system, has been reached. The theater plans to close this July and August to install the HVAC system.

If the full cost of the lobby and Shareholder Room projects can be raised in time, the Folly would like to do that work at the same time the theater is closed for the HVAC job.

The long-range goal for the theater is to enlarge its endowment to $5 million. Other planned capital improvements include installing new seats in the auditorium and upgrading its sound system.

“We want to create a better Folly experience,” Tallis said.

The Folly’s performance hall was renamed the “C. Stephen Metzler Hall at Folly Theater” last September.

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