Gala at Gem Theatre marks district's cultural renaissance
THE KANSAS CITY STAR
by Laura R. Hockaday, Society Editor
A sellout crowd celebrated the rebirth of the 85 year-old Gem Theatre at a gala opening Saturday night in the 18th & Vine Historic District.
The event, featuring singer Nancy Wilson on stage in the 500-seat theatre, signaled the renaissance of 18th & Vine, a thriving entertainment district in the 1930s and 40s but virtually abandoned since the 1960s.
Excitement flowed as freely as the libations served at a VIP reception before Wilson stepped onto the stage, which stretches 75 feet across and 35 feet deep. Red seats contrasted with navy blue walls, flecked with gold. Velvet stage curtains matched the walls.
Wilson, who had performed at the Gem years ago, said that the facade looked like the old movie house she expected but that she was surprised and impressed by the "modern, state-of-the-art"interior.
Guests included NationsBank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William C. Nelson and his wife, Barbara, and Sprint executive David P. Thomas and his wife, Anne.
couples served as gala co-chairmen. NationsBank has underwritten the Gem's
entire inaugural season, which contiues through April. Sprint was the
main corporate sponsor for the gala.
The Gem's red and gold marquee, standing tough in defiance of decades of decay, was alive again, as was the facade nurtured by dedicated craftsmen such as Timothy Dunn.
He has commuted regularly from St. Louis to replace the dust rose Vitrolite pigmented plate glass that is no longer produced. Dunn had seen some on an old building on 39th Street and talked the owner into parting with at least 50 pieces. Hours before guests arrived, Dunn was lovingly sponging off the glass covering the front of the Gem.