The Gillioz Theater continues to make memories for people in the Ozarks

The Gillioz Theater in Springfield, Mo., captures both the beauty of the arts and the reward of perseverance. 

In 1926, M.E. Gillioz, a bridge builder from Monett, Mo., opened a theater in the hub of Springfield. Despite entering a street already filled with other businesses, Gillioz insisted the front doors of his theater open onto Route 66, which was commissioned exactly one month after the theater opened.

Today, those front doors are still there, although the hustle and bustle of the original Route 66 has faded away. The theater now opens onto Park Central East Street. What cost Gillioz a 100-year lease to have that spot continues to greet people as generation after generation seeks to enjoy the arts.

Entering the front doors, what was once a laundromat before the transformation in 1926 opens to a 16-feet-wide, 70-feet-long foyer. Spanish Moroccan detailing is etched into the interior design that embodies the theater.

Geoff Steele, executive director of the Historic Gillioz Center for Arts & Entertainment, said the theater’s opening night premier gave guests the chance to watch a Major League Baseball game on the big screen. Back then, no one cared that it was a game from the day before. 

Geoff said the Gillioz started out as a Transition House, meaning some productions were part of vaudeville and some were silent films. When talking movies emerged, the theater became a straight movie house and operated as such from the mid-1930s until it closed in 1980. 

The theater’s closing was a result of the onset of shopping centers and malls springing up in cities all across America in the 1970s, Geoff said. People started to vacate downtown and headed for the suburban sprawl. 

It wasn’t until 2006, 26 years later, that the theater came to life again with the generosity of private citizens who saw a need to bring the arts back into a space that had brought joy to so many generations before. Geoff said it took roughly $12 million to bring the theater back to what it originally was. Today, it looks almost identical to how it looked in the early days. The seats are the same ones from the 1930s, recovered to fit modern comfort. 

At full capacity, the Gillioz seats 1,015 people – much bigger than an average movie theater. It’s the uniqueness of the theater that captivates people.

“The people who come here understand that it’s not just about what you see; it’s about where you see it,” Geoff said. “The whole experience of coming in, going where generations have gone, having the room be part of the conversation – that tends to differentiate us.”

Today, the theater has gone back to its roots and is considered a Transition House once again, showing mainly live entertainment and integrating some films.

Steels said there are currently only 300 to 320 theaters of this type in America. Of these, some are committed to straight film, setting the Gillioz even more apart from competitors. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting even the entertainment industry, Geoff said the theater has had to put a hold on productions. He hoped in February to resume showing films with reduced occupancy on Friday nights. 

Steele said the theater shows repertory films, like the classics. For example, every Black Friday, “Christmas Vacation” is featured and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is played every October.

As for live productions, the Gillioz features radically different shows. Names like Vince Gill and Dave Chappelle have passed through the theater. 

Smaller, current acts have taken the spotlight as well. Geoff said he’s even featured podcast shows, such as “Tiny Meat Gang.”

The historic nature of the theater is brought out by the influential people who have walked through its doors. Geoff said Ronald Reagan premiered two films at the Gillioz in 1952: “She’s Working Her Way Through College” and “The Winning Team.” The latter show was particularly special as Reagan himself showed up to watch the premier. 

Geoff said the people make each moment the beautiful experience that it is. 

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We’re full of first dates and the last time they went and saw something with their grandparents or their parents. We create those memories.” 

For years, the Gillioz theater has seen people walk out of its doors reveling in a shared experience with someone they care about, Geoff said. The arts bring people together.

“The art unifies them,” Geoff said. “So, they may be on opposite lines any other day of the year, but they’ll be sitting next to each other, and they’re okay with that.”

Geoff is excited for the day when all 1,015 seats can be filled again. 

The theater turned this year, and as the pandemic has kept interaction limited for almost a year now, the theater’s 100th birthday is looking to be a beautiful reunion.

“It’s going to be really, really special, and I’m kind of living for that day,” Steele said. 

Every show at the Gillioz theater will leave viewers feeling like they stepped back in time, and the experience creates memories that will last a lifetime. 

Geoff said he takes the time of guests, staff and essential volunteers very seriously.

“I’m in the business of creating memories for people,” he said.

http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TheatreEntrance-1024x771.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TheatreEntrance-150x150.jpgMacie ThornhillOzarks Roots1926,Gillioz Theater,Missouri,springfieldThe Gillioz Theater continues to make memories for people in the Ozarks The Gillioz Theater in Springfield, Mo., captures both the beauty of the arts and the reward of perseverance.  In 1926, M.E. Gillioz, a bridge builder from Monett, Mo., opened a theater in the hub of Springfield. Despite entering a...The Ozarks' most read farm newspaper, reaching more than 58,000 readers in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma