By Dawn Erickson
Special events reach a new level of success when they are held in an exceptional location, and Springfield, Missouri’s intricately restored Gillioz Theatre is among the most memorable locations in the state.
The Gillioz is part of Springfield’s rediscovered downtown area, just off Park Central Square. Built in 1926 on historic Route 66, the old theater is again a major attraction as new generations follow the nostalgic road.
Springfield’s old downtown went the way of many central business districts. In the mid-1900s, it was the hub of activity with all the important services, department stores and attractions clustered together. As buildings aged and the town grew, attention turned to more modern facilities closer to new neighborhoods. The end of the 20th century brought renewed interest in the historic downtown area, however, and Springfield’s downtown became a focal point for reinvestment and restoration. The Gillioz Theatre has been brought back to its former glory, with additional features that allow a variety of uses.
$10 million restoration
The old movie house was operated until 1979, when it could no longer compete with the theater complexes that were springing up on the fringes of Springfield. In 1990, the theater and the adjacent Jim D. Morris Arts Building were purchased by the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust. The Trust began a fund-raising and restoration project that would require 16 years and about $10 million to complete.
The Gillioz has been painstakingly restored to serve multiple purposes. Films, musical and theatrical productions, corporate events, weddings and many other special events have been held since its reopening in October 2006.
With décor called Spanish-Moroccan, the Gillioz is “retro-elegant,” according to one patron. The space is surprisingly versatile. The 700-seat main floor slopes gently down to an orchestra pit before the stage. Several rows of seats are removable to provide room for fashion show runways and other options. In the ornate balcony, an additional 400 seats are original to the theater. Downstairs, seats are original to the Gillioz or to the Balboa Theater in San Diego. Membership in the League of Historic Theaters allowed the Trust to find authentic replacements for seats and other architectural needs, says Elise Crain, facility director.
The concession stand is located upstairs, where the upper lobby features a circular balcony overlooking the downstairs lobby. A portable concession stand is sometimes used in the lower lobby, Crain says.
The theater has held weddings, film festivals and special concerts including the 2007 reunion concert of the popular 1970s country-rock band, the Springfield-based Ozark Mountain Daredevils. More than 100 people have been seated on the stage for a corporate dinner, Crain said. Operas and other live theater productions and educational programs are also accommodated comfortably.
Historic setting, new technology
On-site catering, television broadcast capabilities and a state-of-the-art sound system round out the Gillioz as a fully-equipped meeting facility.
The adjoining Morris Building allows additional space for large gatherings. Accessed from the second floor of the theater, the Morris Building’s second floor is called “Wellington Place” and houses banquet space for 300 people or reception space for 800. Catering facilities and offices for the Gillioz staff are also in the Morris Building.
The first and third floors of the Morris Building are also occupied, and the tenants provide an additional source of income for the complex. The first floor houses several businesses, and Ozarks Community Technical College’s fine arts program occupies the third floor.
About 1,000 parking spaces are located within about one block of the facility, and street-level doors are conveniently located to accommodate equipment and other needs.
Groups gathering for meetings and special events in Springfield also have the option of a guided tour of the historic theater, if their schedules won’t accommodate an event at the facility.
More information and arrangements for special events, meetings, conferences and tours at the Gillioz may be arranged by logging on to www.gillioz.org, or by contacting the staff by at (417) 863-7843. E-mail addresses are [email protected] for Facility Director Elise Crain, [email protected] for House Manager Adela Generally, and [email protected] for Business Manager Ryan Rust. MM&E
(Dawn Erickson is a contributor from Branson, Mo.)