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Two weekends ago, I needed to visit a place in Oklahoma that I had not visited before. I drew out this unique activity as part of my 63 Curious Things to Do for My 63rd Birthday celebrations. Check out Holiday Flair to see the date I drew this activity.
Because of snow in the forecast, I decided to stay fairly close to Joplin. I live in southwest Missouri in the four state area, with Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas all within miles of Joplin. Looking for places nearby, that I had not visited before, I came upon the Coleman Theatre Beautiful, in Miami, Oklahoma.
A mere 33 miles from Joplin, the location seemed perfect. And I’d never been to the Coleman Theatre although I’ve always wanted to see it. Perfect again. Checking their website, I found that daily tours are available. Even better, a classic Christmas movie that I love was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, December 12. It was a one time showing. Snow or no snow, I committed to going by purchasing a ticket online.
I was going to It’s a Wonderful Life at the Coleman Theatre.
Coleman Theatre History
Located on Route 66, in the northeastern town of Miami, Oklahoma, the Coleman Theatre Beautiful attracts visitors from around the world. George L. Coleman Sr. built the vaudeville theatre, which opened on April 18, 1929. Opening night packed the house with 1,600 people who paid $1.00 each for a ticket.
The theatre features a Spanish Mission Revival style exterior with an elegant Louis XV interior. One can find gargoyles, cherubs, dolphins and faces throughout the facility. And the theatre is home to the “Mighty Wurlitzer” an organ built in 1928 and delivered for installation in February 1929. The Wurlitzer is the only grand organ of its time that still resides in its original home.
The Coleman eventually transitioned from a vaudeville theatre only to a movie theatre too. In its long history, the Coleman’s door have never closed. Movies still play there and performers take the stage. Stars at the Coleman include Will Rogers, Bing Cosby, Jim Thorpe and the magician Harry Blackstone.
The Coleman’s mission is to provide quality arts and educational programming while maintaining and promoting the historical significance of the theatre. Programs range from ballets and operas to jazz and dance bands. Occasionally they show silent movies with the Mighty Wurlitzer providing the music and sound effects.
It’s a Wonderful Life at the Coleman Theatre
It did indeed snow on the Sunday of my road trip, however in my area accumulation was very light. I left home early enough to drive cautiously and arrive well before the movie so I could explore the theatre. Masks were required in the theatre and attendees were required to social distance. With so many seats available, on the ground floor and mezzanine, social distancing was not a problem.
Take a tour of this gorgeous building with me.
As I approach the entrance to the theatre, I pass the Celebrity Park. This pretty little courtyard features benches and a fountain. On the exterior wall of the building is the Wall of Fame.
This area recognizes people with ties to the community who have achieved high levels of professional accomplishment and who have contributed to the community. I didn’t walk into the courtyard although I pause to take a photo. I believe there are pictures on the Wall of Fame and information about each person honored.
Coleman Theatre Lobby
Walking into the lobby, I am immediately struck by the splendor of the Coleman. The plush, dark burgundy carpet, the sparkling glass lights, the dark wood with gold trim all contribute to the elegance of the interior.
Concessions are sold behind a single counter in the front lobby, at a refreshingly reasonable price. Sodas and popcorn are cheap, as are candy bars. A cup of hot apple cider is $2.00. Homemade cookies sell for $1 each. I pick up a cup of hot cider to sip on during the movie.
The interior is beautifully decorated for Christmas in November and December. I chat with the ticket man and pick up my souvenir ticket. There are photos from the theatre’s early days, models of the building and a guest book to sign. As I slowly walk the long hallway off of the lobby I think of the Paris Opera House and Phantom of the Opera. The interior reminds me of that building’s grandeur, on a smaller scale.
The Coleman Theatre Mezzanine
Climbing the stairs to the mezzanine, I look over the railing into the lobby and hallway below. Two entrances lead into the gorgeous theatre room at ground level and two open into the upstairs balcony but I’m not ready to find a seat yet.
There are seating areas on the mezzanine with lamps creating inviting pools of light. I could easily sit with a book and simply enjoy the warm ambiance.
Restrooms for men and women are available on both floors.
The Coleman Balcony
Many people seem inclined to find a seat in the balcony. I climb down to the railing so I can snap photos before the movie starts.
The view from the balcony is indeed magnificent. The stage is grand with its dark burgundy curtains and gold trim. Christmas decorations add a festive feel on stage. These are removed before the movie starts.
That’s the Mighty Wurlitzer on the left. Box seats flank the stage and continue up one interior wall.
Looking up I spy the grand chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Now I’m really thinking of Phantom of the Opera and that Paris Opera House. It’s so beautiful.
The Coleman Theatre Room
As the time for the start of the movie nears, I choose to sit downstairs in the main theatre room.
I find a seat in the center of the room, near the back. People spread out, in family groups and couples and single viewers, leaving plenty of space for social distancing.
I sipped my hot apple cider and talk with the family sitting several rows in front of me. They have not seen It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. Their excitement is contagious. I’ve seen the movie many times however it’s been at least six years since my last viewing.
The lights dim, the movie starts….and yet no sound accompanies the film! Someone behind me jokes that perhaps this classic was a silent movie. It turns out that a new sound system was installed in the theatre a few days before this showing. There’s a minor glitch however a tech person comes to our rescue.
While sound is restored, a friendly and knowledgeable staff person provides history about the Coleman. We even get to hear a couple of songs from the Mighty Wurlitzer and the entire audience sings Christmas carols together. I truly don’t mind the delay.
In a short time It’s a Wonderful Life begins, with sound, and I sit back to enjoy the movie.
I’ll Visit Again
What a moving experience, to watch this heart warming Christmas movie in such a beautiful place. I loved it so much that I’ll return for other movies and performances.
The theatre emits such interesting energy. Yes, it’s supposedly haunted. According to stories, at least three ghosts roam the Coleman: a former projectionist whose bay rum cologne gives away his presence, a whistling spirit in the basement, which once housed a crematorium, and ghosts near the dressing rooms off stage. I did not see or hear anything out of the ordinary. My spider sense only picked up on warm, tingly energy of the good kind. I felt settled and happy in the Coleman, a testament to many years of joyous entertainment and wonderful experiences.
The theatre hosts the Sunny Side Film Festival in March. It’s a competitive event for filmmakers and screenwriters as well as songwriters, musicians, photographers and poets…and their independent films. I look forward to a fun weekend at the Coleman Theatre Beautiful, watching indie films in a lovely setting.
If you live in the four state area, check out the Coleman’s website for upcoming events! I just might see you there.
Watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Amazon. Click photo below.