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Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre
The Kenworthy Theater represents an expansion of downtown Moscow’s traditional role as a marketplace to include arts and entertainment. When it opened in 1926, the theater was designed to function as both a silent motion picture house and to accommodate full stage productions.
The building encompasses both a remodel of and addition to the former Crystal Theater, a 40 x 90–foot concrete block building that began operating on the site in 1908. After the Crystal Theater closed, the building was briefly used as a garage and car dealership. In 1926 Milburn Kenworthy acquired the two-part block building with the intent of operating it for both live performance and motion pictures. To emulate national trends in theater design, Kenworthy updated the building’s image by introducing Spanish Colonial Revival design elements to the building’s Main Street elevation, marquee, and interior spaces. In 1928 Kenworthy continued to upgrade the theater by completing a 24 x 90–foot addition, creating a state-of-the-art stage, and expanding the auditorium’s seating capacity to 650 seats. During its early years of operation, the Moroni Players, a traveling Utah-based professional theatrical group, made use of the stage by including the Kenworthy Theater in their regular circuit tours. However, theater-owner Kenworthy banked on national trends that predicted the motion picture industry would overtake live performance in popularity. By catering to the preferences of a growing university student population, Kenworthy capitalized on local market opportunities, enabling the theater to thrive as a motion picture house.
Following World War II, Kenworthy responded to television’s anticipated impact on the motion picture industry by rebranding the theater’s architectural image to keep pace with social change. The 1949 remodel included masking the theater’s Spanish Colonial Revival facade with terra-cotta tile, minimizing window openings, and replacing the marquee. The auditorium’s Spanish Colonial Revival decor was streamlined as well. The renovation mirrored national trends in America’s downtowns to embrace the automobile era and associated aesthetic of an emerging commercial modernism. A gradual, but continuing, decline in patronage led to the Kenworthy family’s decision, in 1999, to donate the theater for community purposes.
The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, a non-profit organization, has owned and operated the building since 2000. Under their stewardship, fundraising campaigns have been used to update the fly space, restore the marquee, improve auditorium seating, and install digital projection, enabling the theater to sustain its versatility as a venue for motion pictures, live performances, and special events. Today, the historic Kenworthy Theater continues to plays a pivotal role in downtown Moscow’s revitalization as a vibrant center for the arts and entertainment.
David, H. Moscow at the Turn of the Century. Moscow, ID: Local History Paper #6, Latah County Historical Society, 1979.
Julin, Suzanne, “Moscow Downtown Historic District,” Latah County, Idaho. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2005. National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, Washington DC.
Julin, Suzanne, and D. Krae “Kenworthy Theater,” Latah County, Idaho. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2001. National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, Washington DC.
Monroe, J. Moscow: Living and Learning on the Palouse. Charleston, SC: The Making of America Series, Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
Otness, L. A Great Good Country: A Guide to Historic Moscow and Latah County, Idaho. Moscow, ID: Local History Paper # 8, Latah County Historical Society, 1983.
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