The Dunbar Theatre is one of Wichita’s oldest pastimes in the city. The building, built in 1941 was the only theater African Americans could go to until 1963.
Recently, efforts have been pushed to renovate and restore the building.
“It was a theatre in a bustling community. This was the hub of the African American community in those days, the 40s and the 50s,” Lavonta Williams, former City Council member and member of the historic Dunbar Theatre advisory board.
Williams has been a part of restoring the Dunbar Theatre for years. She even recalls her time spent there as a child.
“I’m one of those, my mother would drop us off here every Saturday. It cost about 25 cents to 50 cents to get in. We would stay here most of the day watching movie after movie,” Williams said.
In recent years, it’s been in need of renovations.
“The Dunbar Theatre is a physical building that sits in an under-served neighborhood and it’s got a ton of history behind it and it’s a beautiful space on the exterior,” Andrew Gough, owner of Reverie Coffeehouse said. “It just needs to be brought to life on the inside and for that to happen, they need donations.”
On Friday and Saturday, in honor of Juneteenth, Reverie Coffee Roasters donated a certain percentage of sales to the ‘Friends of the Historic Dunbar Theatre’ group.
“I am so appreciative that others notice an area that we’re working so hard to bring back,” Williams said.
The coffee shop raised about $400 for the theatre, according to Gough. But he’s unsure of how many people donated directly to the cause as well.
“So we’d love to see that space be up and running and really serve as kind of the center of a redeveloping community,” Gough said.
The building hasn’t been used in years and is now owned by Power Community Development Corporation, which is headed by James Arbertha. Both Williams and Arbertha said they would love to see this building restored into a successful fine arts theatre.
“Right now it’s just an empty shell. It will be a performing arts theatre. We have much, much talent right here in this community,” Arbertha said.
Williams said it’s very difficult to find construction money to help rebuild this former hub for area youth.