It’s been forty-six years since the last reel spun to a stop at the old Aztec Theater on the main drag in Shawnee. You’d never know it from the enthusiasm around the recent reopening. Even before a deal was struck, people were packing meetings to show support for the revival of the long-dormant venue, which shuttered amid the mid-seventies rise of the multiplex. “Really, it’s the heart of the city,” says Jeffrey Calkins, one of the theater’s new owners. “And it’s been that way a long time. A lot of people who live here remember going to the Aztec—it’s one of those things that everybody wanted to be a part of. They wanted it back.”
The new theater has been refurbished in its original art deco style, with the help of Calkins’ expertise in the electrical supply business. The original door, salvaged from a dumpster, has been restored. The original marquee was destroyed, but the new-old one has its own history—it’s from Abilene, and Dwight Eisenhower stood underneath it while announcing his run for president. The old 35mm projectors have been replaced with budget-friendly digital ones, as even with funds kicked in from the city, the project expects to remain in the red for some time. If a projectionist were needed, they’ve got leads, says Calkins: “It probably tells you something about Shawnee that off the top of my head I can think of four people in the area who ran the old projector.”
GO: Jam band Mark Doty and The Cause will perform at the Aztec Theater on February 13. Tickets are $10 and extremely limited. 7 pm. Aztec Theater, 11119 Johnson Drive, Shawnee.