167 Years of Movies, Music, and Magic: A Brief History of Liberty Hall

While sitting in Liberty Hall’s historic theatre waiting to see a showing of “The Princess Bride”, I felt myself ensorcelled in the living history of the venue. Beautiful marble staircases and stunning murals decorating the walls of the main theatre make the movie experience feel even richer. Walking into the space feels as though you’ve time traveled back to a bygone era. The choice to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a screening of the eternal classic, “The Princess Bride” was one this author will be sure to repeat.


The history of Liberty Hall dates back to the Bleeding Kansas years as the building was originally home to an abolitionist newspaper, The Herald of Freedom. Unfortunately, the newspaper was burnt down by a pro-slavery mob during the Sack of Lawrence in 1856. Thankfully, in the 1880s, the space was rebuilt into a gathering place for town meetings and political debates. Oscar Wilde spoke at the hall in its first year of operation.


In 1882, Lawrence politician and businessman J.D. Bowersock bought the building and converted it into an opera house, later adding its signature beaux arts style architecture after yet another fire burnt the building to the ground. Bowersock developed the space into a movie theatre, showing their first sound film in 1927. In the 60s and 70s, the space was converted into nightclubs and music venues by various owners.


Liberty Hall Cinema returned in 1986 and has continued to operate since. The venue hosts concerts, speeches, movies and has a video store that has outlived both Blockbuster and Family Video. Liberty Hall has retained much of its original architecture and decor from the 1920s, including the original opera house balcony. I’ve seen many a movie and music concert in the space, and the ambience cannot be beat.


“There’s truly something special about getting to view a film in a big old operahouse with other people to share it with,” Marketing Director Kalie McAlexander said. Additionally, McAlexander said that the theatre has been operating with a skeleton crew of movie enthusiasts since the pandemic, and their goal is “working on resurrecting local cinema in Lawrence and getting the community involved again.”


Outside of events and movie showings, Liberty Hall offers their smaller theatre as a rental for private screenings, a great option for a unique event to share with friends. More information about Liberty Hall, including its cinema and live events calendars, can be found at https://www.libertyhall.net/.