Do you remember the Wirthman Building and the Isis Theater?

The Wirthman Building non the southwest corner of 31st and Troost (now gone) was built as a two-story building in 1917 and later additional floors were added.

The Wirthman Building on the southwest corner of 31st and Troost (now gone) was built as a two-story building in 1917 and later additional floors were added. Photo from 1919 courtesy Kansas City Public Library – Missouri Valley Special Collections.

The site of the former Wirthman Building today.

The site of the former Wirthman Building today.

Many people in Kansas City have memories of an imposing five-story building that once stood at the southwest corner of Troost and 31st Street.

The corner is a vacant lot and a busy bus stop today, but from 1917 to 1997, it was the site of the Wirthman Building which housed a drug store, street-level shops, doctors and dentists and other services, and the much-visited Isis Theater.

A 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the Wirthman Building, with the Isis Theater nestled in behind rows of shops that faced both Troost Avenue and 31st Street.

A 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the Wirthman Building, with the Isis Theater nestled in behind rows of shops that faced both Troost Avenue and 31st Street.

Druggiest and real estate operator Joseph C. Wirthman constructed the building. Wirthman was the son of German immigrants who settled on a farm at 27th and the Paseo after coming the Kansas City in 1885. Wirthman ran a successful drug store at 16th and Troost, served on the city council and became the first president of the South Central Business Association.

But it appears even Wirthman did not anticipate the rapid growth of Troost Avenue as a commercial corridor in the early 1900s. He bought the tract of land and built himself a home on it in 1907, but only 20 years later he tore down the house and erected the commercial Wirthman Building on the site, a busy streetcar corner and an attractive location for businesses moving south.

This 1928 photo is thought to show the lobby of the Isis Theater.

This 1928 photo is thought to show the lobby of the Isis Theater.

The Wirthman Building was designed to be six stories tall, but only the first two floors were built in 1917. A year later, the popular Isis Theater, considered the finest theater outside of downtown, opened its doors.

The Isis welcomed movie goers through its long and elegant lobby.

Walt Disney had his first office in the Wirthman Building and worked with Carl Stalling at the Isis before the two left for Hollywood.

In the 1920s, the Wirthman Building also housed the Isis Cafeteria in the basement, the Loiuse W. Winter Millinery Shop, Mary Lane Dry Goods, Humfeld-Orear Floral Company, Dinty Moore’s Restaurant, the Baldwin Piano Company, and the Monkey Steam Dye Works.

wirthman 1940

Wirthman expanded the building, adding floors to the top in 1922.

The Isis remained a popular theater, showing first-run movies until 1968. By the end of the 60s, however, newspaper headlines about the corner of 31st and Troost most often focused on crime and even rioting, and the theater closed in 1970.

The Wirthman Building was razed in 1997.

Do you have memories or more details about this corner? Please share them with our readers.

Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.

 Our new book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. Order the book 

Historic photos courtesy Kansas City Public Library – Missouri Valley Special Collections.

6 Comments

  1. Terry Pickett says:

    Wirthman Building

    Going to the ISIS movie theatre was a big deal! We lived at 39th and Forest and the walk to 31st & Troost was alive with its own jewels and sights. But that lobby at the ISIS made you feel really top drawer.

    While we could only afford the ISIS once every3-6 months, there was another attraction that brought us there. Our family dentist, Dr. Woodburn, had his office in the Wirthman Building. To lessen the apprehension of the semi-annual dentist visit — and the inevitable fillings, early on without novacaine — our Mother would take us to a matinee after the “ordeal,”
    along with one treat (candy, popcorn, ice cream). The ice cream was the devil in that it rarely mixed with a new filling. Ouch!

    If we had lots of time we would pause at the 5&10 stores as we strolled home down Troost to 38th, then down Mannheim & Forest to home. home.

  2. Diane Capps says:

    I think the Isis Theatre is where my parents brought me to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when I was quite young. I remember my mother told me that I cried because I was afraid of the evil queen (?).

  3. Greg Workman says:

    The Isis theater was part of the 5 Fox theaters in KCMO; there was the Isis, Uptown, Apollo, Plaza & one other that eludes me now..but it was ‘downtown’ near the Paramount. I would bum money from strangers, on Troost, walk from 42nd & Harrison & by the time I got to 31st & Troost I had enough for the movie, a small coke & a candy bar of sorts, & had the privilege of walking back to 42nd & Harrison. 3, of dozens of movies I remember most; one was, the first foreign movie I ever saw was; Rodan, that flying, fire belching with a nasty attitude dragon that stomped the crud out of Tokyo. Oh & Godzilla.. Man oh man, their was a line was like a week long, for those, all the way from the ticket booth to TG&Y or Kressie’s .. Entire line had neither a parent nor girl in it & was July, a Saturday & mid day. No one carried a canteen nor was there, emergency services, handing out’ hydration bottles’, just determination to see the movie in side where it was Air Conditioned … ! The other was Blood Alley with John Wayne, I hid there from time it opened till it closed as some as ‘teenagers’ wanted to beat me up cause I would’t give them money… What a time that was. troubles at the movie & troubles when I got home….

  4. Jim Smith says:

    I lived at 3229 Wayne and saw a number of shows at both the ISIS and the Apollo on about 33rd and Troost. I agree with the previous comment about the ISIS lobby. It was especially awsome to a young boy (me). Most notable shows were the “Mole Men” that I saw at the Apollo and of “Rodan” at ISIS. My least favorite was “A Summer Place” at the ISIS but mu older sisters made me go. Geez it seems great now. I guess it was.

  5. Dale Ealey says:

    We lived on East 31st Street Terrace, just a few blocks away. My brother and I used our allowances to go to the Isis often to see John Wayne, or horror movies. Saw so many films there in the early 60’s! That is where my love of film developed.

  6. Jack Smith says:

    Does anyone remember the Isis Pool Hall, or know of any pictures of it? Thank you.

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