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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: Bowersock Opera House

December 15th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am highlighting a Lawrence staple: the Bowersock Opera House program collection. Known today as Liberty Hall, the building on the corner of 7th and Massachusetts streets used to be known as the Bowersock Opera House and, later, the Bowersock Theatre. Purchased and renovated in 1882 by Justin DeWitt (J. D.) Bowersock, it was a well-known entertainment destination. Bowersock (1842-1922) moved to Lawrence in 1877 and held multiple jobs, mostly in banks. According to the Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia, he also “built and maintained the dam across the Kansas River, which powered many of the city’s manufacturers.” Spencer Research Library houses a few collections involving J. D. Bowersock, including his business papers.

The Opera House burned down in 1911 due to a fire started by poor electrical wiring. The building was completely rebuilt the following year. It became the Jayhawker Theater in the 1930s, and during the 1960s and 1970s it transformed into a night club and disco. In 1986, the building was renovated and renamed Liberty Hall. Today Liberty Hall continues to show movies and host live events. It also houses a video library and just recently opened a candy shop called Squishingtons.

This image has text against a yellow background and a sketch of the theatre building.
This image has text, primarily advertisements but also a cast list for the play "Robin Hood."
This image has text, primarily a cast list for the play "So This is London."
This image has text against a green background and a black-and-white sketch of the theatre building.
Front covers and pages from selected Bowersock Theatre programs: from top to bottom are 1912, 1922, 1924, and 1924-1925. Bowersock Opera House Collection. Call Number: RH MS P475. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
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