Classic rides grab looks and dollars to restore theater

For four hours Sunday, the streets surrounding the Orpheum Theatre downtown were closed to traffic while nearly 2,000 people stopped to look at 200 classic vehicles.

Music from the 1950s and 1960s blasted from a sound system and people milled around among sparkling, immaculate cars.

It was a moment "where cars are the stars," said Jennifer Wright, marketing assistant for the Orpheum.

There were REOs and Chevrolets, Fords and Cadillacs; vintage convertibles, muscle cars, hot rods and pickup trucks — some representing more than a century of finely tuned engines puttering and humming along Wichita's streets.

It made sense to Mary Eves, president of the Orpheum Performing Arts Center Ltd., for the theater to host the car show at its front doors on 200 N. Broadway.

Proceeds from Sunday's show go toward maintenance and restoration of the theater, built in 1922, Eves said.

Efforts are under way to begin a capital campaign of $8 million to $10 million to restore the theater's interior.

Shows like the one Sunday, Eves said, attract a different demographic group than the theater might normally attract.

"It brings in people who are sometimes unfamiliar with the theater, even though we have an extremely broad offering, from the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' to ballet," Eves said.

Visitors to the car show could tour the theater and see ongoing preservation efforts.

The show attracted people like Wichitan Jack Clutter who brought his 1908 REO, bought in Wichita and shown in the movie "Skylark" featuring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Clutter wore period clothing and fielded comments and questions.

"Is that your first car?" one bystander asked.

"It isn't, but it's my best one," the 79-year-old Clutter shot back.

With each question, Clutter would point out the car's highlights:

It had kerosene head lamps.

Its top running speed is 28 mph.

Clutter said he bought the car from a dying friend whose only request was that it remain in Wichita. He brought it to the show, he said, in part to honor the Orpheum and Wichita.