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Restoring the Dunbar Theatre focus of this weekend’s festival

The Dunbar Theatre, 1007 N. Cleveland, was built in 1941 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Dunbar Theatre, 1007 N. Cleveland, was built in 1941 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wichita Eagle

The Dunbar Theatre was once considered a crown jewel in Wichita’s African-American community, particularly when it hosted acts such as musician Duke Ellington in the 1940s.

But the building, built in 1941 at 1007 N. Cleveland and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been slow in making a comeback.

On Saturday, the Power Community Development Corporation is hosting a festival at the stage area of McAdams Park at 1329 E. 13th St. to raise awareness about the theater and raise funds for its restoration.

The festival is from noon to 7 p.m. at McAdams Park.

“We want to make the community aware of some of the talent we do have and so we can grow this town,” said James Arbertha, executive director of the Power CDC, the organization that has owned the Dunbar since 2007.

According to a news release about the festival, “The Dunbar Theatre would fill an unmet niche in the community for a performing arts venue with approximately 214 seats and would also provide the surrounding neighborhoods a much needed location to host meetings and receptions.”

Built during the days of segregation, it was the only theater in Wichita that catered to African-Americans and one of the few theaters where minorities could sit anywhere they chose. In other theaters, minorities were restricted to the balconies.

The Dunbar closed during the 1960s and quickly fell into disrepair. At one time, it was placed on the city’s condemnation list.

According to the Power CDC website, a feasibility study earlier this year indicated that the theater could be reopened for about $1.5 million.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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