The Augusta Theatre was conceived and paid for by D. A. Dave Bisagno and his wife, Aline, who moved to Augusta, Kansas in 1918. Bisagno was a farmer and cattleman who owned much real estate in the community. With the country in the midst of a depression, Dave and Aline spared no expense in giving Augusta a $70,000 movie palace that would become the architectural centerpiece of the community.
Receiving telegrams of support and congratulations from some of the most famous movie stars of all time, such as Louis Mayer, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford, the Theatre opened on June 19, 1935, showing the feature film Black Sheep to a sold-out crowd.
The Augusta Historic Theatre is a two-story art deco, brick, and glass building in the center of downtown Augusta. It was one of the first theatres in the world to use neon illumination entirely throughout the interior. The neon lighting and fixtures were designed and built by the Lite Craft-Neon Company of Joplin, Missouri; the first company to introduce neon theatre illumination and neon decorations for theatre facades.
The exterior of the building is covered with individual tiles of opaque Vitrolite glass. Above the decorative neon marquee, the tiles are pale green with an ornamental design in black and silver. The ornamental design was sandblasted and painted on the exterior of the glass. The glass on the upper section of the building was removed in the 1950s or 1960s and covered with a corrugated metal facade.
The interior walls are covered, throughout, with hand-made ornamental plaster designs in black, silver, salmon, and green. The entire ceiling of the 633-seat auditorium is covered with individual hand-painted fiberboard panels. Elaborately painted murals cover the north and south walls of the theatre. Doors, grills, switch plates, and other details give the Theatre an Egyptian appearance. The Theatre's opulent interior treatments are hallmarks of the movie palaces that were built across America in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1945, new projection and sound equipment was installed in the projection booth and that equipment is still in use today. In 1953, with the advent of 3-D movies, 3-D equipment was installed and the next year, cinema scope and the wide screen came to the Theatre. On November 17, 1985, the last movie was shown under the direction of the Bisagno family. The doors were locked and the curtain came down on an amazing 50 years at the magnificent Augusta Theatre. Four years later, in September 1989, the keys of the Theatre were turned over to the Augusta Arts Council. The Council plans to preserve the building and use it not only as a movie house but also as a community arts center. The Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1999.
Of the estimated 5,000 theatres built in the United States prior to 1940, more than 75 percent have either been demolished or adapted for reuse, to an extent that precludes their future use as theatres. Nationwide, models show solid evidence that a theatre's restoration and active use creates a significant, positive economic impact on the immediate and extended business environment. As the usage of the Theatre continues and grows, the economic benefits increase and thanks to Dave and Aline Bisagno, Augusta, Kansas is the home to this treasure. The Augusta Theatre is truly a travel destination.