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Rex Theatre played out its run on N. Main Street

The audience at the Rex Theatre, 111-113 N. Main Street, is pictured on opening night, April 14, 1912. Photo by Tomlinson, Hannibal, Mo. Postcard contributed by Robert Spaun.

Mary Lou Montgomery

Three men with roots to Kankakee, Ill., came to Hannibal, Mo., in the later half of 1911, in order to transform a double building, previously housing a candy store and a shooting gallery, into the 640-seat Rex Theatre at 111-113 N. Main St.

The proprietors, Edward Taron and Hector B. Valade, were respected contractors in Kankakee, and set out to give Hannibal a fine theater with emerging technology and optimal viewership.

They were accompanied to Hannibal by John B. Reilly, an actor and talented singer from Chicago, who was a young husband to Rena Magruder of Kankakee. Reilly would assume the management of the new theater.

In transforming the building during a three-month construction period, Taron and Valade apparently removed the wall and stairs between the two storefronts, added an addition to the rear of the building - toward the alley - and created the theater space. They installed the floor “with a four foot fall,” so that movie viewers could have an unobstructed view of the screen. The roof was built self-supporting, so that there were no support posts to impede the view.

The construction allowed for 500 seats on the main floor, and additional 140 seats in the balcony, reserved for Negros, who at that time were not allowed to sit on the first floor.

The theater regularly advertised Vaudeville, the “World’s best Motion Pictures,” and “Home of the Marvelous Mirror Scene” in the Ralls County Record, from April 19 to Dec. 6, 1912.

The same newspaper, on April 12, 1912, carried a notice that Edwin Dukefield would be the singer for the Rex Theatre. "He is a warbler for true, and sings like a bird. Hear him.” In October that same year, Dukefield was billed as a comedian and entertainer for the opening of the Princess Theatre in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In December 1913, Dukefield, “the Chicago Baritone”, was billed at the Lowell Theatre in Bisbee, Ariz.

A now familiar photo of the audience was taken by Tomlinson on opening night, April 14, 1912. The original photo, shared by Steve Chou, is posted on the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.


A motiograph projecting machine was installed in the new theater. It was promoted in a clipping from a Hannibal newspaper April 3,1912, as “the finest machine of its kind on the market today.”

The projector was made by the Enterprise Optical Manufacturing Company, established by Alvah C. Roebuck in 1896.

The 1912 model was advertised as available motorized or with a hand crank.

Fire safety

Ventilation was a consideration of the era prior to air conditioning. Suction fans were used at the rear exits and a large skylight was added in order to aid in properly ventilating the room.

Exits were built at both the front and rear, in direct line with the two aisles.

The 1912 model motiograph was installed in a room considered to be fireproof. A clipping from a March 29, 1912 edition of a Hannibal newspaper reported that the operating booth was built with two thicknesses of four-inch asbestos and with sixteen inch irons. “Patent trap doors to this room are also used as an insurance against danger from fire.”

At that time, nitrate film was used for motion pictures, and nitrate film stock is combustible.

For this and other reasons, danger was heavy on the minds of theater goers.

Just nine years prior to the opening of the Rex Theatre in Hannibal, Chicago suffered a devastating loss with the fire at the Iroquois Theater on Dec. 30, 1903, in which 575 people died on the day of the fire. (Wikipedia)

Plans to stay

In 1912, the three men told of plans to make Hannibal their permanent home, but circumstances changed those plans. By the time the 1913 Sanborn fire prevention map was drawn, the former theater building had been transformed into Hannibal’s downtown Kresge’s 5 and 10-cent store. In 1914, the store, located at 111-113 N. Main, was managed by Raymond B. Serfass. He and his wife, Mazie, were living upstairs.

Lakenan Building

The building, located as it is a few blocks west of the banks of the Mississippi River, was located within the town’s early business district. Estimated by Elsey Hamilton, in the National Register of Historic Places Inventory nomination form, to have been constructed circa 1866, the three-story structure is historically known as the Lakenan Building.

In 1879, R.F. Lakenan, attorney and counsellor at law, had his office at 121 N. Main, upstairs, Hannibal. In 1855, R.F. Lakenan was a councilman for Hannibal’s Second Ward.

Prior businesses

Immediately prior to the opening of the theater, John Spanople operated the candy manfacturary at 111 N. Main, and William J. Butler managed the shooting gallery at 113 N. Main.

Working for John Spanople at 111 N. Main were George Argiropoulis, Louis Spanople and Theodore Troupis. They all lived upstairs in 1911. These names do not reappear in the 1912 city directory, suggesting they all moved away from Hannibal.

Other theaters

Theaters in Hannibal in 1912:

Gem Theatre, 1204 Broadway

Majestic Theatre 217 Broadway

Park theatre 119-123 N. Main

Rex Theatre, 111-113 N. Main

Star theater 213-215-217 S. Main

Motiograph operators

A.L. Kimball, a motiograph operator, purchased the Star Theatre in Mexico, Mo., in March 1911.

J.E. Johnson was a motiograph operator in Mexico, Mo., in February 1911.


Prior to his death, Harold Hardin Haines (1904-2002) told the Courier-Post that he remembered attending the Rex Theater in 1912, and watching a film on the sinking of the Titanic.

The 1913 model Motiograph was advertised in the Moving Picture World, a film industry trade magazine, in July-September 1912. the 1912 version was available in a motorized model, or operated by hand crank.

Robert Spaun took this photo of 111-113 N. Main St., on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. In 1912 this building housed the Rex Theatre.

The 1906 Hannibal Sanborn fire prevention map shows 111-113 N. Main, before the building had been expanded to the west to accommodate seating for the Rex Theatre in 1912. MU Digital Library.

The 1913 Hannibal Sanborn fire prevention map shows 111-113 N. Main, after the building had been expanded to the west to accommodate seating for the Rex Theatre in 1912. MU Digital Library.

After serving as proprietor of the short-lived Rex Theatre in Hannibal, German-born Edward J. Taron (1872-1967) returned to Kankakee, Ill., where he worked as a contractor and builder. In 1900, he was a brick tuck pointer working in Peoria, Ill. He is buried at Kankakee Memorial Gardens. This advertisement was found in the 1929 Kankakee city directory, via

This photo of J.B. Reilly was posted on by member joanreilly92. Permission to republish has been requested. In 1917 Reilly was a moving picture operator, self-employed, living in Kankakee. At the time he was married and had two children.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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