On October 4, 1977, the Arkansas Theatre screened its final films at 516 South Louisiana. When it closed, it also ended the run of commercial movie theatres in downtown.
The last two films to show there were J. D.’s Revenge (which starred Louis Gossett Jr.) at 5:40pm and 9:00pm, and Coffy (which starred Pam Grier) at 7:20 pm.
The decision to close the theatre was made by United Artists which operated the facility, and had once had its local offices in the building. Since the 1930s, UA (and its predecessors) had been booking films into the building. But as the movie going public started preferring to watch their films in the suburbs, downtown movie houses became a thing of the past.
The building opened on September 20, 1910, as the Kempner Opera House. It was designed by New York architect Henry Beaumont Herts of the architectural firm Herts & Tallant. Originally the facade was in a Sullivanesque style, but this was later altered into an Art Deco style, with stucco and ceramic tile highlights.
Seating over 1300, it was home to plays, operas, musicals, lectures, vaudeville, and community meetings. By the late 1920s, with motion pictures a booming business, it was transformed into a movie house. It reopened as the Arkansas Theatre on September 27, 1929.
The last few years it was open, the Arkansas had featured mainly Blaxploitation films. But by 1977, Hollywood was moving away from those. The area manager for the UA chain told the Arkansas Gazette that the lack of movies in that genre also contributed to the reason to shut it.
United Artists had a lease with the Kempner family that would run through 1997, unless they could find someone else to take the building over. They tried to interest the Arkansas Opera Theatre, but it was not a feasible option for AOT. Eventually, the building was deeded to the University of Arkansas Foundation.
In late 1995, the structure was razed. After 18 years of sitting vacant, the structure had deteriorated beyond repair. Because of alterations to the interior and exterior over the years, it was not eligible for historic preservation designations or funds.
Today it is a parking lot across the street from the Lafayette Building and due south of the Hall-Davidson Building.