A small fire started in the State Theater in Washington, Iowa, around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 17, 2010. The fire was reported when smoke and flames were seen coming from the second floor; the quick call and close proximity of the town’s volunteer fire department helped keep damages to a minimum. Repairs were made in the winter months, with a grand re-opening held April 30, 2011. Funds are being raised to restore the theater’s exterior to its original design. One of the longest continually-operating movie houses in the state, the State Theater opened as an opera house in 1893.
The Capitol Theater debuted in the Jasper County seat of Newton on April 30, 1927 with 995 seats between the main floor and balcony. This number has decreased over the years, including when changes made to show films with sound in 1929, the installation of air-conditioning in 1937, and a new screen for widescreen shows in 1952. In March 1953, the Capitol was equipped to show 3-D movies, but the phenomenon was short-lived and only a few features were shown in 3-D.
In the spring of 1988, an announcement was made that the theater was converted into two separate screening rooms, allowing for a larger number of first-run films to be shown each week. The trend was common nationwide, and construction was completed by the end of the year.
At one time, Iowa was home to more than 50 drive-in movie theaters among over 4,000 operating nationwide. While most drive-in screens in the state have been shuttered and torn down in favor of farmland or retail development, there are a handful of survivors, including the 61-year-old 61 Drive-In Theatre, located just south of Maquoketa in northeast Iowa. Named after the adjacent U.S. Highway, movies are shown Friday and Saturday nights through Memorial Day weekend, then nightly through the warm summer months.
Each showing is a double feature, with two films from the same studio played back to back. Doors open in the early evening, with ticket costs running at $7.50 for adults and $3.50 for children ages 5-12, while children 4 years and younger are free. On the weekend, it’s especially important to arrive early to get your car a good spot; if the movie showing is expected to be extremely popular, it’s recommended to bring along a blanket and portable radio — so if the lot is full, you can leave your car outside and still enjoy the film.
While shows don’t begin until the sun goes down, there are plenty of opportunities for entertainment while at the theatre; a large children’s play area features a dozen swings, while a kiddie train parades around the concessions. Take a cooler and picnic goods to enjoy while waiting for the film, or purchase snacks from the reasonably-priced on-site concession stand. Drive-In 61 in Maquoketa is extremely well-run, making for a worthy road-trip for families and friends looking for a unique and fun evening of entertainment.
When the Turner Opera House in downtown Elkader was destroyed by fire in 1902, the community banded together and within four days raised $10,000 for the construction of a new opera house. A new facility was constructed less than a year after the fire, and the Elkader Opera House opened its doors with the performance of the George M. Cohen musical The Governor’s Son on November 26, 1903. After serving as a community room, dance hall, roller rink, library and more, the century-old building has undergone a significant renovation to restore the theater to its original state.
Interior features include a horseshoe balcony, unique ruby glass chandelier and a stage curtain advertising local businesses from Elkader’s history. The opera house continues to be used today; a schedule of events, including performances from well-known groups and local community players, can be found on the Elkader Opera House website.
The 600-seat brick Wieting Theatre in Toledo opened its doors September 12, 1912, with a capacity crowd for the Sheehan English Opera Company’s presentation of “Il Travatore.” As with many theatres across the country, focus shifted to movies and by the late 1950s, with the advent of television, the Wieting Theatre cut back to a part-time schedule. By 1958, the doors had temporarily closed.
Two years later, a group a concerned Toledo residents organized the Toledo Community Theatre Guild and took over operations of the historic facility. A reopening ceremony was held in September 1960, and in the spring of 1961, the first live production was presented by the Cornell College Players.
The Wieting Theatre is currently undergoing a substantial renovation project; a grand reopening is planned for January 2012, with new restrooms, new seats, new electrical systems, new heating and cooling, and a state-of-the-art digital sound and digital 3D projection systems.