Wausa Community Theater
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Previous Names: Empress Theatre
Tiny Wausa, Nebraska was served by its Wausa Opera House which experimented with early silent films with success until the Opera House was regularly playing films from 1914 into 1916. Henry J. and Mary Gropper started the Empress Theatre as a result of the Opera House’s success with movies in 1916.
The Empress Theatre had huge crowds on September 28/9, 1917 with “Birth of a Nation”. The theatre made front page news when it installed Vitaphone for sound films beginning talkies service on November 8, 1929 with “The College Coquette”. Mary Gropper ran the theatre until her death in 1954. It was sold to John McQuistan.
The McQuistans closed the theatre briefly to install widescreen projection and stereo sound to present CionemaScope films beginning at its grand reopening on October 28, 1954.
But television was challenging moviegoing and the theatre was taken over by the business community which banded together to save the venue. It was renamed the Wausa Community Theater in 1955. The theatre would find independent operators to run the venue in Russell Swanson who both sold the theatre to R.W. Smith in the 1960’s but then bought it back and ran it to its closure.
The Wausa Community Theater appears to have gone out of business following the July 5, 1964 screening of Joan Crawford’s “Straight Jacket”. A 48-year run for a 200-seat theatre in a town of around 700 people during that run is quite impressive.
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