Onawa Theatre

128 S. Broadway,
Onawa, IA 51040

Unfavorite No one has favorited this theater yet

Showing 2 comments

50sSNIPES on January 12, 2024 at 9:27 am

Opened on November 20, 1926.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 11, 2024 at 3:54 pm

The Onowa Theatre was opened during the last week of November, 1900 as the IOOF Opera House. The Romanesque Revival style brick building was designed by local builder and contractor W. E. Hodgin. The 600-seat auditorium was the first theater in Onawa to have a proper raked floor, though its stage, despite ample width and depth, lacked a fly tower.
upper floor was occupied by the rooms of the Odd Fellows Lodge.

Disaster struck one month after opening, when a fire caused $6,500 dollars damage to the house on December 24, including the destruction of the theater’s costly chairs. Although repairs were completed and the house soon reopened, the lodge suffered financially from the expense, and actually lost control of the building from 1906 to 1908.

Movies came to Onawa in 1907, and the Opera House acquired a screen and projector to remain competitive with the Royal and Scenic Theaters. Still, live performances remained the principal draw at the Opera House until 1917, when a proper projection booth with two machines was finally installed. During this period the Opera House was operated in conjunction with a movie house called the Majestic Theatre.

After this, movies became the principal attraction at the house, though occasional live performances were presented until 1926 when a second fire destroyed the sate area and brought the era of live theater in Onawa to an end. A new owner, Miriam Frandsen, rebuilt the house as the Onawa Theater, which operated strictly as a movie house. It was the town’s only theater until 1937, when Mrs. Frandsen and her partners opened the new Iowa Theatre. Thereafter, the Onawa operated as the town’s “B” house until closing in 1953, at the dawn of the wide screen era. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

The NRHP registration form for the building (PDF here) gives the construction date of 1900. It should be noted that multiple Wikipedia pages say the house was built in 1907. Given that the NRHP form cites multiple pre-1907 articles about the building from the local newspaper, Wikipedia and the web sites following its lead are certainly wrong.