Lake Theatre

108 W. 5th Street,
Storm Lake, IA 50588

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 22, 2023 at 6:45 pm

The Empire was one of two Storm Lake theaters mentioned in the September 8, 1917 issue of Motography. The item about the Empire says “J. M. Russell has announced that he will at once commence work on the enlargement of the Empire Theater at Storm Lake and make of it a modern opera house.” This was probably a response to the destruction by fire of the Storm Lake Opera House in 1916.

The Empire is listed in FDYs from 1930, 1934, 1936 and 1939. I haven’t checked other editions from the 1930s, but I suspect it was open through most of the decade. The October 7, 1938 Film Daily had this item about the closing: “IOWA. Storm Lake — Empire (9-27-38), Owner: George R. Norman; Moving to new theater.” The new theater was the Vista. The absence of the Vista from the 1939 FDY and the continued listing of the Empire was probably just sloppy editing.

I haven’t found the exact reopening date of the house as the Lake, but The January 6, 1940 issue of Boxoffice had an item datelined Storm Lake that said “Frank Schoonover is managing the new Lake, opened recently.” The June 21, 1952 Boxoffice noted the recent closing of the Lake Theatre after some forty years, giving a brief history with its previous names World and Empire. The owners of the building had decided not to renew the Pioneer Theatre Corporation’s lease, which had expired on June 1, and converted the building for retail use by the Earl May seed store.

SethG on November 22, 2023 at 11:21 am

Another interesting note from the article: A very young Jack Benny played here on opening night. The theater was apparently not quite complete, which caused difficulties for the acts.

SethG on November 22, 2023 at 10:53 am

This opened Nov. 6, 1911 as the World. Owner and architect was J.M. Russell. Sometime in 1915, it was renamed the Empire. It may have closed in 1929, because the article this information came from says it ‘reopened’ in 1939 as the Lake. It closed in 1952 and became a store.

SethG on November 22, 2023 at 9:28 am

Much older than 1940. Appears on the Dec. 1914 Sanborn. Not on the 1909 map. Wide commercial block in yellow/orange brick. The stage tower is still up, but impossible to see from anything but the satellite view. Looks like the historical address was 108. Seems to be office space for the healthcare place at 112.