The Englert Theatre opened in downtown Iowa City on September 26, 1912. William Englert and his wife Etta built the theater during prosperous economic times to rival the finest stage and movie houses throughout the Midwest. The Englert family played a prominent role in re-developing part of downtown, as the theater replaced a livery stable.
Vaudeville touring acts performed at the Englert, where townspeople and students filled its 1071 seats. In addition to live stage acts, the Englert boasted high quality projection equipment for showing three-reel films. Though smaller neighborhood theaters also ran "moving pictures," the Englert Theatre was the place to be for entertainment!
On February 13, 1926, a massive fire nearly destroyed the building, causing $125,000 in damage to a building that cost $60,000 to build in 1912. Despite the devastation to a large section of the downtown area, plans were made to rebuild.
During this era, large and ornate movie palaces were being built in cities across the United States. The middle class population grew rapidly and movie palaces prospered as this demographic began attending theater events. Iowa City would not be surpassed, and the Englert Theatre was rebuilt with a new interior that tapped into the prevailing tastes in the 1920s for revival styles. According to the local paper, the new interior "follows that of an Old English theater of several centuries ago" (Iowa City Press-Citizen Nov. 16, 1926).
The new Englert operated for decades as a joint venture among various managers and operators. In the 1970s and 1980s the Englert interior was modernized with gypsum board, paneling, carpeting, and acoustic ceilings. By 1999 the managers of the Englert finally decided to close the theatre and sell the aging building. Not wanting to see the theater disappear, a group of concerned citizens persuaded the City of Iowa City to purchase the theater and hold it in trust until funds could be raised. For the next 5 years, this group of citizens mobilized to purchase the theater from the City of Iowa City and rebuild the Englert as a community cultural center and renovate the theater to its former grandeur.
Finally, on December 3, 2004, a community's dream became a reality when The Englert Theatre reopened for live performance for the first time in more than 60 years.
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