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Reviving Rapids Theatre

ana anthony/ daily globe The auditorium of Rapids Theatre as shown, is still a work in progress.

ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa -- Rapids Theatre will open its doors again thanks to a group of local residents who've banded together to revive the historical building on First Avenue.

Jackie Telford, a board member of the Rapids Theatre Preservation Society Inc., said that the group came together in June this year but conversation of bringing the theatre started almost two years ago.

Dating back to January of 1919 as a movie house and a vaudeville stage, Rapids Theatre was a popular spot for the younger generation then.

"In high school, that's where you went on a date," Telford said about the theater she frequently visited as a child and as a young adult. "We didn't have TVs."

"There was nothing to do but go to the movies because that was the entertainment then," said Dorothy McCormack., another member of the preservation society.

The price of movie tickets in the '30s ranged from $0.15 to $0.25, the ladies recalled.

"There was a special for two movies for $0.25 on Tuesdays," Telford added.

When the movie house ceased operations in the mid-80s, it was replaced by furniture store and after that -- three restaurants.

"When the third restaurant closed, I asked Jackie 'What do you think will happen to the theater?,'" said Mike Dengler who met Telford during a community theater rehearsal.

He explained while he and Telford discussed with several community members about the potential the building had, they could not move forward with plans.

"We learned that the state had some leans against it, a local bank had holdings on it and someone else did the taxes," said Dengler, who is also the vice president of the preservation society. "We knew then that it would be a longer road. It was when the state and the bank released their holdings we could acquire the building this year."

A financial gift from a local benefactor helped not only with the acquisition of the theater, but took care of the major defect in the building -- a broken roof.

"We couldn't raise funds using the building, unless we had a roof," Dengler said.

Since the group gained ownership of the property, they've been working with the help of volunteers to restore the theater to its original condition before proceeding to the remodeling phase.

"We've had two engineers walk through and tell us it's structurally sound," added Norma Jansma, a fellow member of the preservation society.

They envision the theater to be a "cultural cornerstone," which can be used as a venue for local and travelling theater acts, as well as rented space for a various occasions.

"We'd like to see a coffee shop in the lobby area," Dengler said.

In its current state, Rapids Theatre has more to the interior than a platform for a stage. The second floor has a two-bedroom apartment where the family who managed the theater lived. A sizeable ballroom takes up the third floor.

"A lot of people know about the ballroom but have never seen it," Dengler said. "We want to remodel the building to combine the historic elements of the property with our vision of how to best utilize it."

The group is hopeful the first phase of the remodeling project will be completed by next fall, in time to accommodate community theatre's dinner theatre production.