Holstein out to 'Save the State'
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
By DANA LARSEN / Pilot-Tribune Editor
An effort is underway to reopen the classic State Theatre on Main Street in Holstein. The history of The State dates back at least to 1934, when its 300-seat auditorium may have hosted the likes of Mutiny on the Bounty, Cleopatra, Bride of Frankenstein and Anna Karenina that year.
The theater was rebuilt after the end of World War II in a quonset style, with an art deco-streamline facade that was fashionable at the time. It reopened in September of 1948 - perhaps just in time for Bogart and Bacall in Key Largo, Oliver Twist, or the latest Abbott and Costello comedy.
Unused for the past few years, the Holstein Development Authority and a new committee hope to have the landmark renovated and reopened before next Christmas, to be run as a non-profit by community volunteers, showing movies on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is estimated that the project will cost $100,000, which must be raised through donations.
The theatre was reportedly designed by architect Myles Belongia, of the firm Peacock & Belongia in Wisconsin, the well-known pioneer of the quonset movement, which offered gently curving walks and roofs. The idea for quonsets probably came from the barracks used by Seabees in WWII, and in fact, some of the military structures were recycled into theaters.
Belongia designed the prototypes for many quonset theaters around the country in the short time that the partnership was active, the last and most famous being the Airway in Milwaukee in 1949. He is also remembered for designing several churches and a few landmark quonset-style homes.
When the "new" State reopened in Holstein, capacity had increased to 450 seats on a single level. The State was owned by Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Kugel, according to the theater history website Cinema Treasures.
With the rise of television in the early 1960s, many of these theaters saw crowds dwindle, and within a few years closed. They were razed or sold for other purposes. Holstein's theater soldiered on into the modern era, showing its last film about two years ago.
While several hundred quonset theaters were built during their brief era of popularity, according to one source, only six still exist showing movies, and only one that had been closed was saved, restored and reopened - the Three Lakes Art Center in Wisconsin. If the State is reopened, it would be the only quonset theater in operation in Iowa.
The State was purchased by Fred Saunders of Denison about 26 years ago, and had only been used occasionally earlier in this decade. Several former employees who have commented on a Facebook page for the project indicate that they had worked there as recently as 2006.
Saunders had turned down offers to sell the building over the years, wanting it to remain a theater.
When Holstein Development Authority approached him recently with an offer that would see the theater reopened, he responded immediately. A photo of the theater's marquee on a Facebook page established for the project expressed the community's gratitude: "We got it... thanks Fred."
The Facebook page reflects the community's elation.
"Every single person in town should take part in this amazing project. Be proud! Get your hands dirty. Be incredible. It takes everyone," Kelsey Bumsted said on the page.
Records are few on the building. Two brief mentions in Boxoffice magazine in 1948 and '51 said that Kugel had bought the original State in 1934. That site is believed to now be the Masonic Lodge Building. It is not known whether fittings from the original theater were used in the quonset.
"For years, you couldn't go to a city council or development meeting without someone saying, 'When are we going to get that theater back open?'," says Kathy Vollmer, who is co-chairing the restoration effort with Brenda Cronin. The newly-formed theater committee is holding their first meeting this week.
Their $100,000 goal will include the cost of purchasing a digital projector needed to show new release movies. If more could be raised, they could restore the original layout of the auditorium, which included a stage that could host live performances.
The committee's goal is to reopen the theater in December, but at least $50,000 must be raised before the renovations can begin.
Currently, cleanup is getting underway. Some years ago, Saunders had moved the screen forward to cut down the size of the auditorium. Between the new screen and the area where the screen originally stood is dead space where the owner had thrown many of the original classic seats and equipment from about 70 years of operation. A film room and balcony area upstairs are also littered with things, some junk, but some potentially valuable memorabilia. A community cleanup day is being planned.
"Everyone is so excited and eager to help. We started the Facebook page, and in 24 hours it had 150 likes," Vollmer said.
Karla Hollemweguer posted on the project page that she had fond memories of the weekly movies at the theater in the 1950s and '60s. "My dad's store was across the street... Santa at Christmas passing out sacks of candy... the smell of freshly popped popcorn wafting down the street... fun times!"
"I saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon as a first run there. My grandfather ran the projectors and I got to watch it from the booth. His wife, Jo, sold tickets and ran the concession stand. Holstein was such a great place," Joe Webb remembered.
Donations for the project are being accepted by the Holstein Development Authority, P.O. Box 578, Holstein. 51025.