The mission of The Englert Theatre is to own, maintain and operate The Englert Theatre as a community arts center and performance space, enhancing the vitality of Iowa City's historic downtown by preserving its last historic theater.
The Englert Theatre will provide diverse programming, educational opportunities and exposure to the performing and visual arts. Our focus is on highlighting the talents of local performers, artists and ensembles as well as hosting regional, national and international touring performances.
The Englert Theatre opened on September 26, 1912. William Englert and his wife Etta built the theater to rival the finest stage and movie houses throughout the Midwest. The theater replaced a livery stable.
Vaudeville touring acts performed at the Englert, where townspeople and students filled its 1,071 seats. In addition to live stage acts, the Englert boasted high quality projection equipment for showing three-reel films. The Englert family lived on the second floor of the theater building and provided rooms for the performers on the third floor. In 1920, William Englert died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his bedroom, now the Englert offices, at only 46 years old.
Following William’s death, Etta enlisted A.H. Blank and his partner Nate Chapman to oversee operation of the Englert, but Nate died in 1925, leaving his wife Dora with 2 small children, Ansel, age 10 (destined to be a local District Court Judge and later involved in the Englert management) and Marvin, age 4. Dora retained a partnership with Blank, and her brother Al Davis became manager of the Englert, a position he held until he retired. A woman ahead of the times, Dora was always involved in the operation of the theater.
In later days Dora’s great-grandchildren Nathan, Katherine and Barbara Chapman, would hear Dora tell the story of witnessing the massive February 13, 1926 fire which nearly destroyed the Englert. Historical accounts place both Dora and Etta at the scene, watching in horror and barking instructions at firemen as the blaze tore through the roof. The fire caused $125,000 in damage to a building that cost $60,000 to build in 1912. Etta Englert and her new husband, James Hanlon, in cooperation with A.H. blank (Central States of Des Moines) and Dora Chapman immediately worked to rebuild the Englert, tapping into the prevailing tastes in the 1920s for revival styles. During this era, large and ornate movie palaces were being built in cities across the United States and Iowa City would not be surpassed.
The new Englert operated for decades as a joint venture. Etta Englert Hanlon and her second husband continued to reside in the building, while Dora Chapman and her brother Al Davis managed the theater in conjunction with of A. H. Blank of Des Moines. Years later, Central States of Des Moines in partnership with the Chapman family operated the theater and supervised its division into two small-screen theater spaces in the 1980s. 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 theater and sell the aging building. It was purchased by a bar owner, who had plans to turn it into a nightclub. 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. They began the “Save the Englert” campaign to raise the funds necessary to renovate the theater to its former grandeur.
Hundreds of local businesses and individuals contributed countless hours and millions of dollars to bring the theater back to life. Their contributions are forever recognized on the large Capital Campaign plaque in our lobby, on the nameplates on the seats around you, and on numerous signs around the building.
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. Today, The Englert Theatre stands as a testament to all who believed in its recreation.
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