Grand Theatre

316 W. 3rd Street,
Grand Island, NE 68801

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The Grand Today

Opened May 5, 1937, built with stadium style seating (an uncommon luxury for the time), the Grand Theatre had a reputation, at least in the 1980’s, of being absolutely immaculate, even including such non-public areas as the theatre’s basement and boiler room. The man who kept it that way was supposedly named Wally Kemp. The Grand Theatre was closed in 1986 and it was thought that would be the end of its life.

It was rescued by a community group of volunteers, who over the years have restored the building back to its original splendour, especialy in their restoration of the splendid Art Deco style facade which had been rendered over.

Contributed by Mike Geater

Recent comments (view all 31 comments)

rajojon on January 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Garrett Coble is a sophomore at Grand Island Central Catholic.He is a volunteer at the GRAND THEATRE. He wrote the following article for the Grand Island Independent.
Movie ‘Grand’
By Garrett Coble
Published: Monday January 12, 2009

Do you see that? Do you see that off in the distance? Is that a moon? That’s no moon, that’s a space station! Wait, no, that’s a movie theater! You may have guessed that it was a theater from the Star Wars reference, but just as “Star Wars” wasn’t “just some movie,” this theater isn’t “just some movie theater.” This particular theater is the Grand, one of the historic venues of our town. Today we’ll speed back through time to look at this movie colossus with the help of some memorable movies, so strap in in case of turbulence. Just a precaution, but did you really expect more from the Grand or this DeLorean?

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die! â€" from “Goldfinger”

Safe to say, this is one theater that beats the expectations. After witnessing everything from a world war to social reform, did you really expect this staple of Grand Island to go silently into the night? Absolutely not. Rather, over time the “little” Grand expanded to take its current shape. Originally the theater was sandwiched between two storefronts, eventually commandeering them in the late 1930s to make room for new restrooms and an all-important concession stand. “How could a theater survive without the staple snacks of a concession stand,” you ask? Nightly skits involving the crew of this movie house more than made up for said lack of treats, though a small pop machine did eventually make a debut. This debut came to the applause of many, an applause which has yet to abandon the Grand.

While this is far from an “Amityville Horror,” more than a few happy customers seem to have returned to their favorite theater from beyond the grave. From voices to white figures, these benevolent spirits paint the Grand for what it is: a historic and wondrous site. Yes, when you come to enjoy the movies, there’s always someone to watch over both you and your film. But facing steep competition, how much longer could this history last?

Momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ â€" from “Forrest Gump”

Indeed, very few people knew what the fate of the Grand would be when it was scheduled to close its wondrous doors. Luckily a small group of businesses, now known as the Grand Foundation, came to the aid of this ailing giant. But did they know what they were going to get, or did the Grand know what it was going to get? No, but the foundation found itself a worthy cause, and the Grand found itself a wacky crew to work its doors. These volunteers pour their time, soul and occasionally their sanity (as is occasionally evident) into a fine establishment worthy of more than a “Closed” sign and some plywood. This does not do justice to the time commitment put in by these proud people. After all, they’re truly bringing the past into the future! All of that and no salary? Surely there is something amiss in this big-screen worthy storyline, some evil villain to dash these people’s good intentions.

You want answers?

I want the truth!

You can’t handle the truth! â€" from “A Few Good Men”

Problem is how few youth know about the Grand. That is the fly in the ointment, as stated so well in the movie “A Few Good Men,” courtesy Col. Nathan Jessup.

Men, we live in a world with movie theaters and those theaters must depend on someone for survival. Who’s going to support them? You? You snuff the Grand for newer cinemas because we have that luxury! You have the luxury of feigning ignorance to the Grand’s existence. You don’t want the truth, because deep down inside in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want this theater to stick around. You need it to stick around!

Amazing how well that fit in!

Well, that’s a wrap. Today we’ve gone toe to toe with some of the finest films in history while taking a peek at this classic piece of our town. Remember well what you’ve learned on our trip, and stop by the Grand for a screening. There is definitely history here, history to be treasured for years to come

Here’s to looking at you, Grand.

Garrett Coble is a sophomore at Grand Island Central Catholic.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on August 3, 2010 at 6:58 pm

From 2010 in Grand Island a close up of the Grand Theater Sign and a view of the Grand Theater.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on August 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm

From the 1930s a picture postcard view of the Grand Theater in Grand Island.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 3, 2011 at 3:59 am

The Grand Theatre built in 1936 replaced an earlier house of the same name. Here’s the news from the September 30, 1936, issue of The Film Daily:

“Omaha, Neb. — Western Theater Supply Co., will let contracts for erection of a new Grand theater at Grand Island, Neb., and install equipment. Harry Schiller, Grand’s owner, closes his house Oct. 1. Razing of the 450-seat structure and another store building next door begins immediately to make room for the new 850-seat Grand, which will cost an estimated $85,000.”

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on June 26, 2012 at 10:42 am

Today’s news reveals, what I feel, is ‘true showmanship’ and I hope your patrons fill the house. And P.S… I really like the old facade -it really needs to be restored to it’s art-deco appearance.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 5, 2014 at 6:53 pm

The April 24, 1937, issue of The Film Daily said that Harry Schiller’s new Grand Theatre would open on May 5. The 800-seat house was the first new theater built in Nebraska in two years.

John_Lincoln on May 22, 2015 at 6:24 am

The Historic Grand Theatre is a 487 seat movie house that was opened in the configuration it is today in May of 1937. The Grand is now a fully volunteer run theatre for the community by the community. Take a look.

John_Lincoln on May 22, 2015 at 7:43 am

Also take a look at this clip that was done by Nebraska Stories for NET.

Hosehead_Jones on October 14, 2017 at 5:56 am

We actually received a tour of the renovated theater in September 2017. Happened to run into the prime mover of the effort to save her. The rehab is stunning, to say the least. They had Mohawk weave the carpet to the original designs. The place is nearly perfect in every detail only updated where it was required like ADA restrooms and digital projection.

If you get the chance to go in, do so. The non-profit runs the place with volunteers and shows movies. The interior is perfect. This has to be one of the best old American cinemas left. See if you can, they have a lot to be proud of in the city’s labor of love. If they could use original details and parts, they did. They did not scrimp or cheap out on any aspect of the restoration. Utterly amazing dedication.

ps as told to us, Wally Kemp operated the place. They have restored his basement office to near original right down to the furniture.

Trolleyguy on October 14, 2017 at 7:46 am

Updated website link:

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