Englert Theatre

221 East Washington Street,
Iowa City, IA 52240

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ENGLERT Theatre, Iowa City, Iowa, in 1940.

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The Englert Theatre was rebuilt in 1926 after the original theater, which was constructed in 1912, was destroyed by fire.

After being closed for several years, the Englert is now in the process of being renovated and restored.

Contributed by Paul Salley

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

wkdewey
wkdewey on September 13, 2006 at 10:57 am

It was twinned sometime in the 70s, I think (way before my time). It was a very successful first-run theater even in the ‘90s when I was growing up. I remember lines around the block to buy tickets for Independence Day and Titanic. After a big multiplex in the new Coral Ridge Mall opened in 1998 they didn’t get as many big blockbusters, but they were still fairly successful with such movies as Bowfinger and Being John Malchovich. But in 1999 it was sold to be turned into a bar (as if downtown Iowa City needed more of them). The proposed gutting of such a historic theater raised a big fuss, of course. The city and individual citizens both contributed to buy the theater and renovate it. Something in the contract said it couldn’t be used for showing movies (at least not for a period of time) so it had to be turned into a community theater.

JimJacobsen
JimJacobsen on March 12, 2007 at 7:02 pm

The fire destroyed the Rapp and Rapp original design but the facade survives, architects Vorse, Kraetsch and Kraetsch of Des Moines did the 1926 remodel, however the second interior was pretty much gone when it was restored.

PaulWolter
PaulWolter on April 14, 2007 at 5:20 pm

Can anyone tell me what concrete proof there is that the original 1912 deisgn was by Rapp & Rapp?

Thanks

JimJacobsen
JimJacobsen on July 31, 2007 at 3:07 pm

In response to Paul W. I asked the historian at Iowa State Historic Preservation Office re. proof of the architects-his response was that local newspapers identified the architects (no citation offered of course-but not based on plans). It is certainly possible, they were doing smaller commissions at that time.

I am interested in proving that the Capitol Theatre/Kahl Building in Davenport, Iowa, is the oldest intact large-scale example of R&R’s democratic theatre design, that which became their standard design (no boxes, rounded stage front with side stages).

PaulWolter
PaulWolter on August 5, 2007 at 8:44 pm

Jacobsen,

Could you elaborate more on what Rapp & Rapp’s “democratic theatre design” was? I assume you mean no elitist boxes? According to my ongoing research the only surviving early Rapp & Rapp designs built before 1920 are

The Majestic (Shubert – now LaSalle Bank) Theatre – Chicago -1906
The Majestic – Dubuque, Iowa – 1910
Englert Theatre – Iowa City, Iowa – 1912
The Orpheum – Champaign, Illinois – 1914
The Al. Ringling Theatre – Baraboo, Wisconsin – 1915
The Orpheum – Galesburg, Illinois – 1916
The Central Park Theatre – Chicago – 1917
Riviera Theatre – Chicago – 1918

JimJacobsen
JimJacobsen on August 6, 2007 at 6:35 am

George Rapp himself stated the firm’s design philosophy:
“Watch the eyes of a child as it enters the portals of our great theatres and treads the pathway into fairyland. Watch the bright light in the eyes of the tired shopgirl who hurries noiselessly over carpets and sighs with satisfaction as she walks amid furnishings that once delighted the hearts of queens. See the toil-worn father whose dreams have never come true, and look inside his heart as he finds strength and rest within the theatre. There you have the answer to why motion picture theatres are so palatial. Here is a shrine to democracy where there are no privileged patrons. The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact. Do not wonder, then, at the touches of Italian Renaissance, executed in glazed polychrome terra cotta, or at the lobbies and foyers adorned with replicas of precious masterpieces of another world, or at the imported marble wainscoting or the richly ornamented ceilings with motifs copied from master touches of Germany, France, and Italy, or at the carved niches, the cloistered arcades, the depthless mirrors, and the great sweeping staircases. These are not impractical attempts at showing off. These are part of a celestial city — cavern of many-colored jewels, where iridescent lights and luxurious fittings heighten the expectations of pleasure. It is richness unabashed, but richness with a reason.”

This is the famous quote-there were NO boxes of any sort, resulting in a classless democratic experience for every attendee. Here is the early list of their works (my focus was there along with what they did in Iowa-all related to putting the Davenport Capitol into some context:

Rapp & Rapp Theaters, 1906-20:

This design team is credited with over 400 theatre designs nationwide. There is no way to know if this translates into full-scale new designs or re-designs (Garrick Theatre, Chicago, 1930s). Rapp & Rapp partnered with other architects when a theatre was a part of a larger building. In one instance they designed a roof-top dance garden along with their theatre (Saxe’s Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1924, non-extant). Commonly, artists or artist/architects were brought in to do the actual ornamentation or at least the artwork. Ninety-three of these are identified and almost all of these are sufficiently documented (number of seats, historical name, year of construction-usually opening year, style). This list is chronological. Fourteen of the pre-1921 designs were in Illinois, mostly Chicago where the firm was based. During this period single commissions were secured in Oklahoma, Minnesota, while there were three in Iowa and two in Wisconsin and Ohio. Their last project (the firm continued in existence) dates to 1937. The firm did a number of atmospheric theatre designs as well but at least one was actually done by another partner architect, their designs included Gateway Theatre, Chicago (1930-extant) and Toledo Paramount, 1929 is non-extant. Thirty-four theaters, of about the same size (or larger) as the Capitol, were built between 1920 and 1937. Fifteen of these have been demolished or have lost their original interiors. Add the three other pre-1921 designs in this same size category, and the Capitol is one of a total of 37 R&R designs, 16 of which have been lost.

Date Name/City Seats Evaluation/Status Descriptive Comments
1906 Majestic/Chicago 2,300 Restored Beaux Arts, Edmund P. Krause Architect (Krause was clearly the real designer here)
1908 Majestic/Cedar Rapids 1,400 Non-extant Adam style, auditorium added to existing building, burned 1934
1909 Kedzie/Chicago 3,202 Non-extant Apparently a double-theatre with two addresses
1910 B. F. Keith’s Theatre/ Cincinnati 1,500 Non-extant Part of 18-story office building, J. M. Wood architect, theatre might have been new infill within walls of previous Columbia Theatre
1910? Majestic/Dubuque 1,000 Restored, NRHP 1972 French Renn/modeled on Moulin Rouge, Paris, Second Empire
1910-1913 Bryn Mawr Theatre/Chicago 785 Remodeled Art Deco in 1930s Closed, now a church
1912 North Shore Cinema/ Chicago ? Non-extant, closed by 1927
1912 Englert Theatre/ Davenport 1,000 NRHP, national significance, theatre area gutted 1926 fire gutted Rapp and Rapp designed theatre, re-designed by Vorse, Kraetsch and Kraetsch. Only façade remains from
1913 Windsor Theatre/ Chicago 1,300 Non-extant by 1961
1913 Paulina Theatre/ Chicago 884 Non-extant
1914 Orpheum/Champaigne 854 NRHP 1991 Based on Opera Hall at Versailles, Classical Revival or French Renn., two-story row of three storefronts, theatre on end, but 30’ high lobby, 40’ auditorium, large stage, boxes
1915 Al Ringling Theatre/ Baraboo, WI 802 Extant French Renn.
1915 Palace Theatre/ Rockford 1,372 (1945) Non-extant
1916 Star/ Walsonburg, OH 616 Extant, restored Art Deco remodel in 1941 (façade), attributed to “Trinidad Firm, I. H. Rapp”?
1916 Orpheum/Galesburg 966 Open French Renn/2nd Empire, façade Neo-Classical, stage flanked with bays with boxes
1917 Central Park Theatre/Chicago 700 Is a church, exterior altered (is not visible given interior partition walls) This was Chicago’s first palace theater, and likely the first such design by Rapp & Rapp although the seat count is very low. Highly evaluated within city as first collaboration between R&R and Balaban & Katz Theatre Chain. Three story with flanking 4-st. side towers
1917 Palace Theatre/Surperior, WI 1,106 Non-extant, 2006 French Renn., lobby altered to Art Deco, apparently redesigned by Liebenberg & Kaplan who did 200+ theatres in Upper Midwest, vaudeville stage
1917 Olympia Theatre/ Chicago 582 Extant, gutted Renn. Revival, assumed to by R&R as they did two other designs for Schoenstadt Circuit.
1918-1921 Riviera Theatre/ Chicago 2,500 NRHP, Uptown District, 2000, apparently has lost almost all of its original ornamentation Started in mid-1918 but was delayed two years by the war, façade is like an Italianate design with a rounded centered pediment, early example of small theatre façade leading to large building recessed from street, combined with 8 storefronts and 30 apts., second theatre for Balaban & Katz by R&R, Chicago’s first movie palace, orchestra and films only, Neo-Classical
1919 Peoples Theatre/ Chicago 2,400 Non-extant Art Moderne remodel in late 1930s, said to match Tulsa’s Akdar (early 1920), Schoenstadt Circuit
1919 State Lake Theatre/ Chicago 2,734 Theater space non-extant, façade restored sans marquee French Renn., vaudeville, Orpheum Circuit
1920 Akdar Temple Theatre/Tulsa 1,800 Non-extant French Renn. Claimed but looks Moorish, like a huge corn palace with minarets, three-story, occupies entire block with theatre in center
1920 Capitol Theatre/ St. Paul 2,350 Theatre space non-extant 1965 Spanish Baroque, part of Hamm Bldg., had largest stage outside of Chicago, 88x330 with 17’ proscenium
1920 Capitol Theatre/ Davenport 2,500 NRHP, 1983
Other Rapp and Rapp Iowa Designs:
1927 Orpheum Theatre/ Sioux City 2,650 NRHP 2000 Baroque, French. Renn.
1931 Adler Theatre/ Davenport 2,400 Restored Art Deco

I am looking for any secondary source treatment of the Rapp’s, C. W. Rapp died in 1926 so I am of the opinion that their really significant work pre-dated that brother’s death—of course some other family members came into the firm and they turned to doing a few atmospheric theatre designs during the 1930s.

Pleased to get your response. I see your list lacks the Capitol. Let’s talk more.

PaulWolter
PaulWolter on August 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Dear Jacobsen,

Thanks for the comments and the list. I would like to converse further. I have a few early theatres that are not in your list including Madison, WI, Des Moines, Iowa, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Quincy, Illinois and a few others that I know existed but haven’t been able to find out about yet. Please email me at the address below.

Thanks!
Paul

jflundy
jflundy on December 17, 2007 at 9:35 am

Here is a 1940 photo of the Englert Theater with additional information. “Balalaika” with Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey is the then current attraction on the marquee.
http://www.shorpy.com/node/2177?size=_original

PaulWolter
PaulWolter on February 6, 2008 at 6:30 pm

Here’s an article confirming that the Englert was designed by Rapp and Rapp.

Iowa City Daily Press
January 30, 1912 p. 8

$55,000 THEATRE MAY BE ERECTED

“Iowa City’s new opera house my cost, complete, and ready for opening for the season of 1912-1913, in the neighborhood of $55,000. W. H. Enlgert, the owner, is to leave for Chicago in the morning, and he will there inspect the plans, designed by Rapp & Rapp, the architects. The Rapps telegraphed Mr. Englert to come today. He will find the plans, they say, completed in pencil, and he will approve them, or suggest changes, before they are transferred to blue prints. With the latter action, the time for calling on contractors to prepare the bids will be at hand. The contract will be duly let, and the work of building the new theatre will be begun as soon as possible, the coming spring. The building in its entirety, will occupy 63 by 150 feet, and the theatre, proper, will be 80 by 62. A lobby in the center will lead to the playhouse while stores will be on either side. The building will be three stories high. Details as to the material, pressed brick, stone, etc. will be decided later. The first floor will be devoted to the theatre and store rooms, the second to offices, and the third to living apartments. The building will occupy the present site of the Graham barn. The playhouse will seat between 1,000 and 1,100 people, and the best class of plays in the country, it is hoped will be secured. Everything will be made thoroughly modern, in the way of seating equipment; scenery; acoustics; etc.; and the patrons of the house are likely to get the highest class of dramatic attractions presented in splendid shape, under most alluring conditions.”

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