Forest Theatre

215 N. Clark Street,
Forest City, IA 50436

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Forest Theatre (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Central States Theatres Corp

Functions: Movies (First Run)

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: New Opera House

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 641.585.2790

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News About This Theater

Forest Theatre

The New Opera House opened on September 5, 1914 with Dustin Farnhum in “The Virginian”. By 1918 it had been renamed Forest Theatre with seating listed at 455. From July 1, 1938 it was operated Central States Theatres. It was destroyed by fire on January 10, 1950.

It was rebuilt and reopened by Central States Theatres, reopening on August 8, 1950 with 559-seats. It was still open in 1956 but later closed. It has since reopened and is non-profit independently operated.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

kencmcintyre on January 19, 2007 at 9:58 am

The theater was severely damaged in a 1950 fire, but obviously was rebuilt:

Most Recent Big Fire 1950 Theatre Blaze

The most spectacular fire in history struck Forest City Jan. 10, 1950. It raged out of control nearly two hours and left only three bare wall of the Forest Theatre standing. Loss to the building and its contents plus the damage to adjacent businesses reached the staggering total of $125,000. Only the heroic efforts of the Forest City Fire department prevented the fire from destroying an entire half block of business buildings. The fire was discovered in the front part of the second floor of the theatre building at 8:40 p.m. The hundred or more persons attending the first show left the theatre in an orderly fashion and no one was injured in the fire.

When the flames had threatened to spread to the Soda Bar building to the north and to Olson Furniture and Lyons to the south, a call for assistance was sent out to Lake Mills, Garner, Clear Lake and Mason City fire departments. The Lake Mills and Garner trucks were the first to report. Clear Lake’s truck froze up near Ventura and was forced to turn back.

Chris1982 on November 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

The Forest Theatre is open showing current attractions. website

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 14, 2014 at 3:30 pm

A history of Winnebago and Hancock Counties published in 1917 has a brief biography of Forest Secor which says he returned to the town of his birth (his father, Eugene Secor, was the first mayor of Forest City when it incorporated in 1878) in 1916 after having conducted a real estate business in Minnesota for some time, and bought the Forest Theatre.

The “Changes Over Iowa” column of The Moving Picture World, November 3, 1917, had this item:

“Forest City, Ia. — Forest Secor has sold the Forest theater in Forest City to J. P. Weist.”
I don’t know if this item from the February 3 issue of the same publication is about a second theater or if Mr. Secor changed the name of the house he bought after returning in 1916: “FOREST CITY, IA. — Park theater is now being conducted by Secor & Hewitt.”

Forest City had an opera house which the February 26, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World reported had recently been destroyed by a fire. The 350-seat Forest City Opera House was on a list of theaters published in the September 5, 1908,issue of The Billboard. The Forest Theatre might have been built to replace the opera house after it burned, though in 1912 the MPW had reported on plans for another theater that might have been the house that became the Forest: “Forest City, Ia. — J. M. Simmons will open a motion picture theater here.”

Chris1982 on November 15, 2014 at 2:41 am

Looking at the photo of the current Forest Theatre I would say it was a rebuild after the fire in 1950.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 31, 2020 at 6:10 pm

The recent opening of the new Forest Theater, replacing the burned house, was noted in Boxoffice of September 2, 1950.

50sSNIPES on August 6, 2023 at 6:24 pm

The January 10, 1950 fire occurred during a showing of Donald O'Connor in “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” with no extra short subjects, when the fire started in a furniture storage room of the theater which was located at the roof, estimating $125,000 in damage. With the flames being reported at 8:40 PM CST, there were over a hundred people intending the movie and all of them escaped without injury.

Within 30 minutes after the alarm sounded instead, the flames broke through the roof of the theater, and as the flames threatened to spread to the Soda Bar building to the north and the Olson Furniture store and Lynns Department Store to the south, a call for additional units from surrounding departments was sent out to the cities of Lake Mills, Garner, Clear Lake, and Mason City Fire Departments. Forest City used all of their three engines including their 1925 Watrous truck unit were on-scene at first before additional units. For the other departments, units from Lake Mills and Garner arrived first while Clear Lake’s engine were frozen up near Ventura which were forced to turn back and return to the station. The Mason City engine which had been sent to standby in Clear Lake made the run to the scene. By the time the other departments arrive on-scene, the fire raged and went under control. They do have time to remove all the equipment inside the theater including the popcorn machine and other concessions in the lobby. The movie’s title plus the “Two Jackpots” contest advertisement on the marquee was still attached as the flames grew. Shortly after 10:00 PM CST, the rear wall started to collapse, adding a new hazard for units to combat. Before the fire was completely under control, more walls fallen. An hour and 15 minutes later comes the additional units to return. The entire fire department in Forest City remained on-scene until 4:00 AM the next morning, pouring water on the fire. Water was still being played on the burning ruins of the theater as Hansen said that his men at the FCFD used a 1,000ft of 2-½ inch hose, a 900ft of 1-½ inch hose, and a 300ft of 1-inch hose in the fire and more than 100,000 gallons were poured in during the blaze.

The fire apparently had smoldered in the storage area for sometime before being discovered because as soon as the door into the store room was broken in, flames rapidly spread throughout the second floor. Fire officials who had entered the theater were forced by the flames to retreat from the building.

The Forest reopened on August 8, 1950 with “My Friend Irma Goes West” with no extras.

50sSNIPES on August 6, 2023 at 7:38 pm

The Forest Theatre first opened as the “New Opera House” in 1914, but changed its name to the Forest Theatre later in World War I. Throughout much of the theater’s earlier history, it was operated by the M.A. Brown family who moved to Riceville in 1923, but it wasn’t until 1947 when Mr. Brown left the theater business and Willson Gaffney, the son-in-law, became the manager of the theater.

Central States Theatres took over the Forest Theatre on July 1, 1938.

After the August 8, 1950 reopening of the theater from the January 10, 1950 fire, Franklin Brown became the manager, who was the son of the former operator Mr. Brown who died in December 1948. This didn’t last long, and in February 1951, it was taken over by Henry C. Nelson who operated it until July 1954 when Jack Compston took over operations of the theater who later installed CinemaScope a month later.

Although the CinemaTreasures page said “it had closed by 1956”, it’s an error, as the Forest Theatre was still running throughout both 1955 and 1956.

50sSNIPES on August 7, 2023 at 11:13 am

I recently looked at the archives of the advantage-preservation website and it appears that the Forest Theatre did not close its doors in the late-1950s and beyond despite the page saying “but later closed” after 1956, although it did close for four days during Christmas Week 1965 due to major interior remodeling which featured larger seats.

The Compston Brothers of Jack and Gary Compston were the Forest Theatre’s long-time managers. Jack Compston operated it from July 1954 until January 1974, when his son Gary took over as the manager of the theater. Prior to his theater business, Jack operated a bowling alley in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. At the time of his theater business, he was a resident of Decorah. During Gary’s early theater days comes the Forest Theatre’s longest running movie, “The Sting”, ran there for three weeks in 1974. Throughout Gary’s theater business, automated projection in 1979 and Dolby Stereo in 1982 were installed in the theater.

50sSNIPES on November 3, 2023 at 8:17 pm

The actual opening date is September 5, 1914 with Dustin Farnum in “The Virginian”. It was first known as “New Opera House” as a replacement of an older opera house.

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