Richard Warner, D.D.S.
Warner Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs
Richard Warner, D.D.S. General Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
In a time before limitless television channels and the internet entertainment opportunities were fewer, making local theaters an appealing option. Many a theater has come and gone since the city’s inception, but those that lasted the longest were three that will be readily remembered as movies houses by those growing up in Council Bluffs: the Strand, Broadway, and Liberty.
The Strand began its existence on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Broadway as the “new Dohany Theater” in 1882, a home for vaudeville and other live acts, both local and touring. It’s there that Harry Langdon worked as an usher and made his earliest stage appearance. The theater took on the Strand name in 1916 and began showing silent movies in the 1920s with accompaniment from a large pipe organ. The distinctive features remembered by those today came about from the work of architect Henry Schneider from 1927 into the early 1930s. The theater underwent a complete makeover, with an ornate facade of clay tiles that towered over the other buildings downtown combining Moorish and Alahambra styles. The inside was configured to emulate the finest motion picture palaces of all time where there was more to showing a movie than a screen; the event was a total experience. Lobby lights were dim. One passed over lush carpets along corridors lit by a subtle glow from statuettes recessed in niches along the way to a room where the ceiling towered high above, supported by murals and elegant, ornate plasterwork. The screen itself was covered with a grand ceiling to stage curtain which was opened with a show business flair as the projector came alive.
The Broadway Theater opened in 1923 at 312 West Broadway to great fanfare. It wasn’t just a new theater; it represented a commitment by local businessmen to “upper Broadway.” The area had been plagued by fires. Construction of a grand theater here and a modern office building at 4th and West Broadway (the Bennett Building) represented significant improvements, demonstrating that “Broadway east of Pearl Street is gradually taking on greater importance in the business district.” The theater showed silent pictures until 1929. A fire in 1941 damaged the interior; it was restored with a new front curtain, repainted and refinished seats. As the city’s largest venue the theater hosted high school graduations, speakers, and various programs over the years in addition to showing movies.
The Liberty opened as the Nicholas Theater at 548 West Broadway in October, 1911 promising the most popular vaudeville shows. It was purchased in 1918 by Sam Harding, owner of the Princess Theater in Omaha and the Liberty Theater in Kansas City, rechristened the Liberty, and converted to a movie house. The theater was later known as the Iowa and the Crest, but had a few months in between as an ultra mod teen and young adult club called the Psychedelic Wheel. Noting cruising Broadway was for the past generation, co-owner Bobby Williams (Everhart) explained kids in 1967 want to be with what’s in. Enough theater seats were removed to make a dance floor, complete with strobes, wild neon lights, and name musicians.
The arrival of television cut into movie house attendance in the 1950’s. Theaters tried all sorts of novel approaches to counter the trend including promoting they were air conditioned, something most Council Bluffs houses weren’t at the time. The Broadway was the first of the three to succumb. Citing a lack of access to first run pictures the theater closed in 1960. A plan was promoted by the Jaycees to turn the Broadway into home for a community theater, freeing Chanticleer from “doing plays at the Hotel Chieftain and the old city auditorium.” The theater reopened as a movie house but closed again in 1962 over a contract problem with union projectionists. Management claimed profit margins were so slim they couldn’t compete with the non-union projectionists of the Strand and Liberty. The theater reopened again for a short time, but closed for good in 1963. Kings Restaurant, known for their unique telephone-at-the-table ordering system and trademark cheese frenchee, took over the building. Though not visible to the restaurant customer only the marquee and seats were removed. A facade on the front and false ceiling inside hid the fact the old theater still existed behind the scenes. Kings moved to North Broadway in the 1970s and the restaurant became The Pantry. The building was razed as part of the downtown urban renewal project in 1976. Sears Automotive was built on the site; the former Sears building is home to Excel Physical Therapy today.
The Crest (former Liberty) lasted the longest with its niche showing adult movies. The entire block was razed to make way for the Redland Building in the 1980s.
The Strand came to a fiery end. At 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 11, 1974 a fire of electrical origin broke out that gutted the building, causing collapse of the roof and extensive damage. The blaze took until 4 a.m. to bring under control. While the tall facade was only minimally damaged it was feared it might have been weakened and prone to collapse so traffic was routed off of Broadway, Council Bluffs’ main thoroughfare at that time. While a number of business and community leaders stepped forward to spearhead a campaign to at least save the facade if not rebuild the theater no practical ideas emerged and the facade was partially knocked down so that traffic could return to Broadway. Complete demolition took place in January.
Despite having entertained thousands of people over its 92 years the Strand actually had closed early the night of the fire— not a single ticket had been sold for its last show.
Movie Houses of the 60s: Strand, Broadway and Liberty Theaters
For 92 years a theater occupied the northeast corner of Sixth Street and West Broadway. The ornate facade was added as part of a remodeling project in the late 1920s.
The lavish interior of the Strand was decorated with paintings, statuettes, detailed plasterwork, and soft lighting from elegant fixtures.
The Broadway Theater hosted graduations, speakers, and cooking demonstrations as well as movies. It became Kings Restaurant in 1963.
(Above 3 photos) Kings Restaurant patrons likely didn't realize above the lowered false ceiling remnants of the old threater remained largely untouched.
The Strand was destroyed by a fire of electrical origin December 11, 1974.
(Story by Dr. Richard Warner)