Englert Theatre History Assignment

Support our community’s last historic Iowa City theater.

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Our Mission

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 Iowa City theatre provides 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.

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Our History

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 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 under the management of Dora Chapman and her brother Al Davis in conjunction with A. H. Blank of Des Moines. Etta Englert Hanlon and her second husband continued to reside in the building. 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 the Englert lobby, on the nameplates on the seats of the theater, and on numerous plaques  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.


L. Kent Wolgamott, Last Word Features

Arlo Guthrie has, of late, toured celebrating the music of his father, folk music legend Woody Guthrie. He’s also marked the anniversary of his 1967 classic album, “Alice’s Restaurant,” in concerts.

And now, he’s playing shows that don’t have that kind of theme and structure, as he tours with son Abe Guthrie and daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie. They’ll be stopping at the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City on Wednesday night (3/7).

In his words, “I tend to get a little more flexible.”

“It’s a kind of show I haven’t done for a few decades, in the sense that I haven’t done some of these (songs) for that long,” he said in an email interview. “There’s a set-list posted on our website, but I wouldn’t go by that now.”

It’s a good bet that Guthrie will do “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (the song’s full title) and a couple of his dad’s best-known songs in his shows — songs that can still serve the folk protest tradition in the Twitter/Facebook era.

“Folk music is the original social media, and has always been in that role, although it has many other components also,” Guthrie said. “It’s not the latest greatest technology, but it has the longest proven track record. If you think of popular music as a part of it, it begins to make sense.”

And “Alice’s Restaurant,” a funny story, still seems to resonate as an anti-authoritarian anthem a half-century after it was recorded by a teenage Guthrie.

“I’m 100 percent agreeable,” he said. “I think we, especially here in the U.S.A., have a civic obligation to question authority at all times, and more so in times like these. This is, after all, the country of regular people, the average guy. We got rid of the kings and queens a long time ago. This is a country for the everyman. So our leaders need to constantly be reminded that the royal thing doesn’t end well for them.”

Born in 1947, the son of Woody and dancer Marjorie Guthrie, Arlo grew up in Brooklyn before graduating from high school in Stockbridge, Mass., in 1965. That year, he was arrested for illegally dumping garbage, the incident that inspired the 18-minute “massacred” — the song that landed him a record deal.

In 1969, Guthrie played a late-night set on the first night of Woodstock. He had his biggest hit in 1972 with Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and in 1976 released his most highly regarded album, “Amigo.” He played with his band, Shenandoah, from the ’70s through the early ’90s.

The Old Trinity church, featured in “Alice’s Restaurant” — the song and in the 1969 movie version in which Guthrie plays himself — continues to have a role in his life. The Stockbridge church is now the headquarters of the Guthrie Center and Foundation, which he established 1991 to honor his parents.

The foundation and center, which operates as an interfaith church, support culture and education in the Stockbridge.

“I believe we’ve made a positive impact on our local community, but you’d have to ask them to get a real answer to your question,” he said. “At any rate, I don’t believe we’ve had a negative effect. I guess we keep trying, keep hoping, and we keep going. We get a lot of wonderful support from friends and neighbors, and from people across the world. I’m thrilled we’ve been given a chance to show that the values I have are shared by many people.”

Like most folk musicians before him, Guthrie feels an obligation to pass the music and its values on to succeeding generations.

“I went further than that,” he said. “I contributed to producing the next couple of generations personally. My wife did most of the work, but I helped. So I passed on not only the spirit and the songs but the actual living people. And I gotta say, I’m proud of them all.”

Get out!

WHAT: Abe, Arlo, Sarah Lee Guthrie’s Re:Generation Tour

WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday (3/7)

TICKETS: $58.50, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org


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