Marshalltown School District Buying Local Theater
If you could buy a historic building for a buck, would you do it?
The Marshalltown School District plans to and the students will benefit from the purchase.
On Tuesday, Marshalltown's Board of Education voted to buy the 72-year-old Orpheum Theater for the bargain price of $1. The downtown landmark is currently owned by Iowa Valley Community College District, which operates Marshalltown Community College on the southern edge of the city.
The board unanimously approved a purchase agreement this week. The deal is expected to be finalized no later than June 16, 2022.
The Orpheum has quite a history in Marshalltown. Located at 220 East Main Street, the theater first opened on June 22, 1949.
According to cinematreasures.org, Marshalltown's Orpheum Theater was built by the Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) Company, one of the big five production studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. Actress Ruth Warrick and actor George "Gabby" Hayes were featured guests at the grand-opening ceremony.
Warrick is best known for her role as Phoebe Tyler Wallingford on the ABC soap opera All My Children, which she played regularly from 1970 until her death in 2005, and starring alongside Orsen Wells in the 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Hayes appeared in a number of B-Western films as a cantankerous, but loyal comic sidekick of cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy.
The Orpheum Theater hosted the U.S. premiere of Saint Joan in 1957. The historical drama about the Joan of Ark starred actress Jean Seberg, a Marshalltown native making her film debut.
RKO eventually sold the Orpheum to Fridley Theaters, which closed the iconic entertainment venue around the time a multiplex theater opened in Marshalltown.
Wanting to save the historic structure, a group of local residents formed a non-profit organization and purchased the building in 2000. The group partnered with the Iowa Valley Community College District in 2005 with a goal of renovating the Orpheum as a multi-use facility, a project that took 10 years to complete.
Today, the theater features a historic lobby and 152-seat movie house. It also has a 50-seat studio for seminars, meetings and other events, and a black box theater for live performances, exhibits and presentations. The Orpheum also has a gallery and exhibit space housing a permanent collection celebrating Iowans in entertainment.
The Orpheum Theater was closed in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, thanks to the Marshalltown School District's pending purchase agreement, the downtown landmark will continue to serve the community as an educational facility.