—by Kate Feil, Story City Historical Society Director
This week the Story Theatre Grand Opera House will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The buildings surrounding the theater, from what is now Dinners by Dawn down to City Hall and the Police station, were also built in 1913. This set of buildings was known as the Grand Opera House and Hotel block. This block is one of the four large commercial buildings built in Story City in 1913. Driving tour maps of all of the Century Homes and Buildings are available at the Bertha Bartlett Public Library, 503 Broad St. or at the Carriage House Museum, 619 Grand Ave.
Grand Opera House and Hotel Block
The magnificent row of buildings was designed by James S. Cox of Estherville. In mid-April of 1913, the site was cleared for the new opera house and hotel. The old butcher shop buildings were torn down and the moving picture building was moved into the street west of the hotel, pending the building of the new opera house. By the beginning of June the contract for the hotel and auditorium was awarded to the Cole Brothers of Ames, and construction started at that time. Will Tolbertson had the job of excavating. Nelson Electric of Ames handled the electrical. Total cost of the entire project: $30,853.72; and the cost of the theater’s portion was $12,000.
By the end of September of 1913 it was reported in the Herald that "The auditorium and hotel structure has progressed so far that even the most unimaginative can get a fair idea of its impressive proportions. The brick work is up to the second story. It is by far the largest building ever constructed in Story City. Indeed, its giant proportions would do credit to a city ten times our size!"
At the beginning of November, the hotel and auditorium buildings had all been rented. Iver Egenes contracted to take the auditorium. "Doc" White occupied the barber adjacent to the theater to the west. Mr. and Mrs. A.S. Maxfield of Charles City rented the 11-room hotel, which also included a waiting room and dining room. The store building, which was built next to the auditorium on the east, was rented by Heggen & Stenson, who moved their grocery store into the new location as soon as it was ready. The building was larger than they needed so Jondall & Henderson Furniture took a fourth of the space. The small store room to the east of the hotel was occupied by the Visergutten Norwegian newspaper, and operated by Gus and Evan Amlund. The first floor was occupied by the paper’s offices and the basement housed the presses.
The new opera house was formally opened on the evening of Dec. 18, 1913. The opening play was the well-known melo-drama, "The Two Orphans". Tickets were sold for the opening night at three dollars each. The new opera house was known as the "Grand Opera House." The word "Grand" was inlaid on the tile floor and still remains under the carpet in the entrance of the theater today.
In the December 25, 1913 issue of the Herald, we learn that the opening performance in the new opera house the previous Thursday evening proved to be an unqualified success. The place was almost filled to the last seat and the play presented was of an exceptionally high order.
The Historical Society wishes the Story City Theatre a very happy 100th anniversary.