A concert Thursday will benefit the historic Story Theater Grand Opera House in Story City. World-class bluegrass group Monroe Crossing will appear in concert at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Proceeds from this concert will benefit the Story Theater Historical Foundation, an entity that helps maintain the historic theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The theater has been in operation continuously since it opened more than 100 years ago,” said owner Todd Thorson.
Monroe Crossing appeared at the Story Theater during its 100th anniversary year in 2014 and contacted Thorson about returning to Story City.
“They so enjoyed performing on the historic stage and in the historic surroundings of our local opera house that they wanted to come back,” he said. “I encourage everyone who loves this type of music, or just loves professional music performances in general, to not miss this show.”
Tickets are $15 in advance and $25 at the door and are available now at the Story Theater, 512 Broad St., during normal business hours.
The theater has a rich history, according to Thorson and the theater’s website.
The historic Story Theater/Grand Opera House, built in 1913, was part of Story City, Iowa’s Grand Hotel and Auditorium Company Building. Motion pictures, school plays, graduation exercises and vaudeville acts were presented in the original theater.
Construction on Grand Auditorium and Hotel Block began in June 1913 and was completed by December of that year at a total cost of $30,853 — $12,000 for the theater alone.
The theater, called “The Grand Opera House” at that time, opened for business on December 18, 1913, with the melodrama stage play “The Two Orphans,” complete with an orchestra. Tickets were sold for $3 each, considerably high for that period. At the time of its opening, the stage was the second largest west of the Mississippi River.
The theater held 400 thin-backed opera chairs with hat racks underneath. Some of these original seats remain in the theater today.
Now known as the Story Theater Grand Opera House, the theater has much of its original decor still intact, from the lobby and entry way to the historic remnants of the stage area.
Motion pictures were initiated into the opera house repertoire shortly after the grand opening. In 1917, “Birth of a Nation” was presented with a full-piece orchestra and 50-cent admission. Films continued alternating with stage productions until it was no longer economically feasible to conduct live theater. The last stage performance took place in 1947. However, the stage was restored in 1988 to once again bring live theater to the Story City area. It is often used by Judge Story Theatrical Troupe productions and was also used this year for Story Fest. Also, the theater still shows a movie nearly every weekend of the year.
The Story Theater Grand Opera House has had only 14 owners in its long history, from initial owner Iver Egenes to Lewis and Mae Peterson and sons, Richard and Virgil, who operated the theater for nearly 40 years from 1947 to 1984. The Petersons were present during critical times for movie theaters. As they experienced changes in lifestyles, modern technologies such as the coming of television and the advancements of electronics and film production.
When current owner Todd Thorson took over in January 1984, his introduction of four-track stereo sound and automated projection brought the theater up to today’s standards of motion picture presentation.
Prior to retirement, Richard Peterson did extensive research to have the theater and hotel block placed on the National Register of Historic Places. He applied for placement in March 1978 and in January of 1980, the hotel and theater block was placed on the National Register. Peterson filled over 15 three-ring binders with everything that has ever played at the theater, from plays to films, plus any artifacts pertaining to the oldest continually-running theater in Iowa.
To accommodate live theater presentations, a complete stage restoration project began in 1987. By December 1988, just in time for the 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, the project was complete.
“With live theater complementing motion pictures, the Story Theater Grand Opera House can present even more of the finest in entertainment,” Thorson said.