My Mom Bought a Movie Theater, Part I.

posted in: Art, Family 8
The IOWA Theater in Winterset, IA.
The Iowa Theater, 1951.

My mom bought a movie theater.

She didn’t (weirdly) buy some Cinemark movie theater: she bought the movie theater, the movie theater up on the Winterset town square, the shuttered, empty and badly-in-need-of-repair Iowa Theater. Everyone I grew up with saw movies there (e.g., Little Mermaid, Titanic.) Our parents saw movies and newsreels there (e.g., Klute, How To Live Through The A-Bomb.) Their grandparents went there to see movies (e.g., Steamboat Willie) and to show off their funny hats. The Iowa Theater was built in the 1920s and has been the site of tens of thousands of movie showings, thousands of live performances (back when the stage was in use), and countless adolescent gropings in the balcony. Who knows? The Iowa Theater may be responsible for the existence of a number of human beings. It’s definitely responsible for some cavities: just think of the Mike & Ike’s.

Here’s the scoop.

Earlier this year, the theater closed and went up for sale for the same reasons anything closes and goes up for sale: life changed, people moved, interest waned, money did things, etc. When my mother learned that the theater was looking for a new owner, she inquired. My mother is a mover, shaker, connector, entrepreneur, and a do-er; she is also creative, possesses a designer’s eye, she greatly values education and the arts, and she believes strongly in mixing Junior Mints into your buttered popcorn during the previews so they get nice and melty by the time the feature starts. Mom is only semi-retired and she is heavily involved in Quilts of Valor, the creation of an Iowa Quilt Museum, and she’s working on a novel. But the movie theater inquiries began to turn into real questions and the real questions turned into offers and offers into contracts and before long, Marianne had a new project and my family got 10,000 times cooler than we ever were when my sisters and I lived there. If any of us ever move back to raise a family in Winterset, our kids might actually be popular. Not that we have baggage about any of that.

The plan is to restore the Iowa. It will be beautiful — but it’s going to take awhile. The property is a wreck; the amount of work is overwhelming. Basically none of the equipment is worth a penny. There’s mold on the floor. We’ve only found one dead mouse, so that’s great. There are rooms upon rooms in the building; no one who ever saw a movie at the Iowa could ever guess what’s in there. There’s a third balcony and dressing rooms in the back; there’s a full pulley system for the stage curtain, sockets for footlights, old film canister storage cabinets — the wonders go on and on.

PaperGirl will be following this story as it unfolds. My rules state that I will only ever include one picture per post, but all the pictures I take of the Iowa Theater restoration process will be posted on my Instagram page; many are posted already and this is the page for that. The theater will show movies, it will be a place for cultural events — plans for the space will follow in another post and those plans will make you clap your hands in delight.

One day you get up and you have the same thing for lunch. One day you get up and your mom tells you your family now owns a 100-year-old movie theater. So get up!