On November 27, 1893, The New Graham hosted its opening night in Washington, Iowa. The theatre replaced the original 1886 Graham Opera House that was destroyed in a fire on November 1892. Actress Clara Morris was listed on the playbill for her performance in “Odette” and performed to a sold out audience. Today, State Theatre—the name adopted in 1931—holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest continuously operating cinema theatre, having been in continuous operation since May 14, 1897. The first moving picture was shown on a cinematrographe that was made in Paris, France, and show tickets sold for 15, 25 and 35 cents each. While the theatre’s doors remained open throughout the years, time and a fire had damaged the community icon, and with the aid of historic tax credits and grants transferred through the city’s downtown revitalization group, State Theatre was restored back to its 1940’s look.
Planning for exterior renovations of the 6,710 square foot building began in January 2011. Removal of the blonde storefront level brick added in the 1970s revealed the original arcade storefront. Special attention was paid to matching the original color, texture and color range of brick and mortar during masonry restoration. Other highlights of the preservation effort included restoring the wood profiles of windows and doors, as well as the addition of paint and geometric patterns around the marquee to mirror the theatre’s appearance in the 1940s. The marquee’s colors were updated to reflect the corporate identity of the client and lights reminiscent to those of the past were incorporated. Upper floor windows were adorned with the same art deco motif that was present in the 1940s. Renovations were completed in November of 2015.
The best moment in the realization of the project was when existing stain glass windows were found buried in the wall above the theatre’s entry doors. Much of the original stained glass was intact and gave cues to original colors of glazing and trim paint. The spacing and rhythms of the original doors were also ascertained from the found transom windows.
Location: Washington, IA
Client: R.L. Fridley Theatres
Photo Credits: Tara Maurer