Clinton has rich movie theater, stage history
CLINTON - With the opening of the Clinton 8 Theatre in Clinton last
fall, residents now can choose from the eight or nine movies shown on
any given night.
But what many don't know is the first 50 years of the 20th century
saw the heyday of stage and theater in Clinton - at one time there
were at least 10 to 12 theaters in town.
This spring, the last of those theaters, the former Cinema I and
Capri III at 214 and 218 Sixth Ave. South, respectively, will come
down to make way for a downtown parking lot with a mix of public,
customer-only and private parking.
One hundred years ago, city residents ushered in a period in which
theaters abounded in the downtown area. As Clinton residents greeted
1900, the Clinton Theater at 213 Sixth Ave. South was the showplace
of the city with a stage boasting the appearance of stars like
Clinton's own Lillian Russell and headliner Sara Bernhart. There were
also "right from Chicago" offerings such as "The Isle of Spice" with
an all-star cast and ensemble of 60 performing musical hits and "The
Fun Show of the Age, A Hollywood Flapper," with Nell Wright's Novelty
The invention of motion pictures brought in a new twist to
entertainment in Clinton. There were six theaters, including the
Clinton, listed in the 1906 directory. Other theaters on the list
included The Airdome at 319 S. Second St., Boe's at 111 N. Sixth St.,
The Family at 411 S. Second St., The Lyric at 511 S. Second St. and
The Nickelodeon at 402 S. Second St.
Clinton's list of theaters jumped to nine in 1913 including two in
Lyons - The New Bismark and The Superba, the first movie house in
Lyons. The south-end screens included The Clinton, A-Muse-U at 214
Sixth Ave. South, Casino at 220 S. Second St., Colonial at 402 S.
Second St., Family, Lyric and Royal in the Langan Building.
There also was a "new kid on the block" in 1914. In fact, there were
two new faces on the theater board that year - the magnificent
Orpheum on Sixth Ave. South, later to become the Capitol and Capris,
and the top-of-the-art Parkside on Main Avenue in Lyons, later named
the Lyons Theater.
Both opened their doors at a time when Korns Baking Co. was selling
German coffee cakes for five cents each, cinnamon rolls were 15 cents
a dozen and Parker House rolls were 12 cents a dozen. Buehler Bros.
Market, 310 Second St., had pot roast at 11 cents per pound, rib
roast 12 cents a pound, fancy salmon three cans for a quarter, and
fresh oysters 35 cents a quart.
"The new moving picture theater being erected on Main Street is now
rapidly nearing completion and it is expected will be in full
operation a month from today," reported the Clinton Herald on Feb.
18, 1914. "A monster electric sign, nearly the width of the building
and about six-feet in height, containing the words, 'The Parkside'
emblazoned with 98 Mazda lamps, was placed in position this morning."
Henry Luhr of Chicago was manager of the richly furnished playhouse
built by Lyons Investment Co. that opened March 25. Miss Mae Dolan
was pianist and Miss Blanche Simmons, cashier.
The main room had a seating capacity of 500 and the interior woodwork
was polished mahogany.
"Rourke's Drift," an Edison drama in two parts, "Bill's Board Bill,"
a comedy, and "Buster's Little Game," a Selig comedy, were opening
night films viewed by a capacity house. Admission was 10 cents.
The Parkside was built with Lyons capital. Officers of the Lyons
Investment Co. were W.J. Parker, president; John Galvin, vice
president; Charles Parker, secretary; and L.P. Tritschler, treasurer.
Two weeks and a day later, April 9, 1914, the handsome' new Orpheum
Theater opened in downtown Clinton.
Hailed as the most beautiful theater in the state of Iowa, the
Orpheum had two performances daily - a 2:45 p.m. matinee with tickets
at 10 and 20 cents, and an 8:15 p.m. evening show priced at 10, 20
and 30 cents. There were two evening performances on Sundays and
The grand opening show had five of America's and Europe's best
vaudeville acts and two reels of the latest moving pictures.
Motion pictures led off the theater's opening program followed by
Reed's Bull Terriers, Cooper & Ricardo (a man and woman novelty act),
Copeland & Payton (seen in comedy black-face) and Baron Lichter
(trick and comedy piano playing).
Manager Harry Sodini then brought out the headliners, described by
the Herald as "The Eight Berlin Madcaps, young ladies of pulchritude,
grace and liveliness of motion, for finished work in dancing."
Gracing the interior of the theater were electrical fixtures,
finished in gold, to match the gold trimming of the house. There were
velvet draperies and carpets and 1,200 seats. On the great stage was
scenery, carloads of it. Among the many dressing rooms was a monster
room with facilities for caring of animals in animal acts.
A capacity audience filled the 1,200 seats and with the addition of
folding chairs there were probably 1,400 or 1,500 people present.
Following the performance, management entertained a number of friends
and visitors at an informal supper in the Lafayette Inn.
The period between 1915 and 1920 was the highlight of Clinton
theaters, the number then slowly disappearing.
By 1931 there were just five theaters remaining including The Rialto
(formerly The A-Muse-U Theater) and The Capitol (a name change from
The Orpheum). Other marquees belonged to The Clinton Theater, The
Parkside, later renamed the Lyons, and The Strand, once The Royal
On May 15, 1940, the Capitol and Rialto hosted stars Don Ameche,
Arleen Whelan, Cesar Romero and Mary Healey and the world movie
premier of "Lillian Russell." Also during World War II, the Capitol
stage was the scene of at least two War Bond vaudeville shows
featuring local talent and talent from Schick Army Hospital and
Savanna (Ill.) Ordnance Depot.
Many young Clintonians probably had an early start like Joan Schoenig.
"I applied to Mr. Barnes (Harold Barnes, manager of the Capitol) for
a job when I was 15 (years old)," said Mrs. Schoenig (the former Joan
Heath). "He gave me my first job, hiring me to run the popcorn
machine. When they would have a late show, I remember filling stacks
of cardboard boxes so they were ready when the crowd came in."
Mark Barnes, former Clinton County Civil Defense Director, had a
"I was transferred to the Capitol in Clinton from Cresco (Iowa)," he
said. "I had to explain that I was not Mr. Barnes' son. The move was
a good one for I met my wife of 55 years (Virginia Simmons) who
worked at the Rialto."
Cinema I, formerly the Rialto, opened on Nov. 11, 1965,
showing "Marriage On The Rocks" with Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr and
Dean Martin. The next year saw Clinton with three theaters - Cinema
I, Capitol and Lyons. A few years later The Capitol had a new name,
Capri III, and the Lyons was closed.