116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: Cedar Rapids garage became the Times Theater
First Avenue film venue went from swanky to sleazy
The Times movie theater in the 1400 block of First Avenue East in Cedar Rapids opened on Christmas Day in 1942 with seating for 670 patrons. It had black lights to “bring out the design of modernistic floral murals” painted with fluorescent paint.
In 45 years, it would go from swanky to sleazy, forced to close by a change in zoning regulations for adult entertainment venues.
But first, the theater was a garage.
In 1924, the six-story Commonwealth apartment building on Second Avenue SE was nearing completion.
Commonwealth Annex Inc. was formed to, among other things, build a garage at 1415 First Ave. SE for tenants to use.
Members of the Commonwealth board included those who had built the apartments — Glen and Worth Averill, C.C. Olney, J.B. Terry, John A. Limback and F. Junkerman, who obtained the permit to build the fireproof garage.
The garage had space to rent. In 1934, Rowe Electric Co. had its GM truck business there.
In June 1937, Allen Motor Co. manager Ray Allen announced his company would lease the garage.
The company used the garage’s top floor as a warehouse for new cars. Used cars were reconditioned on the first floor. The basement was used for storage and had 40 or 50 spaces where Commonwealth tenants could park their cars.
The Commonwealth garage also housed an ambulance service for at least three years, beginning in 1936.
A new ambulance, “the finest between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — in fact, the only others like it are now in service at the two world’s fairs” — was parked in the garage. The 16-cylinder LaSalle was moonstone gray with black fenders and trim.
Its purchase was arranged after the city and Linn County agreed to pay $250 a month to maintain the ambulance service.
The garage lasted until 1941, when a lawsuit forced it into foreclosure.
Illinois theater owner Kenneth Childs bought the property in July and made plans to turn it into a movie house. He published a sketch of the new Times Theater in September.
Morehead Construction Co. gutted the garage interior and replaced the concrete roof with a steel one. The front of the theater, designed by Chris Bendson of Davenport, was ivory porcelain enameled steel with burgundy trim.
The theater had a filtered, forced air heating system and a plastic molded screen. It was billed as a neighborhood theater with a homelike atmosphere.
John Paul Kubik was named the theater’s manager and opened it on Christmas Day 1941.
In March, union members of the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators, Local 191 (AFL), began picketing the theater because Kubik insisted on operating the film projectors himself.
Hal Sheridan took over as manager after leaving the Paramount. He agreed to let union members run the projectors.
In 1949, Childs sold the Times theater and building to a group of Cedar Rapids businessmen who closed it for renovation that included a new screen. The owners — J.D. Siegel, A.N. Gelb, Louis Fellman and A.W. Bass — named Roy Metcalfe as manager.
Metcalfe brought a mix of new and second-run movies to the house, including Arthur Rank’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1955.
In 1957, four manufacturing plants in Cedar Rapids bought out the house during the four-week run of “Around the World in 80 Days,” which had won the 1956 Oscar for Best Picture. Nine high school groups and some University of Iowa students did the same. Theater managers arranged to get the hit movie held over for another four weeks.
After being closed for several weeks in 1965, the theater reopened in April as the New Times 70.
The remodeled theater had a giant screen, the city’s first 70 mm projector, new sound equipment and larger, more comfortable seats.
Its first movie was a John Wayne spectacular called “Circus World.” In August, another Oscar winner, “The Sound of Music,” was shown. Admission was $2 for evening performances Sunday through Thursday, with Fridays and Saturdays costing a quarter more.
By the 1970s, though, the Times’ fare was alternating between second-run and R-rated movies.
MK Enterprises, owned by Jim and Lynn Sparks of Des Moines, bought the property in 1982 and began operating it as an adult entertainment theater, offering XXX films, live dances, peek booths and stag parties.
When the Cedar Rapids City Council passed a zoning ordinance in July 1984 restricting the location of adult movie houses and bookstores, the Times had until July 1987 to close or relocate.
The theater closed in January 1987, and a new business that rented videos moved in.
In March 1992, the building was demolished, and a 2,400-square-foot Arby’s restaurant built in its place.