116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two businessmen, Leonard Stark and Sid Moore, had a theater project in mind when they walked to the corner of Third Avenue and Second Street SE in Cedar Rapids on Labor Day 1926.
“(We) decided the location was just right for the new theater,” Moore said.
Both men were associated with the Theodore Stark Co., which became the general contractor for the building.
The Century Building Corp. was formed. A notice appeared in the Feb. 19, 1927, Gazette announcing six buildings would be razed in two days to make room for a theater and office building. The building would be leased to A.H. Blank of Des Moines in partnership with the Publix Theater Corp. of New York.
Footings for the theater were set in April, and construction continued steadily under the curious eyes of locals.
In 1928, Publix-Blank released a film trailer to be shown in Publix theaters across Iowa: “This theater salutes the latest addition to the Publix-Blank circuit of theaters in Iowa, the Capitol Theatre, Cedar Rapids, opening Saturday, Sept. 1.”
Before the theater was finished, though, 12 of its 1,000-watt spotlights, intended for the balcony, were temporarily detoured to West Branch, where they lighted tents and streets for the Aug. 21 visit of presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, a native of that city who was headed for the White House in November.
When the opera chairs were ready to be installed at the Capitol, Cedar Rapids police Chief W.C. “Wes” Benesh was invited to try one out. Benesh was a large man and the theater management wanted to demonstrate the seat was “roomy” and comfortable. Benesh sat for a photo to prove they were big enough for him.
If anyone wondered whether the balcony in the new theater was up to holding the weight of thousands of patrons, their minds were put at rest after a sandbag test.
Twenty thousand pounds of sand were placed in a 100-square-foot area to prove the cantilever system used to build the balcony was safe.
Engineers pointed out that a 15-ton, 65-foot-long steel girder supported the balcony, while smaller girders installed at right angles supported the inclined floor.
The huge Capitol sign on the Third Avenue side of the theater was riveted into the steel framework of the theater by the Lustrolite Corp. of Davenport. It cost $10,000, weighed six tons, burned 70 kilowatts of current, and could be serviced from the inside.
The builders also aimed to keep people cool by installed a Brunswick-Rochelle cooling and ventilating system in the basement.
Three huge fans blew outdoor air over nearly 10 miles of frozen coils before distributing cooled air through the theater. The system could make up to 150 tons of ice a day. A thermostat system heated the theater evenly in the winter.
As a promotion, the Capitol announced it was looking for someone aged 10 or older within a radius of 50 miles who had never seen a moving picture. That person would be awarded a party on the Capitol’s opening night.
Edward Pospisil, 14, of rural Cedar Rapids, was selected to come early and bring a friend for the aerial bomb show, stay for the movie and then be treated to ice cream and cake.
‘Beauty of the Capitol’
“Cedar Rapids people will be mighty pleased and surprised when they see the beauty of the Capitol,” Publix manager L.E. Schneider said in August.
As the scaffolding began to be pulled away from the walls and ceilings, that beauty was revealed.
At 5:30 p.m. on opening night, Sept. 1, 1928, airplanes from Cedar Rapids Airways flew over the theater for an hour, releasing disarmed flash-and-report bombs. Two of the bombs contained American flags on parachutes that carried two tickets to the Capitol.
The public was allowed in at 6 p.m.
They found a Hall of Mirrors, 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, with huge crystal, art glass and bronze chandeliers reflected in them. Visitors moved to the grand staircase and lobby on plush carpets made for the Capitol that resembled the pattern used in New York’s Paramount Theatre. Under the carpet was an inch of thick felt padding.
Shows started at 7 and 9, with no reserved seating.
A first for Cedar Rapids was Fox Movietone News, a newsreel that used a photoelectric cell that allowed sound to play at the same time as the film was shown. It included a reel of Hoover’s train puffing into West Branch a little more than a week before.
The theater’s first sound picture was “Warming Up” from Paramount starring Richard Dix, a movie that was already successful on the East Coast. And the Capitol advertised the showing of the “first 100% all-talking picture” when “Lights of New York” was screened later in September.
In March 1929, A.H. Blank sold 25 of its theaters, including the Capitol, to Paramount Famous-Lasky Corp. Workers began changing the letters on the huge electric Capitol sign to Paramount on May 16.
After May 18, the Capitol no longer existed. With a format change, the stage band and performers were let go.
“The Capitol was the first to introduce to Cedar Rapids stage band shows,” said Publix Division Manager Harry David. “This idea of stage entertainment has served its purpose, and it must give way to its advance in progress.”
The days of vaudeville revived intermittently for a few years, but then double features took their place.