Fremont County, Iowa

Opera House
by Bob Crawford

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of October 19th, 2009

Sometime in the early 1900s an Opera House was built in Sidney about half way in the middle of the block on the east side of the square. A few people are still alive who remember going to silent movies in this place. Some remember the piano playing of Helen Rucker who accompanied the movie showing on the screen. Some say, a pump organ was used for a time with someone pumping for whatever musician played the instrument.

The Opera House probably was abandoned in the 1920s when the movie theater on the south side of the square was developed in part of the Masonic building. On the west side of the theater was a dress shop and Crawford's furniture store. Middle States Utilities (telephone company) occupied the building where Eaton Law is now.

The first owner of the Sidney Theater we could find is Ralph Hossle (or Hossel). Then Byron Hopkins and Earl Cowden bought the theater together (we are searching for this date.)

Earl Cowden brought in arm chair seats except in the back and along the sides in the back, where he put double seats where lots of action went on during the shows. I remember trying to look back and see what was going on but I never utilized those seats during my young days.

The building had no air conditioning but it did have a water cooling system in the the basement. It had lots of drips of cold water with a big fan blowing against them to blow cool air upstairs. It was very moist but it did help.

The Sidney theater was in a long room with a sloping floor. The wall had a wooden wainscoting up about 5 feet and the rest of the wall was covered in a dark orangy-red fabric with a swirl pattern. The cloth helped with the acoustics. Three small light fixtures were on each side with colored glass embedded in each fixture made so the color could be changed. You could have them one solid color or a combination. There were different colored light bulbs in each fixture. They had at least three colors.

I was probably in junior high when I worked part time cleaning the theater and it was always a mess after Saturday night double features. Some people say they remember Matinees held on Saturday afternoons and were, in the 1930s, continued stories with much action. The matinees I remember were on Sunday afternoon.

I think on "Bank Nights" the drawing for cash was immediately after the show was over. A person would be given a ticket to be put in the box every time they attended the theater during the week so they would have several chances to win. You had to be present on Thursday night for the drawing to win. After the show, someone would take the box up front, shake the box and draw out a ticket for the cash prize. Once in a long while the money might even go up to $50.00. Bank nights were always well attended,

During some nights in the 1930s depression dishes were given away with the purchase of a ticket.

Projectionist Quentin Chapman had lost a leg in the war and this was a job he could do. The stairs were steep going up to the projection booth but he would go up “carefully, one step at a time.”

The last owner of the Sidney theater was Frank Rash from Hamburg and then several business men from Sidney bought it and tried to keep it going but by now television had arrived and the popularity of movies faded. The doors closed about 1956 or 7 and the space was remodeled to become a dress shop.

The theater had several names during its lifetime such as Sidney Theater and Strand.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau