Historical Society of
County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa
(Story by Richard Warner. Dr. Warner serves on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County.)
In 1933 KICK, a radio station licensed to Carter Lake and broadcasting on 1420, went on the air with a studio in the theater. The radio station lasted less than two years. A fire in 1941 damaged the interior; it was restored with a new front curtain, repainted and refinished seats. As the city’s largest venue the theater hosted high school graduations, speakers, and various programs over the years in addition to showing movies.
The arrival of television cut into movie house attendance in the 1950’s. Theaters tried all sorts of novel approaches to counter the trend including promoting they were air conditioned, something most Council Bluffs houses weren’t at the time. The Broadway was the first of the three to succumb. Citing a lack of access to first run pictures the theater closed in 1960. A plan was promoted by the Jaycees to turn the Broadway into home for a community theater, freeing Chanticleer from “doing plays at the Hotel Chieftain and the old city auditorium.”
The Broadway Theater
The Broadway Theater opened in 1923 at 312 West Broadway to great fanfare. It wasn’t just a new theater; it represented a commitment by local businessmen to “upper Broadway.” The area had been plagued by fires. Construction of a grand theater here and a modern office building at 4th and West Broadway (the Bennett Building) represented significant improvements, demonstrating that “Broadway east of Pearl Street is gradually taking on greater importance in the business district.” The theater showed silent pictures until 1929.
King's Restaurant, known for their unique telephone-at-the-table ordering system and trademark cheese frenchee, took over the building. King's was founded in Lincoln in 1955 by Larry and Esther Price and James King. Mr. King left the operation in 1960 but his name remained. Though not visible to the restaurant customer only the marquee and seats were removed. A facade on the front of the building and false ceiling overhead inside hid the fact the old theater still existed behind the scenes. King's moved to a free standing building on North Broadway in the 1970s, which later became Village Inn and later still Lansky's. The restaurant in the old theater downtown became The Pantry. The building was razed as part of the downtown urban renewal project in 1976. Sears Automotive was built on the site; the former Sears building is home to Excel Physical Therapy today.
The Broadway was only one of many downtown theaters over the years. Others included the Elite, Majestic, the Rope, Star, the Scenic, Diamond, and Pearl as well as the more recent Strand, Liberty (later known as the Iowa and Crest), and Midlands Four.
The theater reopened as a movie house but closed again in 1962 over a contract problem with union projectionists. Management claimed profit margins were so slim they couldn’t compete with the non-union projectionists of the Strand and Liberty. The theater reopened again for a short time, but closed for good in 1963.
The photos below show the remnants of the theater that still existed above the dropped ceiling of King's Restaurant. The photos were taken in 1976 shortly before the building was torn down. Note the transient captured in the photograph of the balcony who was apparently using the abandoned building as a shelter. (Photos below courtesy of Historical Society member Jon Barnes). See a video about local theaters on the Society's YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/GFw5sCfqxtI
(Left) Equipment left behind in projection booth, over twenty years after the theater closed. (Above) Looking straight up at the front of the building shows how the facade was attached to the front of the theater building.