The Story Theatre/Grand Opera House

512 Broad Street, Story City, Iowa


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History of the Story Theatre/Grand Opera House

The historic Story Theatre/Grand Opera House, built in 1913, was part of Story City, Iowa's Grand Hotel and Auditorium Company Building. Motion pictures, school plays, graduation exercises and vaudeville acts were presented in the original theatre.

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The Grand Auditorium and Hotel Block, including the theatre, was perhaps the Story City Commerical Club's most notable achievement. Construction on the entire block began in June 1913 and was completed by December of that year at a total cost of $30,853 ($12,000 for the theatre alone).

The theatre, called "The Grand Opera House" at that time, opened for business on December 18, 1913, with the melodrama stage play "The Two Orphans", complete with an orchestra. Tickets were sold for only $3 each, considerably high for that period. At the time of its opening, the stage was the second largest west of the Mississippi River.

The theatre held 400 thin-backed opera chairs with hat racks underneath. Some of these original seats still remain in the theatre today.

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Now known as the Story Theatre/Grand Opera House, the theatre has much of its original decor still intact, from the lobby and entry way to the historic remnants of the stage area. Also present is the largest motion picture screen in Story County.

Motion pictures were initiated into the opera house repertoire shortly after the grand opening. In 1917, "Birth of a Nation" was presented with a full-piece orchestra and 50-cent admission. Films continued alternating with stage productions until it was no longer economically feasible to conduct live theatre. The last stage performance took place in 1947. However, the stage was restored in 1988 in order to once again bring live theatre to the Story City area. Also, the theatre still shows a movie nearly every weekend of the year.

The Story Theatre/Grand Opera House has had only 14 owners in its long history, from initial owner Iver Egenes to Lewis and Mae Peterson and sons, Richard and Virgil, who operated the theatre for nearly 40 years from 1947 to 1984. The Petersons were present during critical times for movie theatres. As they experienced changes in lifestyles, new technologies such as the coming of television and the advancements of electronics and film production. When current owner Todd Thorson took over in January 1984, his introduction of 4-track stereo sound and automated projection brought the theatre up to today's standards of motion picture presentation.

Prior to retirement, Richard Peterson did extensive research in an effort to have the theatre and hotel block placed on the National Register of Historic Places. He applied for placement in March 1978 and in January of 1980, the hotel and theatre block was placed on the National Register. Peterson filled over 15 three-ring binders with everything that has ever played at the theatre, from plays to films, plus any artifacts pertaining to the oldest continually-running theatre in Iowa.

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In order to accomodate live theatre presentations, a complete stage restoration project began in 1987. By December 1988, just in time for the 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, the project was complete. The historic theatre's character has been carefully preserved and maintained and has stood the test of time. Now, with live theatre complementing motion pictures, the Story Theatre/Grand Opera House is able to present even more of the finest in entertainment.