Just off the main square in Hardin County is a relic of the past.
The Grand Theatre in Eldora, Iowa, stands where it has since 1912 when it was a vaudeville theater playing host to Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans (a pair I was told visited quite a bit).
And yet, if you look a bit deeper, you’ll see it’s also surprisingly modern. Now a one-screen movie theater, the old projection room has been turned into a techie’s dream complete with a digital projector and a lineup that includes 3-D films.
Yes, the Grand Theatre is one of those wonderful places in rural America that embraces its heritage with bygone ambiance (look no further than the original lights and 1930s era clock), but attracts youth by wising up to the realities of our digital world.
On Tuesday, the Grand was screening “American Graffiti” all day for free, and riders wandered in and out. The film was selected because it was the No. 1 movie the summer of 1973, the first year of RAGBRAI.
Although the Grand is in a class of theaters slowly going extinct, it remains successful due to the “overwhelming support” from the community, manager Curt Wical told me as the RAGBRAI rolled in.
“The community really rallies around us when we need it,” Wical said. “We needed new armrests for our chairs and the community raised the money to get them.”
In many ways, the relationship between the community and the Theatre is symbiotic. Schools, businesses and churches use the space, and the Theatre is happy to supply popcorn to local Girl Scouts.
Like so many small theaters, The Grand closed in 1983, and left a big hole in the heart of the city, said Kathleen Reysack, a volunteer.
“It was awful for the young people,” she said. “They just roamed around with nothing to do, you know, thinking, ‘What do we do next?’”
The Grand was abandoned for more than a decade before Mayor Jim Brown and Dave Rubow bought and refurbished the building. The pair then gifted the theater to the city, and today the establishment is run mostly by volunteers.
The first film to play in the new movie theater was 1996’s “Twister.”
“When ‘Titanic’ came out, oh, we were packed,” Reysack said. “You couldn’t get a seat. You had to come back about four times in order to get a seat.”
The Theatre is still “big business” for the town, according to Reysack. On a Friday or Saturday night, the Grand has been known to pull in more than 100 people, Wical said.
With $3 evening tickets and $4 large bags of popcorn, the cost of an evening at the Grand is pretty hard to beat. (Not to mention the closest movie theaters are about 20 miles away.)
“This place means a lot to me,” Wical said. “I grew up here, in Eldora, and I spent a lot of time here. I remember when my parents dropped me off here on Saturdays to watch a movie while they went shopping.
“I am happy it’s still here,” he added, “and I am happy that I am a part of it.”
— Courtney Crowder, @courtneycare
via RAGBRAI http://ift.tt/1TP2b4k