After a tumultuous 78-year history that included a 35-year period where it sat vacant and was on the brink of facing the wrecking ball, the Burlington Capitol Theater re-opened its doors in 2012 after an extensive renovation. Since its reopening, the 370-seat regional Performing Arts Center has become a pillar of the Burlington community.
We caught up with Craig Borchard, president of Burlington Capitol Theater Foundation, to learn more about this magical theater.
Tell us more about how the Capitol Theater came into existence.
In July 1937 “The Prince and the Pauper,” starring Errol Flynn, was the first film to play at the beautiful new Art Deco-style Capitol Theater. The city needed an economic jump-start after the stock market crash of 1929. Fortunately, the Capitol Theater was a big success. The Capitol was an entertainment venue that brought people from around the region to downtown Burlington. Soon, people were moving to the area in addition to visiting, which was a big boost to the city’s economy.
Forty years later, in 1977, the Capitol Theater closed its doors. The theater sat empty until 1987 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of only two Art Deco theaters left in the state.
How was the theater saved from the wrecking ball?
There’s been a movement in the last few years in the restoration of downtown Burlington and the theater was really at the forefront of that. The Capitol Theater Foundation (CTF) of Burlington, Iowa, was incorporated in 2005. Inspiration for a fundraising campaign was born that year when then-CFT Board President Becky Anderson saw the movie “The Majestic.” Becky focused on the scene when the protagonist, Harry, brings his son into the theater to convince him that they need to reopen it. That was the inspiration for the fundraising campaign.
What does this theater mean to the community of Burlington?
The support that we saw from the Burlington community during our capital fundraising campaign was pretty significant. We really had a lot of support. A lot of people had memories of attending the theater when it was open and were very interested in our plan to bring it back as a performing arts center. I think that people are looking at theater in a slightly different way as a performing arts center, as an opportunity to hold meetings here and as an opportunity to gather in downtown area as more of a social basis.
How was MidWestOne involved in your efforts?
The $25,000 gift from MidWestOne was a major boost to our fundraising campaign. Our capital campaign was in place for about 18 months. It was originally projected to be a two- to three-year process so it really helped us meet our goals earlier than we anticipated.
I think MidWestOne is very active in the community and supports community projects that generate interest in programs and services that benefit the community. They’ve been a really huge influence in the community.