Graceland University and the Lamoni community have partnered to fund a series of remarkable renovations to the venerable Coliseum theatre. The updates come just in time for the theatre’s 100-year anniversary, and just in time to prevent the beautiful old structure from falling in to further disrepair.
Without projection equipment upgrades the theatre would no longer have the film technology to play the new digital movies now in common use. Many small towns are losing their old theatres because they have not been able to keep up with the fast-changing technology.
The total improvements for the Coliseum project are estimated at a cost of $219,300. Donors didn’t want to just give the Coliseum minimum updates. They wanted to provide the most advanced equipment. Graceland owns the Coliseum but gifts for this project have come entirely from the Lamoni community, and a Graceland alumni couple.
Graceland Vice President for Institutional Advancement Kelly Everett has worked with the Lamoni community to raise the money for the project.
A Community Project
“This is definitely a community project. Graceland and the people and businesses of Lamoni have made such an impact. These people didn’t want to go for the minimum; they wanted the best for this community,” said Everett.
The project launched with a lead gift from Randy and Laurie Heintz. Randy grew up in Leon and he wanted to help with efforts to keep the Coliseum going strong. Laurie is a 1985 Graceland graduate and a current member of the Graceland Board of Trustees. Randy and Laurie, who live in Florida, are great supporters of university, and the community.
Community businesses have played a key role in the Coliseum revitalization project. BTC Bank, Varsity Drug, Hy-Vee, American State Bank, Industrial Hardfacing, Bank of the West and the Hammer Family Foundation all made generous gifts. The leaders of these organizations joined forces because they all wanted a genuine piece of Lamoni history to be preserved. When you talk to the donors, they share similar feelings about how important it is to keep our “hometown” theatre. To Randy and Laurie Heintz it was important to keep a community treasure up to date. First-run movies will now be shown in Lamoni quicker than ever.
A Little Coliseum History
A century of tradition and many thousands of personal memories for those who grew up in Lamoni lurk in the familiar confines of the old theatre. Only the bats that fly back and forth in front of the screen on especially scary nights (eliciting shrieks from young patrons) know all the stories.
Graceland began holding student recitals in the building in 1912, eventually purchasing the facility in 1925. In 1931 the Coliseum was home to the Lamoni RLDS congregation after its Brick Church burned to the ground. Until 1952 the Coliseum served as a place for worship, hosting baptisms and weddings, and myriad other events.
The basement of the facility has been transformed into a variety of venues, originally opening as The Trust Company student night spot in 1973. Since then the building has served as everything from a Mexican restaurant called the Sundown Café, a student music and entertainment spot called the Dew Drop Den, to its current incarnation, Choices, a student smoke-and-alcohol-free night spot.
The renovation project’s first phase began in early February. A larger, more permanent stage has already been created by Graceland Facility Services. New Sound-Fold pleated curtains (for improved acoustics) have also been installed. A new, 3-D Digital Projector and Projection Screen, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo sound system and balcony speakers will be installed and ready for use by mid-April.
Everett noted that Graceland Facility Services has been highly involved in the construction, going out of their way to work weekends and late evenings to make these updates happen as quickly as possible.
Phase II coming this Summer
A second phase of renovations will begin next summer. The lobby will be refurbished, along with the ticket booth and concession area. Energy efficient windows will be installed and improvements will be made to outdoor sidewalks and landscaping.
During the third phase, flooring and seating in the auditorium will be replaced. A redesign for the balcony area is still under discussion but there may be specialty seating installed so patrons can sit at tables and enjoy their snacks during the movie.
These renovations have been in development for over two years. Graceland Director of Student Activities, Brad Carr, is excited about what he calls a transformation of the Coliseum and he assures movie goers that these improvements will greatly enhance entertainment in Lamoni.
“The support that local businesses and private individuals have already shown is humbling and once again illustrate why we all cherish this community,” said Carr.
Carr is excited to explore new options these updates are making available, with possible matinee showings. He said that it is unclear whether these changes will impact ticket prices or not, also noting that the best way to combat a price increase is to increase attendance.
Once the final piece of projection equipment is installed in mid-April, a grand opening celebration will take place to honor the individuals and businesses that made the renovations possible.
Some of the phase one changes can already be seen and experienced in the Coliseum. Carr encourages community members to come out to the movies and see for themselves.