It should come as no surprise that the Golden Age of Hollywood is experiencing a revival in the small town of Winterset. After all, Winterset was the birthplace home of one of Hollywood’s greatest legends-- John Wayne. The town was also the inspiration behind (and setting of), the 1995 Hollywood film The Bridges of Madison County, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.
It took two dreamers/film lovers (and a whole community’s support) to make the revitalization of The Iowa Theater happen. Enter mother and daughter duo, Marianne and Rebecca Fons. Marianne is the co-founder of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting, and Rebecca worked with the Chicago Film Festival for nearly a decade. In 2014, the two purchased The Iowa Theater, a 116-year-old building which first became a cinema in 1914. The pair undertook the much-needed renovation, and two years later, The Iowa was reborn in glorious fashion. The doors to this beautiful Art Deco style theater opened that May. Since, movie fans of all ages have had the opportunity to step in, sit down, and silence the modern world outside.
Bob Dylan once said, “I grew up in a small town hidden from the outside world, and the films from the ‘40s and ‘50s were like a window into the future.” Winterset may be a small town like many in Iowa, but the outside world definitely has its hold. It’s hard to escape external influences and our dependence on technology, for instance. With the re-opening of The Iowa Theater, and especially with their extremely popular “Way Back Wednesday” series of classic films, attendees now have the chance to experience (or relive) life as it used to be.
The first film I watched at The Iowa was the 1952 musical Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. I settled in with friends and community members around me, with delicious Iowa popcorn made with real butter. The picture looked great, the surround-sound was terrific, and the theater space itself was impressive – the gold ceiling and the red velvet curtains that border the screen are just a couple of its rich details.
I have since enjoyed new movies with my whole family (such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2), as well as a live theater performance (a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, complete with a specially-made Mai Tai in tribute of South Pacific). The theater plans to continue their “Way Back Wednesday” series throughout the year with seasonal favorites (think Young Frankenstein and Miracle on 34th Street), as well as gems from the 1930s to the 1980s. They have even started a Saturday Morning Cartoon series, featuring full-length animated films for children.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was common for people to attend movies at least once a week. With the renovation of The Iowa Theater in Winterset and their full lineup of entertainment, I've been fortunate enough to see that trend return in my own community. Come see for yourself-- you're always welcome in Winterset.