Camelot Theater

1114 6th Street,
Nevada, IA 50201

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Camelot Theater (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Fridley Theatres

Architects: Roland 'Tip' Goucher Harrison, Frank E. Wetherell

Firms: Wetherell & Harrison

Functions: Live Music Venue, Movies (Classic), Special Events

Styles: Atmospheric, Classical Revival

Previous Names: Circle Theater, Talent Factory

Nearby Theaters

Camelot Theatre

The 900-seat Circle Theater opened on October 17, 1928 and was designed in the Classical Revival style by renowned Des Moines, IA based architects Wetherell and Harrison. Characteristics of Classical Revival seen in the theater include columns, pilasters, pedimented windows, and use of brick and stone materials. The building is also a rare surviving example of an Atmospheric style theater.

The original owner, Oscar H. Strine, grew up in Boone. He worked in theaters throughout his life and eventually, he started his own corporation, raised capital, and organized the Circle Theater Company of Nevada. Constructed during the Great Depression, the theater served as the main form of entertainment for a largely rural population of Story County Iowa. This theater was one of a small group of theaters built during this time that were designed to facilitate all forms of entertainment.

The Circle Theater featured “The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ” and according to the program printed for opening night, “each organ is built to perfectness for each individual theater - and tuned to that theater in order to obtain the 100 percent perfect tune quality which have, not unjustly, gained the name of ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’.” The building also boasted of air-conditioning. The fourteen-piece orchestra, which was made up of local talent, entertained each evening of opening week. Vaudeville acts, movies, and newsreels were featured each Friday through Monday. It was the most spectacular, comfortable movie theater in the area.

By 1932, Mr. Strine was bankrupt. The theater was reopened in 1934 by W.P. Grossman. Somewhere in these lean years, the Mighty Wurlitzer was sold, dismantled, and shipped to Germany.

The big attraction at all the theaters in the 1930’s was “Bank Night.” For two or three months, everyone was encouraged to sign up for “Bank Night.” Names were recorded in a ledger and also typed on a ticket. The ledger insured that your name was down only once. Once your ticket was put in a cage, you could not have it removed. The jackpot started at $25 and if not won, $25 would be added each week until there was a winner. As the prize got to be several hundred dollars, patrons filled the theater. Some people would go early and purchase tickets and go home until time for the drawing. At times the theater and lobby would be packed and people stood outside. When the name was read, someone would run outside and make the announcement. Winners only had a short time to reach the stage, but everyone made way for the winner. The owner showed a B movie that didn’t cost much so that one night carried the week. Sometime during the 1940s, “Bank Night” was discontinued. It was deemed illegal to have a game of chance where a purchase was required.

When television was invented in the 1950’s, its arrival dramatically impacted theaters in a negative way because it provided in-home entertainment options. By 1950 the seating capacity had been reduced to 750-seats. In 1969, the theater was sold to R.L. Fridley of Des Moines. He owned many theaters and had seen the Circle Theater when in its prime and considered it a masterpiece.

The Circle Theater underwent an extensive renovation in 1969 to become the Camelot Theater. Bob Fridley took fixtures from several theaters including the Des Moines theater in downtown Des Moines and installed them in the Camelot Theater. The Des Moines Theater had been demolished in May 1969, and was best known for hosting the world premiere of the movie “State Fair.”

During this time the theater was turned into an Atmospheric style theater with the installation of starlight lights in the ceiling. An Atmospheric style theater is designed to evoke a sense of being outdoors for its patrons. The Camelot’s “Atmospheric” architectural elements include balconettes, a balcony, masonry walls, and a domed ceiling incorporating hundreds of pinpoint lights that simulate stars.

Camelot admission was $1.00–much more reasonably priced than Ames and Des Moines. Many patrons came from the surrounding area. Eventually, the Camelot Theater could not compete with the multi-screen Ames theaters. It was with regret that Fridley closed the theater in the spring of 2001.

Robert Fridley generously offered the theater as a gift to any nonprofit organization. In July of 2002, the Nevada Foundation voted unanimously to accept the theater and pass ownership to Rob and Carol Bacon, owners of the funeral homes in Nevada and Maxwell. The Bacons reopened the theater in November 2002. The theater continued to operate as a movie theater until 2006.

There were a couple individual owners between 2006 and 2014 when it was sold to The Talent Factory that ran it as a venue for Vegas-style acts. In January 2022, the building was purchased by the Camelot Theater Foundation, a 501©(3) nonprofit, and preservation efforts began. The Talent Factory was closed on January 1, 2023. The members of the Camelot Theater Foundation feel the same way that R.L Fridley felt in 1969. The Camelot Theater is a masterpiece in scope, design, and purpose. Many residents of Story County and Iowa attended shows and movies at this historical theater, and it holds a nostalgic place in their memories. There are not many hometown theaters still operating in small towns due to larger multi-screen venues in larger cities. Historic theaters have been torn down or replaced, but this theater has been preserved with its glorious Atmospheric ceiling, unique balconettes, and original building facade.

The Camelot Theater Foundation is coordinating the revitalization and renovation of the historic Camelot Theater. The Foundation also organizes a variety of events including classic movies, live music, plays, karaoke and open mic nights, and business and social rentals. The Foundation is actively working to revitalize the Camelot Theater into a multi-purpose venue with flexibility for many functions that can serve diverse audiences.

(Credit: Voices from the Past - The Story of Nevada, Iowa; Nevada Community Historical Society, 2003).

Contributed by Melissa K Sly
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