Lake City Capri Theatre
Historical Perspective

Lake City and the greater Calhoun County area, has a rich history and tradition of movie theaters. The first “movie theater” in Lake City was the Star Theater. There were, however, traveling theater companies which would come to rural communities, set up a screen and show film entertainment (probably silent movies) in public buildings. This was called the “Jackrabbit” circuit and this mode of operations is how Bob Fridley got his start into the theater business. The Star Theater burned down in the early 1900's. Later, the Iowa Theater was built in the same location as the Capri.

It was owned by Bob Fridley's uncle, Robert Bernau. The Iowa Theater was where Bob Fridley received further training in the theater business by his Uncle Bob. While working at the Iowa, Fridley met his wife Myrna Blanchfield, and this Lake City connection proved to be very important to the life of the Capri.

Star Theater

On New Year's Day, 1958, the Iowa Theater, owned by Robert Bernau, but operated by Fridley Theaters, burned to the ground. Bernau fenced off the burnt-out property deciding not to rebuild, leaving an ugly scar on the square of Lake City.

The burned-out space where the Iowa Theater was located stayed that way for several years. Community leaders, lead by Mayor L.W. Sievert, desperately wanted a new theater to be constructed in Lake City. Community representatives went to Des Moines on numerous occasions trying to persuade Fridley to build a theater in Lake City. But Fridley had no desire to invest the kind of money necessary to construct, equip and operate a theater in a small rural community like Lake City. Finally after numerous attempts to woo Fridley, he told the committee if the town would build the theater for him, his organization would equip and run the theater. Fridley was confident that would put an end to the persuasive efforts. But, the people of Lake City and surrounding area took on the challenge. To quote an article by Gordon Cammack, in the Des Moines Register, “The newest star in Lake City's crown is a movie theater which, on its July 1 opening, will probably be Iowa's most modern and luxurious. It is the product of cooperative community effort, sparked by fiery determination. Of approximately $110,00 invested in the theater, which probably would cost a quarter of a million to duplicate in a metro area, $20,000 was in outright gifts. Lake City has been without a theater since fire destroyed the Iowa Theater on New Year's Day, 1958. For several years the Iowa had been operated by Robert Fridley owner of the Varsity and Capri theaters in Des Moines...As community leaders agitated for a new theater they turned to Fridley for guidance. Foremost among them was Louis W. Sievert, insurance and real estate man who was Mayor 12 years and school board member for 28 years, nagged Fridley repeatedly. 'I tried to talk Sievert and the others out of it,' Fridley recalls, 'I told them about all the pitfalls of a theater in a small town. I didn't want them led astray.' Fridley finally told the group if they would build the building, he would equip and operate the theater. 'Mayor Sievert appointed four men to serve with him as the Lake City Community Theater Fund Committee – Richard Bauman, Clifford E. Binkert, William Meinen and Albert Redenius. Volunteer women prepared the written material and started canvassing for contributions or the purchase of 10 year certificates at 10% interest,. Within a week $16,000 had been donated and $14,000 worth of certificates had been sold.” (Remember, this was in the mid 60's when you could buy a new car for 2 or 3 thousand dollars.) As the success of the fund-raising efforts continued, Fridley started the construction process. During the project Fridley made 70 trips to Lake City. The article talked about the fountain in front of the windows, the plush reclining seats (cost $17,000 originally) and the original carpet, which was identical to the Capri in Des Moines, cost $8,000. The ceiling lights, giving the effect of stars, were similar to those at the Varsity. The story even talks about the ornate dowels which separated the lounge from the lobby and the fact Fridley wasn't satisfied with how the water came down the rocks of the fountain and he made the contractor tear them back out and reinstall them. The new (Lake City) Capri Theatre was opened on July 1, 1966, and was dubbed “Iowa's Most Beautiful Theater.”

The Fridley-owned and run Capri, flourished for many years and had many local managers including Armour and LaVon McCarty and Art Daisy. But, as multiple-screen theaters became more popular, the theater industry changed the rules, making it more difficult to book 1st run movies. This meant Fort Dodge and Carroll theaters were getting movies long before the Capri which made it more difficult for Capri to compete. Then the rural farming crisis hit in the 1980's and business became very slow at the Capri. Fridley started to close the theater during certain time of the year, and closed it numerous times with no indication of a reopening date. In the early 1990's after another trip to Des Moines to visit Fridley, the citizens of Lake City talked him into reopening the theater. He even did some remodeling to make the theater look better. Those changes included the cotton tree panels in the ceiling of the lobby and the balconies on the side of the screen. But alas, the economic climate of rural Iowa doomed the Fridely-owned Capri to be closed for good in the early 2000's.

Enter the current phase of Capri history. In 2002, a group of Lake City citizens talked Bob Fridley into donating the theater to the community of Lake City. The building was donated initially to the Lake City Development Corporation, while the theater committee got its “legal” ducks in a row. Attorney Bill Kurth donated his services and filed the Articles of Incorporation for the Lake City Capri Theatre as an Iowa Nonprofit Corporation. The Articles became effective as of January 3, 2003. After receiving the Articles of Incorporation, the theater committee, which then changed to become the original Board of Directors, began a fund-raising campaign to provide the start up” funds. The campaign consisted of letters of appeal and articles in the local paper. By April, 2003, the campaign raised $11,235 and had 107 donors contribute to the fund. The Board spent many hours in organizational work setting up the business model, writing the By-laws, filing for and receiving 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, and strategic planning for the perpetuation of the Capri, not to mention the cleaning and building preparation work. The big decision was deciding to operate the Capri as a “volunteer theater”, with the volunteer Board providing the management and much of the labor, but relying on area citizens to provide volunteer labor for the tickets, concession and after-movie cleanup. Finally, the much anticipated opening day arrived on March 8, 2003. The big question on everyone's mind was will the Capri survive? Can the revenue of the theater support its operations? Will volunteers stick with it and operate the theater after the newness and excitement are gone?

Six years later, the Capri is a stunning success serving the greater Calhoun County area citizens with low cost, family movies and volunteerism has flourished. The operational reserve fund of $50,000 has been established and the Board has invested well over $100,000 in building and equipment improvements. The theater continues to support and give back to the community. In just the past year, $9500 in donations were made to various community groups and awarded $2850 in scholarships to applying high school seniors in the area. The Capri has also donated hundreds of free admission tickets.

- updated 5/4/2009