Join the Historical Society of Warsaw for a trip to Keokuk Grand Theater at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 16. Refreshments and another visit will follow at Keokuk Union Depot.
The Grand Theater was built on the foundation of the Keokuk Opera House, which was designed by Chicago architect Oscar Cobb and built in 1879 at a cost of $30,000. Seating 1,064, it was the largest theater in Keokuk at the time and hosted theater productions, musicals, minstrel shows, vaudeville shows, and movies.
The Baker-Dodge Theater Company acquired the Opera House on January 12, 1914, and renamed it the Grand Theatre. The majestic building was destroyed in a fire on December 7, 1923.
Just over two years later, under the “inspiring influence” of Merle F. Baker, who noted “we need to have a live theater venue in Keokuk”, it was rebuilt and reopened on the same site on January 27, 1925.
Dianne Stanley, chair of the Grand Theater Commission, credited Baker with urging Keokuk residents to help fund the new building; she noted that this performing arts center is currently funded through grants and various fundraisers. Bill Vandersall of the Grand Theater Foundation, writes grants to fund capital improvements, including new seating throughout the auditorium and the cost of installing new carpet in August. The Grand Theater Commission organizes a seat sale to reimburse the foundation and ensure that a fund is continually available to maintain the building. Initially, over 750 seats were available for purchase; currently there are only about 100 balcony seats left. The names of the patrons are engraved on brass plaques on “their” seats.
The Grand Theater Commission funds small improvements; Stanley credited Commission member Jerry Herr for his “invaluable” expertise in making necessary repairs and maintaining the building.
Built in 1891, the Romanesque Revival-style Keokuk Union Depot was designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Burnham and Root. The town of Keokuk acquired the depot in 2011 for historic preservation and use as a venue for community events.
With the cost of restoring the roof estimated at more than $1 million, the Jeffris Family Foundation provided a generous matching grant of $333,000 to the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation, which launched a capital campaign in 2014 to guarantee the financing of the phases of the project.
Substantial funding from the Iowa Historic Resource Development Program (HDRP), local foundations, community groups, and individuals ensured the goal would be met, and work on the central tower and tiled roof continued. started in July 2016, the 125th anniversary of the deposit. In 2018, a major roof restoration was completed. Local volunteers work on smaller businesses.
Dianne Stanley will welcome us at 1:00 p.m. for a tour of the Grand Théâtre. Steve Celania will be on hand for a tour of the depot at 2:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served at the depot.
The Warsaw Historical Society and guests will meet at the Warsaw Museum, 401 Main Street, at 12:30 p.m. to carpool to the theater. For those of you who wish to meet in Keokuk, the Grand Theater is located at 26 N. 6th Street. Please call Debbie Callaghan at 217-219-1188 to make reservations to help plan refreshments.