The Majestic Theater opened at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets in Dubuque, Iowa on November 16,1910. It was designed by Rapp & Rapp Architects of Chicago, Illinois to be a replica of the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The theater was built of concrete and brick, had 1400 seats and cost over $100,000 to build.
Over the years C.W. Rapp, with his brother George designed over 400 “movie palaces” across the country – many of them a lot more famous than this one, but, because this was Rapp & Rapp’s first theater design as an architectural firm, I’m starting here. I will get to the Chicago Theater, the Paramount theaters in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Loews in New Jersey, etc., etc. eventually because I am obsessed with documenting Rapp and Rapp theaters (that obsession started more than a decade ago after I toured another Rapp and Rapp theater, the then debilitated Al Ringling Theater in Baraboo, Wisconsin). The Ringling is the theater that made me fall in love with these opulent spaces. Like the Majestic in Dubuque, I’m happy to report that it too has also been restored in recent years.
Ethel Barrymore and Eddie Cantor appeared on opening night to promote the theater. 14,000 people (1/3 of Dubuque’s population at the time) attended Majestic events the first week of its opening. After many successful years, the Majestic fell into disrepair during the 1960s. In 1969 it was slated for demolition. A grass-roots movement of Dubuque residents came to its rescue and the building was saved and restored in 1972. I could hug them all.
Today, the Majestic is known as the Five Flags Center. While it’s no longer a movie theater, it is the center of culture in Dubuque with a busy schedule of Broadway plays, concerts and local performances. I like to think the Rapp brothers would be proud.
This is my first post about a Rapp and Rapp Theater and I have so much more to write about them. I am thrilled I finally have a place to document their contributions to the world of classic movies that I love so much.
George Rapp himself stated the firm’s design philosophy: ‘
”Watch the eyes of a child as it enters the portals of our great theatres and treads the pathway into fairyland. Watch the bright light in the eyes of the tired shopgirl who hurries noiselessly over carpets and sighs with satisfaction as she walks amid furnishings that once delighted the hearts of queens. See the toil-worn father whose dreams have never come true, and look inside his heart as he finds strength and rest within the theatre. There you have the answer to why motion picture theatres are so palatial. Here is a shrine to democracy where there are no privileged patrons. The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact. Do not wonder, then, at the touches of Italian Renaissance, executed in glazed polychrome terra cotta, or at the lobbies and foyers adorned with replicas of precious masterpieces of another world, or at the imported marble wainscoting or the richly ornamented ceilings with motifs copied from master touches of Germany, France, and Italy, or at the carved niches, the cloistered arcades, the depthless mirrors, and the great sweeping staircases. These are not impractical attempts at showing off. These are part of a celestial city — cavern of many-colored jewels, where iridescent lights and luxurious fittings heighten the expectations of pleasure. It is richness unabashed, but richness with a reason.'”
I believe he accomplished it all.