The Majestic Theater – Dubuque, Iowa – Rapp and Rapp Architects

Early Majestic postcard, date unknown

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.

1900’s postcard of the Majestic at 4th and Main in Dubuque

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.

Majestic Theater, Dubuque, Iowa, circa early 1930s.

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.

Five Flags Center, Dubuque, Iowa. Photo via the Five Flags Center.

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.

The former Majestic Theater of Dubuque. Known as the Five Flags Center today.


Five Flags Center
Rapp & Rapp Architects by Charles Ward Rapp
Encyclopedia of Dubuque


For the Love of the Drive-In Theater – A Brief Photo Essay

Massachusetts, circa 1950s

I can’t help but think this would be a good idea right now.

As I write this, we’re in the the middle of social distancing, with its “six-foot rule” for essentials, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s forcing us to think about how we do everything…even how we watch movies. Yes, we can stream right now, thank God, and studios are opening movies on streaming services, but wouldn’t the drive-in be a great fill-in for all those closed theaters right now?

Six-foot social distancing: check. Self-isolation in the car: check. Food delivery to you in the car: check.

Just a thought…

I used to love going to drive-in theaters when I was a child. It usually meant two movies, staying up past my bedtime, pajamas in the car, lots of hot dogs, popcorn and candy we’d never get anywhere else. (I look back at that part now and think, “geez, my parents hated us!”) It was fun for a little girl like me! In my hometown, they tore the last drive-in down and built a trailer park in its place decades ago while I was still a child who loved going to the movies there. It devastated me. After I grew up and moved away, I found a few drive-ins here and there, but for the most part they had disappeared.

Even though there’s a few still open, I wish they’d make a come back.

Dixie Drive-In Theater on 14601 S. Dixie Highway, Miami. source: Miami Herald
From the Everett Collection on Shutterstock. Location unknown.

By all means, I’d want these pole speakers you sit in your window, NOT the radio-tuned to the right station. Sheesh! (Remember, nostalgia rules in this brain.)

Drive-in in Chicago, circa 1951, showing the cartoon, Spring Fever.
Westbury fly-in drive in in New York, circa 1954

A Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum movie seems like the perfect thing to see at the drive-in,…

Sundown Drive In of Whittier, California on opening night in 1954.

…so does a Robert Taylor movie.

Scarboro Drive in, Scarborough, California
84th and O Drive In, Lincoln, Nebraska, circa 1950s.

I wonder how it got that name.

Big Sky Drive In, Dane County, Wisconsin 1974. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.
Source and place unknown.
Star Drive In, Montrose, Colorado. Date unknown.
Sky-Vu Drive-In, Monroe, Wisconsin. This is the last drive-in I went to back in 2005-ish, and we had a long drive to get to it.  The movie was Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman. The Sky-Vu is still open.

What’s the last movie you saw at the drive-in?

I’d like to think going to the “outdoor” as we called them, would meet the requirements of social distancing while still enjoying a movie on the big screen. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but it’s a nice thought.