New Ames Theater as a Classroom

Tribune photo published November 8, 1956
The New Ames Theater became a "classroom for a day" Tuesday when 850 officers and members of the Iowa State College Air Force ROTC used the theater through the courtesy of the Ames Operationg Co. to show a special Air Force film.  Above, the college students are shown as they left the theater after the 1 p.m. showing.

Whether to allow a movie house close to campus was a tough question for Ames in the teens.  A city ordinance had stated the only theatre district was to be downtown so the students would not be distracted from their studies.  There was considerable pressure, however, to build a movie house close to the college.  When the ordinance was repealed in August of 1919, A.L. Champlin worked towards building a theater on his block just west of Welch.  His campustown theater was called the American Theatre until it was purchased by Joe Gerbracht in 1920 and re-named the Ames Theater.  Learn more

Ames Daily Tribune and Ames Evening Times, August 6, 1919


Bids have been received and this afternoon they will be opened and the contract let for the erection of the new building, which will house the new picture show in the fourth ward.

A.L. Champlin stated it was the object to hurry the building along, while at the same time paying every attention to safety and to make it one of the prettiest buildings in that section of the city.  Coukolls and Mattock, who are to operate the show have made the purchase of all the material they will need.  The equipment has been selected with all care as to making it one of the best looking picture houses in the state.  The equipment will be shipped to the city immediately and will be ready for placing in position when the building is completed.  The contract calls for the completion of the building by October 1st.

Ames Daily Tribune and Evening Times, December 26, 1919


Finishing touches are being given today to the new American theatre in the Fourth ward which has been erected at a cost of almost $50,000 to give college people and others the convenience of a theatre at their very doors.

"Male and Female," Cicil B. De Mille's big production, opens the theatre on Monday night.

The new American Theatre is to be under the same management as the Princess theatre down town.  Famous players, Paramount, Artcraft pictures, together with big special releases will be shown.  The policy will be that of the Princess management. The building has just been completed by A.L. Champlin whose store it adjoins, especially for the theatre.  It has a capacity of 800 with large roomy seats so arranged as to give an excellent view of the screen.  There is a stage large enough and sufficiently equipped to provide for dramatic productions. The foyer is seven and one-half by thiry-eight feet. The theatre itself is decorated in French blue and ivory, with paneling in maroon and old rose with which beautiful effects are gained.  There is a large lobby, in the center of which is the box office, and directly back of the box office the projection booth is one of the roomiest in the country.  It is equipped with two simplex machines of the latest and highest type and with a mercury arc rectifier.

Performances will be given both matinee and evening, every day in the year.

Ames also struggled with censorship in 1919, as the community attempted to regulate both movies and vaudeville.

View additional images of the New Ames Theater

Ames Daily Tribune and Ames Evening Times, May 2, 1928

This paper towel Crying Towel was supplied by the New Ames Theatre for patrons watching the 1931 movie, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath, starring Buster Keaton.


A motion picture theater, with a seating capacity of nearly 1100, will be reconstructed this summer from the present Ames theater, by the Ames Theater company, which is operated by Joe Gerbracht in affiliation with A.H. Blank of Des Moines. The architect's plans indicate that practically a new building will be constructed. The present Ames theater will be dismantled and the building almost torn down.  Work will begin June 10.  The new structure will be erected to take up the entire building owned by A.L. Champlin. The plans have been drawn by Vorse, Kraetsch and Kraetsch of Des Moines. The orchestra floor will seat 600, and a balcony 450.  The entire theater will be equipped with new chairs, installed sufficiently far apart to give easy access. An indirect lighting system will be installed, also heating and cooling systems, and a ventilating system which will change the air in four and a half minutes. There will be a mezzanine floor with retiring, smoking, and children's rooms.  The entrance lobby and box office will be finished in original designs. The stage will be large enough to house stage presentation acts.  Plans are now under way for the installation of Vitaphone equipment. The theater will be completed before the opening of school in September.  The front of the building will bear a canopy, and electric signs.  The two rooms on either side of the present entrance will be remodeled, and let to Ames concerns. The building of this theater is the second step in the theater expansion plans outlined by Mr. Gerbracht.  The first was the remodeling of the Capitol theater downtown.

Joe Gerbracht

Ames Daily Tribune, September 16, 1957


When the New Ames Theatre opens for its 36th season Thursday, patrons will have their first opportunity to view the completely redecorated interior. An effect of refreshing simplicity has been achieved in the Swedish Modern theme carried out by Dahlstrom and Weinberger, theatre decorating specialists, from Minneapolis, Minn.  Curved lines, dots, triangles and diamond shapes have been combined into a rhythmic abstraction by G.F. Dahlstrom of the decorating firm. Colors have been used to accent the screen area and to give the illusion that the whole front section is one unit.  Warm hues of peach, blending into a rose color of the same intensity have been used at the front of the house. The dado, which comprises the first eight feet of the side walls, is a gray green.  The remainder of the wall area is pale silver gray which serves as a background for the Swedish abstract designs done in red orange, white, deep gray, chartreuse and black. At the rear of the theatre acoustical areas have been painted light green. Restrooms and lounges have been redecorated in colors of yellow and peach.  Some new stair carpeting has been added. This is the first overall decoration of the theatre since 1928 though frequent cleanings and touch-up decorations have been carried out.  In 1955 the box office and lobby section were completely remodeled at a cost of $20,000. Joe Gerbrach, president of the Ames Theatre Co., said this year's improvements done at a cost of between $12,000 and $15,000, add up to a theatre that is "like new" for the start of the 1957 season.

Accoustically the theatre has been tested by engineers and found to be practically perfect.  The New Ames has the latest projection, sound and visual equipment including a wide angle cinemascope screen.  Efforts have been concentrated on the New Ames Theatre this year.  However, sections of both the Collegian Theatre and the Varsity have been repainted, and new aisle carpeting has been laid. Opening night at the New Ames will feature Clark Gable and Yvonne DeCarlo in "Band of Angels." Completion of the modernization and redecoration of the New Ames reminded one long time Ames resident of the night when it was first opened in 1921.  He said that patrons attending the opening night movie had to come on dirt streets since there was then no pavement on Lincoln Way where it passed the theater.

Ames Theater

The New Ames Theater with the "updated" look. When the theater closed and Kingland Systems removed the aluminum sheeting, the original brick facade proclaiming "A.L. Champlin" was once more seen.