The Sioux City Orpheum was designed by the nationally known Chicago firm of
Rapp & Rapp and constructed in 1927 as part of the Orpheum Circuit. The major
builder for the theatre was local Sioux City businessman, Arthur Sanford. It
was one of the largest theatres in Iowa at its time and was certainly somewhat
of a risk financially for Mr. Sanford, with a total construction cost of 1.75
million. This once opulent vaudeville and moving picture house boasted a
large 2,650 seat, three story auditorium complete with Wurlitzer pipe organ, half
circle boxes, hand carved detailing, gilded ornamentation, several crystal
chandeliers and a hand painted ceiling. Throughout the years, the Orpheum was
used for symphony performances, ballet and special attractions and hosted
entertainers such as Fred Astaire, Tallulah Bankhead, and Katherine Hepburn.
In the 1970's and 80's the Orpheum was remodeled and turned into a one-story
movie house with fluorescent light fixtures and a projection booth carved into
what was once the mezzanine balcony. Later it was split into a two-screen
theater. The wings of the balcony were cut off, the half circle boxes were
removed, and the chandeliers and fine architectural detailing were covered over with
false ceilings. The building was closed to the public in 1992.
In 1989 a nonprofit organization, the Orpheum Theatre Preservation Project,
Ltd. (OTPP), was established for the purpose of pursuing the fund raising
necessary to renovate and reopen the theatre. The Orpheum Theatre Preservation
Project was involved with the acquisition of the theatre building, renovating and
remodeling of the interior and exterior, and the establishment of an endowment
fund. The total cost of the project was approximately $12 million, with
funding from grants, foundations and private donations.
OTPP began the restoration process in 1999, with architects and theatre
experts from FEH here in Sioux City, and theatre restoration expert Ray Sheppardson
from GSI Architects in Cleveland, OH. The building was restored by a
restoration team of local and nationally prominent professionals including Glover
Painting, Sioux City, Iowa; Holtze Construction Company, Sioux City, Iowa;
Evergreen Painting Studios, New York, New York; New Metal Crafts, Chicago, Illinois;
and Tiffin Scenic Studios, Inc., Tiffin, Ohio.
The few surviving crystal chandeliers, light fixtures and lighting devises
were meticulously restored. The missing ones were replaced with exact replicas
or period appropriate antiques and reproductions. The aluminum entrance doors
were replaced with historically appropriate African mahogany doors. All of
the terrazzo baseboards and mahogany handrails were stripped and their finishes
restored. The original drapes and fabric wall coverings were reproduced in
both the grand lobby and the auditorium. The original carpet was carefully
replicated and installed throughout the theatre. The original ornate terra cotta
drinking fountains were replicated from the original drawings and returned to
their prominent positions. The balcony and side boxes were replaced using
original drawings and available photographs.
The heavy, post historic stucco material was stripped off the walls. The
flat wall and ceiling surfaces were skim coated and restored. Molds were created
of the original plaster ornament. The damaged and missing plaster ornament
was restored with replicas made from these molds. Ornamental plaster was
applied to the rebuilt balcony and box seats. A study of the historic finishes
identified which finishes were original and how they could be cleaned. It also
revealed what the original decorative finishes were in areas that had been
painted over. The stencil and trompe l'oeil grand lobby ceiling was uncovered and
meticulously documented. The historic designs were replicated to match the
original appearance in technique and color. The surviving original auditorium
stencil and trompe l'oeil was carefully cleaned and repaired and missing
sections were meticulously reproduced. Historic decorative finishes were
reinstated throughout the entire theatre and lobbies.
Approximately two years and thousands of hours later, the Orpheum Theatre was
re-opened on September 15, 2001. Since the grand re-opening, the theatre has
provided the Siouxland area an opportunity to attend performances by fabulous
performers like Bill Cosby, Sheryl Crow, BB King, Bob Dylan, Wynton Marsalis,
David Copperfield, Willie Nelson, Jewel, Alison Kraus, and Jerry Seinfeld.
In addition, thousands have witnessed spectacular Broadway shows and enjoy
hearing the Sioux City Symphony.
The Orpheum Theatre would like to express their appreciation not only to our
donors, but to the Siouxland community for attending our performances and
supporting our theatre.