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 developer and promoter for the theatre was local Sioux City businessman, Arthur Sanford. It was the largest theatre in the State of 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 2,690 seat, six story auditorium complete with a 21 rank 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, Kirk Douglas, John Barrymore, Joseph Cotton, and Joe E. Brown.
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 entire box section of the balcony and 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 $15 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 chandeliers in the main lobby are all original to the Theatre. Many of the light fixtures were removed when the Theatre was closed, but thanks to dedicated volunteers many fixtures were recovered and half of the wall sconces are original to the Theatre. 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 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, and the Sioux City Symphony, would like to express their appreciation not only to our donors, but to the Siouxland community for attending our performances and supporting our theatre.