100 N. Maple Street, Lamoni, Decatur County, Iowa
1933 Program
The Coliseum Theater was built at the intersection of Main and Maple Streets in 1911. At the time, construction of the theater drew a storm of criticism and controversy from residents who believed such a facility and its consequent activities were improper and not in keeping with the town's standards. RLDS Bishop Edmund L. Kelley was one of the theater's early supporters and delivered an address during the Coliseum's dedication ceremony.

Initially, The Coliseum operated on a trust plan. Mrs. Lorena (Bathe) Rhodes was the pianist for The Coliseum orchestra for a number years. [wife of Otis Rhodes]

On June 3, 1915, Graceland's first associate of arts degree (as a junior college) was held at the Coliseum Theatre with six graduates.

Graceland students held recitals at the theater during The Coliseum's early years going back to approval by the college's Board of Trustees on May 10, 1912. Also, during its early years, The Coliseum operated as a community hall. Many anniversary celebrations, weddings and funerals were conducted at the theatre. At times church services were conducted there as well.

Graceland signed a contract to purchase The Coliseum from Charles Haskins on October 30, 1925. Ownership was transferred the following March. The Coliseum was purchased from a $10,000 endowment. The Coliseum Trust Company, a five-member board of directors, was named to oversee the theater's business operations. During its first year with Graceland, The Coliseum operated at a loss.

"Since the next "Fun Night" falls on Christmas Eve the Coliseum management has announced the same show will also be shown on Monday night for the benefit of those who want to leave town for Christmas Eve. So this week only, the Fun Night show will also be offered on Monday night at 7 and 9 o'clock. Tuesday night the shows will be at the regular time, 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30. This is the same both nights."
~ The Lamoni Chronicle, Thursday, December 19, 1940, Page 1

On September 17, 1945, Graceland observed her 50th anniversary with a program held at the Coliseum Theater. Although it was sometimes referred to as “The Collegian Theater,” it was known as The Coliseum from January of 1959 to August of 1974. The Coliseum Trust Board was disbanded in 1979 and operations were placed under the care of Orville Hiles, the director of the Memorial Student Center. At some time, Eugene Closson became the manager of The Coliseum, and held this position for many years.

The basement of the building had from the beginning served the community well for reunions, company meetings, funerals, and other such social gatherings. From 1973 until the spring of 1978, the basement was utilized as a dance and entertainment establishment called The Trust Company. During the fall of 1978, a Mexican-American restaurant called The Sundown Cafe was open for business in the basement facilities. These facilities later became the Dew Drop Den

The Dew Drop Den was fashioned as a coffeehouse-style entertainment center and opened in September of 1981. Graceland student Derrick Fulton proposed the idea to feature entertainment by the students, consequently becoming the first student manager for the venture. The Dew Drop Den closed soon after the start of the fall semester of 1985, then Choices, again a dance and entertainment hot-spot, which opened in October of 1985 and lasted longer than the other endeavors.

Over the years tales of audiences witnessing bats soaring below the auditorium's ceiling or in front of the movie screen have become almost legendary in nature and an element in quite a few student's “Graceland experience.” On Sunday, September 29, 1985, during one of the showings of the movie “Amadeus” several from the audience became quite ill when debris in the theater's ventilation system clogged up and accumulating gas within the auditorium forced the building to be evacuated.

During the summer of 1992, the front main entrance was remodeled and a wheelchair ramp was installed.

SOURCE: Goehner, David. “The Graceland College Book of Knowledge: From A To Z.” Pp. 55-6, 73. Herald House. Independence MO. 1997.

Alumni, Community Donations Preserve Graceland History

Graceland buildings hold years of history, tradition and memories of thousands of students. This year, thanks to a generous alumni and Lamoni community donations, we've been able to preserve two of these valuable buildings: The Roy A. Cheville Chapel and the Coliseum Theatre.

Preserving a Community Treasure: The Coliseum

The Coliseum’s renovations came just in time for the venue’s 100th anniversary. Over the years, the building has served a variety of purposes: a recital hall, a temporary RLDS church, a Mexican restaurant called the Sundown Café, Choices (a student night spot), and, quite infamously, a home to a family of friendly bats.

The theatre is an important venue for GU students and the community, but its future was threatened by advancements in film technology. Without projection upgrades, new digital movies could not be used. The Coliseum would become defunct. This is where Randy and Laurie Nipper ’85 Heintz stepped in.

Randy grew up locally and Laurie is a current member of the Graceland Board of Trustees. Both saw the value The Coliseum brings not only to Graceland, but to the Lamoni community. They provided a lead gift for the project. At that point, the community stepped in, setting a goal to not just give The Coliseum necessary updates, but to transform the building into a top-notch treasure. BTC Bank, Varsity Drug, Hy-Vee, American State Bank, Industrial Hardfacing, Bank of the West and the Hammer Family Foundation all made generous gifts to preserve our hometown theatre.

A larger stage, SoundFold pleated curtains (for improved acoustics), a 3-D Digital Projector and Projection Screen, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo sound system and balcony speakers have been installed. The Coliseum has already played its first 3-D movie (Titanic), and others, to packed houses. First-run, opening-night movies have come to Lamoni!

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SOURCE: Goehner, David. “The Graceland College Book of Knowledge: From A To Z.” Pp. 37-8, 55-6, 73. Herald House. Independence MO. 1997.
The Lamoni Chronicle. p. 1. 19 Dec 1940.
Horizons. p.5. Vol. 28, No. 1. Graceland University. Summer, 2012.
Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2015; updated February of 2017
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