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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014

When Aurelia had a movie theater

Friday, March 4, 2011

Old movie cards bring big bucks on Antiques Roadshow

An appearance by a former Aurelian on the Feb. 14, 2011 edition of Public Television's "Antiques Roadshow" caught my attention.

(Photo)
This building at 120 S. Main St. in Aurelia, which currently houses Maple Valley Hardware, was the home of the Aurelia Community Theater from 1945-1954. Photo by Dan Whitney
I don't normally watch the show, but my old friend Gary Anderson tipped me off about the Feb. 14th show, and I tuned in for a couple of reasons - #1, it's always neat to see someone you know on the tube, and #2 - the item this person was having appraised was movie-related, and I have been a big movie buff for most of my life.

But before I get to that - a little bit about the Aurelia Community Theater, which ceased to exist in 1954.

According to the Aurelia Centennial Book (1973), the Aurelia theater was started in the early days of movies, and it was first run by Ben Butterworth, at a location on the south end of Main Street. Butterworth and his partner Jim Thomson turned the business over to John Eding in 1920.

Eding and his wife Ola moved the theater's location to the new Legion Hall, on the north end of Main Street, when it was built in 1927, which was the same year as the first film with sound, "The Jazz Singer," was released. John Eding reportedly traveled to Omaha and bought 24 old second-hand seats for the theater.

The location was later changed again, in about 1945, to the Schroeder Building, on the south end of Main Street. This location later housed the Whiting Clothing Store, The Side Pocket, and Maple Valley Hardware.

Former Maple Valley owner Mark Wharton moved the front door from the south side of the front to the middle when he had his store there, and Maple Valley Hardware, now owned by Bruce and Carla Peterson, still occupies the building.

The films were projected from a booth on the second floor, with seating on the ground floor. Admission to movies was originally 20 cents for adults and 5 cents for children, but the price was eventualy raised to 25 cents for adults and 7 cents for children.

The films cost the Edings a reported $20-25 per film, with the classic "Gone With the Wind" costing a whopping $75.

The films were shown at the Aurelia Community Theater on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and they were films that the Aurelia Theater obtained as a member of a "circuit" of theaters. John Eding would circulate the films among theaters in several small towns in the area, driving them to Peterson, Pierson, Rembrandt and Quimby. Included with the film reels were posters and window cards for display at the theaters. There was a blank white spot at the top of each window card, and each theater would write their theater's name in that spot.

My brother Doug remembers "going to Saturday afternoon movies, starring my hero Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or Hopalong Cassidy" in the Aurelia theater in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He also remembers that, in addition to the features, there were also brief serials, "so we had to come back the next week to see the next episode."

"The theater was always kind of a mysterious place (to me)," Doug said. "It was always dark, and we never quite saw the room clearly - it probably wasn't very pretty in the daylight," he concluded. Doug also remembers Ola Eding showing films outdoors in the summertime.

Long-time Aurelia citizen John Baumann helped clean up the theater after films when he was a high school student, and he, too, remembers watching his hero, Roy Rogers, there. John said he liked Roy Rogers because in his films, Rogers' horse Trigger always seemed to be able to out-run jeeps, trucks, and cars.

John Eding passed away in 1947, but Ola continued to manage the Aurelia theater until 1954, when she sold the building to brothers Lawrence and Lyle Whiting, who opened their clothing store at that location. Aurelia hasn't had its own theater since that time.

As for Ola Eding, she and her sister, Mary "Mel" Menefee, both recently widowed (Charles Menefee died in 1945 and John Eding in 1947) moved in together to the home that had been built by their late father, George Dietrich, at 610 Walnut Street , right next door to the home where my family lived for the first five years of my life. The "Dietrich sisters" were later residents at Sunset Knoll Retirement Home in Aurelia, and Mel Menefee passed away at the age of 97, on Dec. 1, 1978, and her younger sister Ola passed away at the age of 93 on June 10, 1979.

Several souvenirs from Ola's days as a theater manager were discovered in the Walnut Street house when it was remodeled by the current owner, Bill Smith, and the souvenirs came into the possession of Craig Menefee, who was Ola's great-nephew (and Mel's grandson).

Now back to the 'Antiques Roadshow' program. The person who was having an item appraised on the Feb. 14 show was not identified on the show (which I gather is the standard practice of the show), but thanks to Gary Anderson, I knew who she was, and a little bit about the background of the appraised item.

(Photo)
Joan Menefee with one of her unexpected treasures. Photo contributed.
The woman in question was Joan (Nielsen) Menefee, the daughter of Joy and the late Earl Nielsen. Joan was a member of the Aurelia High School Class of 1967, and she married a member of the AHS Class of '66, Craig Menefee, in 1968.

Craig became a Doctor of Chiropractic, and opened a practice in Boone in 1971. Craig Menefee, like his brother Steve (who was my high school classmate and friend) was an avid hunter. He reportedly loved spending time shooting skeet and sporting clays with the Boone County Sportsmen's Club, served as a board member at that club for many years, and was a medalist several times in the skeet event at the Iowa Games.

Craig was just 60 years of age when he suffered an untimely death in December 2008 - ironically, following a hunting trip. His unexpected death came on the heels of his father Cliff's own death, just a few weeks before that.

On the recent 'Antiques Roadshow,' which was taped in Des Moines on August 7, 2010, Joan Menefee presented a portfolio of old movie "window cards" (small posters on a light cardboard stock, designed for window display at theaters) for appraisal - some of the items that Craig Menefee had received from his Aunt Ola's home.

Among the films whose window cards were shown on the TV show were "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs," and "Gone With the Wind," and most of the cards had the name of a theater written on the card, among them "Aurelia" and "Galva."

Among the items that appraisor Rudy Franchi looked at on the show were a window card for 'Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs,' which he appraised at $4000-$5000, and a 'Gone With the Wind' card, which he appraised at $2000 - $2500. He estimated the entire portfolio of window cards to be worth $25,000-$28,000.

Joan Menefee's reaction on the show?

"Well, Ola would be thrilled."

(Photo)
Here are the four window cards which were displayed on 'The Antiques Road Show.' Note the town names "Aurelia" and "Galva" at the top of the first and third cards. Photo contributed
Joan tells me that the posters are currently stored in a safe environment to stop any further deterioration, while the family makes a decision about them.



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