1930-1939: Building the Avery

Embracing a New Era of Film

Jan. 20, 1930 – An election in Belmond to determine if the community would support showing movies on Sundays. It passed by a margin of 3 to 1 in favor of Sunday movies. Britt had earlier passed a similar measure by 126 votes.  Clear Lake, Kanawha, Algona, Mason City and other nearby towns had already voted in favor of Sunday movies by decisive majority votes.

Feb 3, 1930 – Garner City Council met with various civic leaders to discuss the question of whether to allow Sunday movies.  The businessmen’s committee stated that Garner needed to “keep abreast of the times” or eventually lose the business they’d been fighting to keep in the community.  It was a stated belief that the country people would transact their business in the towns which also provided their amusements.  If they were to get in the habit of going a couple miles to other towns, the habit of shopping in those communities would be established.

A strong argument for making the change was the fact that “outside capital could not be procured for the talkie movies unless it was assured the right to put on Sunday shows” as potential investors did not believe that revenues solely from weekday shows would create a “paying proposition.”

Strong opinions against the Sunday movies were expressed by the Reverands Lewis, Sprole and Van Metre who stated it would be a “desecration of the Sabbath day.” Mrs. Charles Tompkins declared herself against the Sunday shows to “protect the children who cannot be controlled by their parents.”

In general the businessmen agreed with the argument put forth by representatives of the local churches: merchants would experience no direct gains from a Sunday movie show.

Feb 25, 1930 – A special election was held to consider the proposition of allowing Sunday movies. “Both sides of the referendum were out with automobiles bringing voters to and from the polls,” according to the local news story. A total of 592 votes were cast, exceeding the previous voter turnout record by 40 votes.  The referendum carried by a vote of 392 to 194.

Sept. 15, 1930 – Plans and specifications for the construction of the new building were furnished to contractors wishing to submit bids for the project. Figures submitted by contractors were within the cost estimates provided by the architects.

November 12, 1930 — Contracts are signed for the start of construction on a “new sound theatre” in Garner, Iowa, with organization and financing of the project credited to the Marks Amusement Company of St. Paul, Minnesota.

November 19, 1930 — Site excavation is finished; the next day cement is poured for concrete footings and basement.

November 29, 1930 — Bricklaying begins; progress moves “along steadily since in the walls of brick and hollow tile.”

December 3, 1930 — Garner Leader story recounts building method used during an Iowa winter: Precautions … necessary in handling the mixtures make extra work in building during the cold season, for all the water and sand are heated so the concrete and mortar are hot when they are used, and retain that heat until they set, after which the freezing does not affect them.

December 8, 1930 — Mr. A.L. Aved, a representative of R.C.A. Corporation, visits the worksite after R.C.A. Photophone sound-reproducing equipment is selected. Mr. Aved declared the interior construction as “being designed with splendid detail for acoustic properties that would add to the sound producing qualities of entertainment.”

December 17, 1930 — Theater manager, Mr. Charles Marks of St. Paul, is formally introduced in the Garner Leader: “Mr. Marks is a theater man of many years’ experience and understands all the tricks connected with the business of buying pictures…” It then quotes a report from the St. Paul Daily News: “Mr. Marks, formerly operator of the Tuxedo theater, W. 7th Street and Smith Avenue, and more recently affiliated with Publix theaters, will leave St. Paul for Garner, Iowa, to take charge of the new $35,000 theater in that city. The Theater was designed and is being built by the Sperry Realty Co., Pittsburgh Building, St. Paul.”

December 18-25, 1930 — Steel girders supporting the roof are positioned; second story window frames and outside walls anticipate completion shortly after the holiday.

February 1931 — Mr. H.M. Shelton of Shelton Decorating, Co., Minneapolis, visits the worksite and consults with the contracted decorators. His suggestions are incorporated into the design scheme.

February 18, 1931 — Suggested by Miss Miriam Love, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Matt T. Love, the winning entry in naming contest is announced: “Perhaps the only motion picture theatre in the United States to bear the name ‘Avery.’ It is the name of the first white settler to establish a home in Hancock County, Mr. and Mrs. Anson Avery.”

March 17, 1931 — Just four months from start of construction, “The Avery” is inaugurated with a Grand Opening celebration. Billed as “Northern Iowa’s Finest Theatre,” the movie was Warner Brother’s feature Sit Tight starring the “king and queen of comedy, Winnie Lightner and Joe E. Brown.”

Apr. 8, 1931 — The Avery Sweet Shop, operated by Mr. L.H. Brown, opened for business in the north retail space of the theater.  If offered a selection of ice cream, soft drinks, popcorn, candies, cigars and cigarettes.  At the time of its initial opening, the theater did not have a concession area.

Sept. 25, 1935 — The “Miss Garner” beauty contest is held at the Avery Theater. Miss Marjorie Zeigers won the pageant title.

Oct. 4, 1939 — Sale of the Avery Theater is announced. Donald & Edna Gran purchase the theater from Villaume Box and Lumber Company of St. Paul, the official owner of the building property on Oct. 28, 1939. Prior to her Oct. 1 marriage to Donald Gran, Miss Edna Collins Rector operated a theater in Sioux Rapids. Mrs. Gran is the daughter of Mrs. Sarah Collins, while Mr. Gran is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Gran, a businessman of Milford.

Oct. 23, 1939 – A farewell party for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Marks and Miss Mary Nevin was held at the Garner Opera House. A large crowd of friends and civic leaders expressed their appreciation to the many contributions made by the family during their time in Garner. Marks was one of the founding members of the local Chamber of Commerce, and a long-time member of the Garner Lions Club. Mrs. Marks was a member of the Garner Women’s Club, and a charter member and longtime president of the Garden Department, which staged annual flower shows. The family returned to their previous home in St. Paul, Minn.

December 1939 — After being purchased by Donald Gran, The Avery underwent a major redecorating project in December 1939, just eight years after it opened. The auditorium was “repainted in powder blue and shades of rust and gray.” The foyer and lobby were also redecorated, and all light fixtures were replaced. In addition “two ultra modern mural panels” were added that were painted with fluorescent paint and illuminated with black lights.

Dec. 16, 1939 –The newly remodeled and redecorated Avery Theater’s Grand Opening feature picture was “At the Circus” starring the Marx Brothers.

May 1-3, 1940 – “Gone with the Wind” premiers at the Avery Theater. Despite it’s length of nearly 4 hours, MGM’s movie became an instant classic and was a huge commercial success. It would return to the Avery screen almost a year later on April 27-29, 1941; and again Aug. 13-15, 1942.

Late 1940 – “Bank Nights” encouraged attendance at the movies. Patrons would fill out registration slips for a chance to win monetary prizes. Also around this time a 15-jewel Bulova Wrist Watch was given away as a prize.