History of the Wieting

A Comeback Story

A Comeback Story

In the summer of 1960, the Wieting was featured in the Wall Street Journal as a movie house which had made a successful comeback. Similar articles have appeared in several local papers. It cannot be praised too highly for it has come back into its own by the effort of many citizens working together for no profit except the important intangible benefits. Mrs. Wieting would be proud of this activity.

Movies are shown every weekend, and the facilities are host to a variety of live stage entertainment... when it comes along. The Wieting is cleaner than the average theatre, in building and film. It operates in the black, and theatre improvements are constant and ongoing.

The theatre is one of four structures in Toledo (including the Tama County Courthouse, jail and the old Toledo fire station) that are registered as historic buildings.

 There is indeed cause to celebrate this comeback story, for the Wieting is fulfilling its donor's wish.

As the plaque which hangs above the front door proclaims: "This playhouse was built in the year A.D. 1912 by Ella W. Wieting as a memorial to her husband, Philip G. Wieting, and dedicated to our many friends in the town where we so long abode.”

 

 


A Community Project

A Community Project

It was early spring, 1960, when a half-dozen women drifted into the school hot lunch room to talk over cookies and coffee following a meeting of the P.T.A. They deplored the lack of local movies, and they regretted the closing of the Wieting building, which would lose its trust fund income in the fall of 1969, unless it reopened.

As a result of that impromptu meeting the first "Wieting meeting" was held April 7, 1960, at the Community Building with 40 citizens in attendance. They organized the Toledo Community Theatre Guild, wrote a constitution, attracted others to the organization; and on May 18, 1960, 60 volunteers gathered in the Wieting lobby. They found the theatre musty, cobwebby, full of dreams and promise.

An executive committee was chosen. They included: Mrs. Willard Beadle (chairman), Mrs. Virgil Wulff, Mrs. Charles Maplethorpe Jr., Leo Benda, and Dallas Sloan. A grand experiment was launched with the committee teaching themselves the complicated mechanics of modern show business throughout the summer months.

The equipment was purchased from Mrs. Sichra. Men, women and children from the community volunteered with brooms, paint brushes, and screwdrivers. The Wieting trustees - Nelson King, Carl Stiger, Don Cronan, Leona Reinig and R. L. Morgan - also pitched in to help.

The theatre reopened its doors to a full house on Sept. 16, 1960. There were many who had attended the opening 48 years before, many who had memories of watching shows throughout the years, and a surprising number who had never been inside the theatre before. The sale of 109 family season tickets bode well for the theater’s financial future. A fundraiser known as “tag day” earned enough to purchase a drinking fountain for the theatre. Box office and concessions profits improved projection equipment, bought better seats and carpets, and remodeled the lobby.

In the spring of 1961 the Cornell College Players were the first to walk the stage of the reopened Wieting. They were thrilled and impressed, as actors had been almost 50 years before, with how accommodating and pleasant the stage and the area around it was. School, church and community plays have followed. Receipts from theatre rental have been used to purchase new stage fittings.


The Pace Changes

The Pace Changes

The heyday of the road show and the lecture course passed. In 1920, there were comments in the newspapers that perhaps there would not be a lecture course that year.

Movies were coming into “full bloom.” The Wieting had apparently had a screen almost from the first, for Art Ludwig was being paid for "operating" as early as 1913. Art’s wife and others were paid to play the piano as accompaniment to silent films of the era. Down the street, the Bijou (a true movie theatre) was operating where the American Legion now has its club. Later, the Cozy (another movie house) was to open its doors on Broadway just across from the courthouse square.

Another era past when Guy Wieting died. The financial report of 1931 shows the theatre leased to F. C. Cook and A. S. Smith for a "Talking Picture Show.” The following year, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Sichra leased the theatre and it was to remain under that management for 26 years. Mr. Sichra died in 1948, but his wife Lucille continued the management. By the late fifties, movies had declined because of competition from television, and the Wieting ran only part of the time. Mrs. Sichra closed the theatre completely in November, 1958. The curtain fell on the Wieting - but it was not the end, only the intermission.


The Master Director

The Master Director

Perhaps the greatest factor in the Wieting's early success was its manager - John G. Wieting, or Guy, as he was more commonly known. Guy was a nephew of Dr. P. G. Wieting, and he had a knack for show business. He became the theater’s first and only salaried manager earning $30 per month, a position he held for many years until his death.

He immediately associated the theatre with the best booking companies out of New York City. Those who still remember Guy will recollect that he also traveled for specialties and had a store here. His father operated a hotel where the Toledo post office now stands.


Brilliant "Opening Scene"

Brilliant "Opening Scene"

Described as the "latest in opera house construction," the Wieting had been built through the spring and summer of 1912 for a total cost of $20,000. A brick building, 50 feet x 100 feet, it would seat 650 - with all the features of a fine opera house: stage, orchestra pit, main floor, balcony, two boxes, dressing rooms, a ticket office, toilets, and rest rooms.

The contract for construction of the theatre was awarded in mid-March, 1912, to C. W. Ennis. Sherman Ennis directed the construction and supervised a number of tradesman and subcontractors including: James Bridge, carpentry work; A. H. Conant, roofing and plumbing; Roy Davis electrical wiring; G. M. Berger and Son, painting; Clarence Brainard, decorating.

The Wieting immediately attracted high-grade entertainment. Located along the main line from Chicago through Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown to Omaha, the theatre was large enough to attract the best performers who could turn a nice profit on a weeks stand. People who remember those early days, remember the Opera House as "always busy." There were minstrel shows, lyceum courses, class plays (high school and college), graduations, political conventions, and medicine shows. There was once a Ku Klux Klan gathering in the theatre and always a busy “Fair Week” with shows every night and a Saturday matinee.

If you are a Tama-Toledo resident, then perhaps you remember the Juvenile Bostionians and the Florida Voss Hall players? How about Beech Green? Mr. and Mrs. Art Ludwig? Do you remember the "war tax" paid on all entertainment programs in 1917 and 1918? These things and many others are recorded in "the books."


Other Contributions

Other Contributions

Others have contributed effort and money to the theatre through the years. As early as January, 1913, records show a long list of individual donations of money to help pay for operating expenses. There were many necessary items needed, such as the five spittoons purchased April 5, 1913, from J. A. Salzman. 

On April 28, 1923, Mrs. Wieting gave an additional $1,000 to pay for new basement and foundation work, and that same year the Federated Club was promoting donations to keep the building in good condition. In her will, Mrs. Wieting left $10,000 to be set up as a trust fund with the interest to be used for the care and upkeep of the building. Actually, only $7,900 of this was received, for Mrs. Wieting had made many bequests and the estate, although large, could not cover them entirely. Original trustees of the Wieting Opera Co. were Ella W. Wieting, W. A. Dexter, P. K. Rebok, J. G. Wieting, J. F. Yothers, and H. J. Stiger. 


History

What follows is a very brief telling of the long history of Toledo's Wieting Theatre presented in 8 parts. It's worth noting up front that the Wieting opened in 1912 and celebrated it's first centennial in 2012. With considerable luck and the hard work of the Wieting Theatre Guild, Trustees and many volunteers, the Wieting marked this grand milestone with completion of extensive renovations of the theatre.

Also worth noting... the theatre is one of four structures in Toledo (including the Tama County Courthouse, jail and the old Toledo fire station) on the National Register of Historic Places. Did you know there is another Wieting Theatre still in operation? It's true. The community of Worcester, NY, is home to that other theatre. Check out their threatre and its history at: http://www.WietingTheatre.com.


The Wieting's

The Wietings

Dr. and Mrs. P. G. Wieting had moved to Toledo in the spring of 1867 from Worcester, NY. Wieting initially practiced dentistry in Toledo and also had successful interests in the mercantile and abstract businesses. In 1878, with his father-in-law, N .H. Wilder, Dr. Wieting started the Toledo City Bank - forerunner of the present local bank. He was on the board of directors until his death on Feb. 12, 1906.

Around the turn of the century, the Wietings moved back to New York state, to Syracuse. Wieting, who had prospered here, prospered even more in the new location where he became associated with a relative in a manufacturing concern and amassed his new fortune.

After his death, his widow gave generously to worthy causes. Three of her gifts were memorial theater to the three towns where the Wietings had lived happily and participated widely in civic affairs: Worcester, New York; Toledo, Iowa; and Syracuse, New York.


The Opening

The Opening

The new curtains of the Wieting Opera House parted for the first time at 8 o' clock on the evening of Sept. 12, 1912. A capacity "house," all dressed for the gala occasion (especially those in the box seats), had paid $1.50, $2.00 or $2.50 per ticket to see the Sheehan English Opera Company’s presentation of “Il Trovatore.” The show featured Joseph F. Sheehan, "America's Greatest Tenor" and a supporting cast of more than one hundred.

Mrs. P. G. Wieting, who was giving the new theatre to the people of Toledo in memory of her husband, was introduced on the stage by H. J. Stiger, who had looked after her interests in the construction of the building, which had begun in the spring of 1912.