The Collegian Theater (1937-1974)

The Collegian Theater in Downtown Ames

The Collegian Theater was one place where Ames residents could find relief from hot summer temperatures in the late 1930s. Built in 1937 by Joe Gerbach’s Ames Theatre Company for $142,000, the Collegian is remembered for its art deco front, neon signs, glorious sounds and state-of-the-art lighting.

The place was known for its modern architecture and furnishings everywhere from the lobby to the restrooms. At the time, the Ames Daily Tribune particularly reported on the sound quality of the new theater through Wester Electric’s mirrophonic sound. “The mechanism which takes the sound from its ‘track’ on the film does so wholly without distortion or ‘flutter.’” The Mirrophonic Living Sound came from a nest of 15 horns designed to “spray the sound” to every part of the theater from behind the screen.

A feature of the new theatre was the installation of special ear-phones for the hard of hearing. “The phones will be checked out to the patrons as they enter and will be plugged in at the seats,” reported the Ames Daily Tribune.”

The theater, which could seat more than 900 people, was air conditioned and in the early 1950’s, was the first theater in Ames ready to play movies in the widescreen format. Plays were also able to be performed in it. The Collegian frequently had long lines and the biggest Hollywood movies of the time.

​As a result of declining attendance, the Collegian closed in January 1974. Its final night had more staff on hand than attendees. The building was sold, and today, the building is occupied by US Bank on Main Street in Downtown Ames.