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The Midwest Theater

Scottsbluff, Nebraska

November 29, 2022

Note: I took this photo of the Midwest Theater this morning. Disappointing to see that it appears to have fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Perhaps it is only temporary?

On March 5, 1945, the Egyptian Theater (site of Midwest Theater) was destroyed by a fire. The fire gave the owner, William H. Ostenberg, Jr. the opportunity to build a grand theater for Scottsbluff. The fire-gutted theater was replaced in just over a year with the New Midwest Theater. Charles D. Strong, a prominent Denver, Colorado architect, was hired to draw the design plans for the new theater.

The Midwest Theater was opened on May 3, 1946 with much fanfare. The Scottsbluff Star-Herald published an eight-page Midwest Theater Edition on Wednesday, May 1, 1946.

The theater is designed in the Modernistic style of architecture and exhibits an exceptionally high degree of architectural and artistic integrity, both on its interior and exterior. The theater’s most striking feature, as described in a 1946 newspaper article, “is the marquee with a stainless steel and aluminum tower extending 60’ above the entrance”. The 15’ wide tower is flanked by glazed masonry panels. The vertical center of the tower contains 132 aluminum stars and was backed by 68 spotlights operated by an electric flasher system. Extending from the top of the tower’s two aluminum poles are two stylized wings outlined with neon lights and two starburst spheres with flashing mercury bulbs. The lighted tower was designed to be seen at night for a radius of twenty miles.

What a magnificent sight.

Friends of the Midwest Theater did a complete renovation of the marquee and all of the inside neon in November 2002.

We are very lucky that the interior of the auditorium is still in good condition. The three-dimensional plaster floral scrolls still ascend 25 feet from the floor on either side of the screen. The theme of the scrolls floral pattern continues to the colorful painted murals on the walls and ceiling.

Furturistic-sounding materials were used in the decorating of this building—Leverex, Plexiglass, Flexwood, Herculite, Satin aluminum just to name a few. There is neon throughout the interior of the theater. The “modern” interior décor and the dominant marquee and tower added to the architectural excitement of the streetscape of Scottsbluff’s downtown business district.

The theater remains today, in near original condition, with only cosmetic changes to the interior lobby and foyer during the 1970’s. In 1961 the Midwest was sold to Commonwealth Theaters, Inc. The theater eventually became a First International Theater in 1992. This company built the Cinema 6 at the Monument Mall which opened September 13, 1996 ushering in the new era of small multi-theater complexes. The final film was shown at the Midwest on September 12, 1996.

First International Theaters, donated the building to Oregon Trail Community Foundation and in November 1998 Friends of the Midwest Theater opened the theater showing classic and second run movies. FMT opened Thanksgiving weekend with three holiday classics for three weeks: “Home Alone” followed by “Prancer” and “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The Historic Midwest Theater was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1997.

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