December 8, 2022

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Swing Your Home

Campaign launched to remodel Varsity Cinema in Des Moines

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines group has launched a $3 million campaign to bring back and revamp the iconic Varsity Theatre near the Drake University campus in Des Moines.

The movie theater, known in its later years as Varsity Cinema, was a go-to venue known as an “art house” cinema that showed mostly independent and foreign films from the 1960s until its closure in 2018.

The Des Moines Film Society kicked off the campaign on Monday, seeking to transform the one-screen theater into a film center dedicated full-time to screening first-run, foreign and independent films, the Des Moines Register reported. It also would host themed programming and partner with local organizations for screenings and other events.

The effort comes as Drake, developers and business owners are investing millions to revamp the University Avenue business district sometimes known as Dogtown.

“I was there in the ’60s when the Varsity Theatre was outstanding and students and everyone used it constantly,” said Loretta Sieman, who along with her husband, Robert, is leading the campaign to bring back the theater.

Built originally in 1917 as an auto garage, it opened as a movie theater in 1938. Restoration plans call for new, traditional-style seats in the 300-seat auditorium and a lobby with concessions and full bar. Upstairs, the Des Moines Film Society plans to open a 50-seat “micro cinema” to be used for the organization’s programming or as a classroom.

Outside, the organization plans to bring back a triangle marquee with an art deco fin above it.

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