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By Erin Schwager

Preserving the Past

Historical Society records community's history


Erin Schwager

Old-fashioned advertising • The backdrop in the Rex Theatre dates back more than 100 years, around 1914 or 1915, when advertisement of businesses was important.

Orchard residents consider it a fortunate town when it comes to preserving the history that has taken place hundreds of years ago.

Those who have toured the District 57 Schoolhouse or visited the Rex Theatre, have found stories about the places incredible.

In 1914, the lot of land north of the Commercial Hotel went up for sale, so Austin C. King, Jr., a banker at the time, along with Lloyd M. Drayton, purchased the land. The two men were interested in progressing the community and they thought a movie theater would be beneficial to the town.

The Rex Theatre held its grand opening, November 3, 1915. The building boasted a capacity of 250 to 300 people.

While it was still a movie theater, the floor was sloped higher in the back to make the screen visible to everyone.

While there are no pictures of what the inside of the theatre looked like originally, rumor has it customers would come in one door. The concession stand stood where the men's restroom resides now.

According to members of the Orchard Historical Society, it is believed the screen was probably where the backdrop lays now.

Through the years, Wayne Lautenschlager was involved with sales and buying items for the theater. The backdrop displayed in the Rex Theatre came out of the old Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall, dating back to 1915 or 1916.

The story behind what the backdrop was supposed to be used for is unknown, but the old opera houses used the stage curtain as a backdrop for plays to help advertise businesses.

Again, with no pictures of the inside, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where everything was placed.

While the theatre was running, it was typically open Wednesday through Sunday nights. Some movies shown were "Wild Harvest," "Little Miss Broadway," "Footsteps in the Fog," "Thunder in the Valley" and "The Crimson Key." Admission prices ranged from 12 cents for kids and 20 to 35 cents for adults, depending on the movie.

On November 14, 1970, the theater was set to close for the winter months. "The Beatles 'Let It Be'" ended up being the last movie ever shown when the theater did not reopened.

Once more, the building went up for sale. Don Cleveland became the new owner and used it as storage for his cars. Since he needed the building for storage, Cleveland incorporated several renovations, including tearing out the sloped floor and removing the stage.

Shortly after, he listed the lot for sale.

Dorothy and Laura Zimmerman, both retired school teachers, along with several others, wanted to preserve the history of Orchard.

"The sisters never wanted the Rex Theatre to become a museum, but rather a way to preserve the history of the town," said historical society member Bev Krutz.

When Judy Billings heard the building was for sale, an agreement was reached to sell the building to the Orchard Historical Society for $5,000.

At that time, the Historical Society immediately began fundraising by serving meals and getting the community involved.

Shortly after the purchase, renovation took place.

The Zimmermans were involved in theater, and it was always both women's dreams to perform plays in the theater.

Although the one-act plays and melodramas never happened at the theater, the building was preserved because of the sisters.

They began finding original pieces to the movie theater. The theater still contains the original movie projector, along with original stamps that say "Rex Theatre".

The theater also has the original screen and the original popcorn machine Mrs. Harmon used. Even a popcorn box, found under the floorboards in the old Asch Lumber building, is displayed.

John and Goldie Shrike ran a cleaning business in Orchard, starting in 1920. Wednesdays and Saturdays, Goldie would sell popcorn in front of the building until she got a new stand on the west side of what was known as the Newberry Building.

While seating in the theater today is not original, it adds a the theater vibe to the building.

The Rex Theatre is now considered the town's community center, where residents hold meals, community events, movies, birthday parties and other celebrations.

The Orchard Historical Society is a non-profit organization that continues to host events for the community. As a non-profit organization relying on community support, donations are welcome. The historical society's mission of preserving and sharing the history of Orchard continues with donor assistance.

Individuals recently involved in the organization include Bev Krutz, Shelly Strope, Lynae Stelling, Felicia Zermeno, Dani Janke, Desirae Schwager and Cassie Prince.

According to members, this group of women chat almost daily to come up with ideas to help the community stay involved and remember the history of the town.

The historical society is also involved with the Northeast Nebraska Historical Society, which meets twice a year and collaborates on preserving each town's history.

The Orchard Historical Society offers a meal at least once a month for patrons from Orchard, any many nearby communities nearby.

Members also sponsor several other events, including citywide garage sales, tour of homes and special events during Orchard Celebration Days.

With this year's changes, the old schoolhouse and the Rex Theatre will not be open during Celebration Days. However, the historical society will host a drive-through chicken dinner at the theater, July 24, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If only the walls of the Rex Theatre could talk, locals and interested individuals would hear all the stories about dates, several "first kisses" and families hurrying back from doing chores to get a good seat.

The Rex Theatre was the hotspot of Orchard back in the day.


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