On October 13, 1926, plans for the Orpheum Theatre were announced. Business was booming for the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) theatre chain, and they needed a larger theatre. Built at a cost of $2 million, the Orpheum Theatre-Mississippi Hotel complex was considered an economic miracle. At the Theatre's opening on November 25, 1931, Davenport and the rest of the country were in the depths of the Great Depression.
On that Thanksgiving Eve, the opening night crowd watched a show that included five vaudeville acts and the movie comedy "Suicide Fleet", starring Bill Boyd, Ginger Rogers, Robert Armstrong, and James Gleason. Ginger Rogers sent a telegraphic signal from Hollywood that began the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the Theatre's opening. She also sent flowers from the garden of her Hollywood home to Mrs. George M. Bechtel, wife of the Theatre's developer.
The RKO was worthy of its grand opening celebration. The architect was A.S. Graven of Chicago, whose projects included the Drake Hotel in Chicago and the Paramount Theater in New York City. Henry Dreyfuss of New York, who served as an art consultant for the Radio-Keith- Orpheum chain, designed the interior. The beauty of the Orpheum's Art Deco style was reflected in its gold leaf ceiling, crystal light fixtures and black ebony, walnut and marble detailing.
As the economy improved, the Orpheum prospered. For many years, it was considered the area's finest theatre. All the big "talkies" opened at Iowa's largest movie house. Entertainment legends such as John Barrymore, Liberace, Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey performed live at the Theatre during its glory.
Eventually, the Orpheum's large seating capacity and overhead costs untimely contributed to its demise as a first-run movie house. Smaller multi-screen complexes and shopping mall theatres ended the Orpheum's reign as king of Davenport's movie theatres. "Cleopatra Jones" was the final film shown at the Orpheum on September 11, 1973. After that, the Theatre was occasionally used for Broadway productions and rock concerts. Nevertheless, the RKO gradually fell into disrepair.
In 1981, the Davenport Chamber of Commerce purchased the RKO and donated it to the RiverCenter For The Performing Arts, Inc. This nonprofit group was established to raise money from private sources to restore the Theatre and to operate the facility as a performing arts center. A $4.25 million goal was set, and the community rallied to the cause. Most notable was a $1.3 million endowment gift from Lee Enterprises. To honor that gift, the Orpheum was renamed the Adler Theatre in memory of publishers, E.P. Adler and his son Philip D. Adler, both known for their charitable and cultural achievements in the community.
The massive renovation of the Adler Theatre began in 1984 and continued for two years. The building was essentially gutted and then restored to its former Art Deco elegance. Original crystal and glass chandeliers were restored. Original seats were rebuilt, reupholstered and their hand-painted side panels were restored. Also, new carpeting was reproduced in England using a roll of the original floral woolen carpeting found during remodeling. The rebirth of the Orpheum into the magnificent Adler Theatre was finally a reality with the Adler Theatre's curtain rising on April 16, 1986 with a gala concert by Burt Bacharach and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.
As the renovation in the 80s restored the splendor of the Adler Theatre's public spaces, little was done to address the shortcomings of the backstage areas and the need for a much larger stage to accommodate the requirements of today's touring productions.
For that reason, renovations in 2005 and 2006 addressed behind-the-scenes elements that included an increase in critical stage and storage space, enhancement of the sound system, relocation of dressing rooms, installation of a new freight elevator allowing easy access of equipment and stage sets, improvement of lighting and rigging capabilities and replacement of the heating and cooling system.
The stage expansion and backstage renovation project has allowed the Adler Theatre to provide a greater economic impact, improve performance quality, increase facility usage, operate as a more competitive, cost effective theatre and continue to enhance the quality of life in the Quad Cities.
Today, the Adler Theatre preserves the grandeur of an era gone by...treasured by performers and patrons alike. The beautifully restored 2,400 seat Adler Theatre continues to host celebrity headliners, Broadway greats, comedians, dance and symphony performances where the proud tradition of quality, live entertainment lives on.