Over the last several years, the Town of Fowler has been actively working to revitalize its business corridors in an effort to reverse this trend of declining economic viability. With the approval of the town, a volunteer group of concerned citizens was formed to reverse this decline and correct the blighted conditions in the downtown area. One business that has remained open in Fowler is the Fowler Theatre. The last remaining local movie theater within a 30-mile radius, it has been operating since its construction in 1940. When it was built, the Fowler Theatre was a grand state-of-the-art facility with grandiose decorating and all the technological marvels of the time. It was one of the most ornate and impressive theaters in the region.In fact, the Fowler Theatre was one of only 5 movie theaters in the country to premier Gone with the Wind!
At lot has changed at the Fowler Theatre over its 60-year history. As a result of the changing farm economy and the advent of the large movie complexes in Lafayette, fewer people stayed in Fowler to watch movies at the local theater. Consequently, the Fowler Theatre’s past grandeur has not been maintained by its owners as profits declined. The building continued to deteriorate as the roof developed leaks. Finally, very few local people would attend a movie there due to unsafe and moldy conditions inside. The business was failing and the owner could not afford to make the needed repairs to increase his clientele. It was at this point that the downtown revitalization group identified this business as in imminent danger of closure and further contributing to the overall decline of the town.
The situation became more desperate when, in the spring of 2001, movies were no longer being shown, and it was discovered that the owner was planning to sell the remaining architecturally interesting pieces from the inside of the theatre as well as the original marquee to convert the theater into a warehouse. Not wanting to see this happen, Karen Moyars and several other volunteers formed The Prairie Preservation Guild, a not-for-profit group dedicated to rescuing the historical theater and keeping low cost entertainment available in our community. Karen had been involved with the downtown revitalization group, but it was decided that the purchase, restoration, and operation of the theater would best be handled by a group dedicated to this project alone.
The Fowler Theatre reopened in December 2001 with a free movie for Christmas. Since that time, movies have been shown every weekend. Remarkably, the Prairie Preservation Guild has operated the Fowler Theatre entirely with volunteers. No one has received a salary to date. There is a sign-up sheet located in the lobby of the theater where individuals, families, and community groups add their names to the list of those willing to donate their time to sell tickets, operate the concession stand, run the projector, and clean up after the show. Every week, a group of people is contacted to take charge of the shows for the weekend. Members of the Prairie Preservation Guild have taken on this logistical challenge and have never failed to show a movie for lack of volunteers.
The cost of the show has been kept low because a major goal of the group was to provide entertainment to the community that would be affordable to families. The cost of an adult ticket is $6.00 and for children under 13 is $4.00. This is significantly less than the larger movie houses charge in Lafayette. The concession stand is also reasonably priced. Concessions range in price from $0.50 to $5.00. The theatre has also become a spot where parents can drop off their preteen and non-driving teenagers for a night away from their kids. A phone is available for children that need to call for their ride home after the movie. The community is responding by attending the films. Where the previous owner served about 50 people a weekend with three shows, the cleaned theatre consistently draws 30-115 people for each show. In addition to the regular movies, there have been 6 free shows offered this past year, so people who might not be able to afford to pay admission, have the opportunity to enjoy a movie several times a year. These movies are often sponsored by local businesses.