University of Iowa Buildings – Iowa City IA


“The University of Iowa Theatre Building was completed in 1936 during the depths of the Great Depression. How did a public university in Iowa, a state hard-hit by economic collapse and unemployment, ever see fit to build a theatre at such a time? The answers are unique to the time: “New Deal” politics, a surge of pride in regional art and arts, and E.C. Mabie, “the Boss,” who had big plans and the drive to see the plans through…

The Federal Theatre Project (FTP), also part of Federal One, was formally announced in Iowa City at the National Theatre Conference in July 1935. That year’s conference was brought to the University by E.C. Mabie, head of the Speech and Dramatic Art Department, in part for the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the new University Theatre Building. Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA and a native Iowan, spoke at the conference of his high hopes for the FTP, and announced the appointment of Hallie Flanagan, director of the Vassar College Experimental Theatre, to head the FTP…

Until the early 1930′s, the land on the west side of the Iowa River (where the Art Building, Art Museum, and Theatre Building now stand) was a swampy area often used for dumping. Plans were being formulated at that time to control flooding on the Iowa River and included the building of retaining walls along the west side of the riverbanks. The University acquired the low land on the west side with the hope of turning it into a “riverside campus for the arts.” Then began the scramble for sufficient funding for both an art building and the theatre. Sources tapped included money pledged to the defunct Union Theatre, Carnegie Foundation funding for an art building, and project money from the New Deal’s Public Works and Civil Works Administrations. In addition to enabling the construction of both the Theatre and Art Buildings, PWA and CWA project money was also used to construct the Union footbridge…”   (

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Location Info

University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52245

Coordinates: 41.6626529, -91.554799

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