One of the few buildings in the Midwest possessing a unique combination of Moorish and Classical architecture, The Rose is one of the last grand movie palaces left from the days when going to the theater meant escaping into an opulent dreamland.
First known as the Riviera, owner A.H. Blank and architect John Eberson truly made magic when they opened its doors in 1927. Its enchanting decor included tapestries and Oriental rugs, sculptures and friezes, an intricate mosaic floor, fountains and perfect acoustics from front row to back. The walls of the auditorium were decorated with Mediterranean-style murals and balconies, while the ceiling brimmed with electric stars and clouds. Audiences filled the 2,776 seats to watch an entire evening’s entertainment that included fully-orchestrated song and dance acts, vaudeville skits and a feature film.
Sadly, the stock market crash of 1929 took its toll on A. H. Blank’s dream. The Riviera was sold and renamed the Paramount Theater. The new owners installed a miniature golf course in the lower lobby to attract new customers and, after several fits and starts in the 1930’s, kept the Paramount open through the 1950’s for stage shows, concerts and movies.
By 1960, when Creighton University purchased the Paramount, Americans had traded their taste for grand evenings at the movie palace for their own television sets. With the seats removed, the auditorium became home to the Omaha Packers, a professional bowling team.
In 1962, the University leased the building to the Dubinsky Brothers Theaters who remodeled the structure extensively and removed or concealed much of the lavish decor. The Dubinskys renamed the Theater the Astro in honor of astronaut John Glenn’s historic flight and continued to show movies there until 1979.
Creighton University requested bidders for the property when the Astro closed, but by 1981 it seemed that the wrecking ball would be its fate. Rose Blumkin, founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart, heard of the Astro’s plight and told her daughter, “Go buy it. I don’t care what you pay for it!”
After careful consideration, Rose Blumkin and her family generously deeded the building to the Omaha Theater Company for Young People and contributed the first $1 million toward the renovation on the condition that the Theater secure the remaining funds for full restoration and an endowment for maintenance and repairs.
Despite being vacant and unheated for a decade, the building was in excellent condition as renovation started. Restoration included: the repair of decorative plaster; building of new classroom and administrative support spaces; bringing the facility up to current codes; including handicap accessibility and the replacement of 65-year-old mechanical, electrical, plumbing and stage rigging systems. All restorations, designed by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture and carried out by Kiewit Construction Company, remain consistent with the intent and spirit of John Eberson’s original creation.
As a tribute to the gracious savior of this historical landmark, the Astro was renamed the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center.
Starting in April of 2012, Bahr Vermeer Haecker architecture (BVH) and Kiewit Building Group will lead further restoration to The Rose’s leaky façade, as well as its oriel windows, balustrades, columns and balconies. Consultants Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates–a team of conservators, architects, engineers and scientists, will analyze how best to preserve The Rose’s unique terra cotta brickwork, and Chicago-based Mark1 Restoration will handle terra cotta work on-site, where replacement, cleaning and tuck-pointing of individual bricks will safeguard the artistic value of Omaha’s historic Mediterranean-inspired theater.