For almost 70 years, the Omaha Theater Company has served children and families in the Omaha area and beyond. Families come together not just for an hour or two of quality entertainment, but also to laugh, cry, sigh and witness the magic of theater and its power to bring people together in a shared experience.
Today, the children who once passed through our doors in wide-eyed wonderment now bring their own families to share in the joy that is The Rose. We are proud to have become a tradition for so many families in the Omaha area and a fixture in the childhood of so many of our area’s young people. Although much has changed over the past years, we remain dedicated to our original mission: to enrich the lives of children and families through live theater arts and education.
In 1948, Emmy Gifford and two volunteers from the Junior League of Omaha were inspired to start a theater for young audiences in Omaha and one year later, the Omaha Junior Theater was born. The organization (one of the oldest in its kind in the United States) grew and thrived in spite of the fact that it didn’t have a permanent home or any paid staff for 25 years.
In 1974, a capital fundraising campaign enabled the Junior Theater to find a permanent home—complete with a 500-seat theater, classrooms and a costume shop—at the Center Theater, a neighborhood movie house. In 1977, the theater company was renamed The Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater to honor its principal founder and her dream.
In the late 70s, the theater’s administrative and artistic staff started seeing significant growth and took the theater in a new direction; and in 1993, a donation from the Blumkin Family took it to a new location. The company changed its name to the Omaha Theater Company and moved to the old Astro Theater—renamed The Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center—after a $10.3 million renovation spearheaded by The Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center Foundation President Susie Buffett. The Omaha Theater Company first staged a production at The Rose Theater in 1995.
More than 60 years after its humble beginning, The Rose Theater has a well-seasoned, professional staff dedicated to enriching the lives of children and their families through live theater and arts education.
Photos of Past Shows
The Rose Theater Building
The Rose Theater is one of 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.
The Riviera Theater, April 1927
The Riviera, 1920s
Owner A.H. Blank and architect John Eberson truly made magic when they opened The Riviera’s doors in 1927. The Riviera’s enchanting decor included tapestries and Oriental rugs; sculptures and friezes; intricate mosaic flooring; fountains; and perfect acoustics from front row to back row. The walls of the auditorium were decorated with Mediterranean-style murals and balconies. The ceiling brimmed with electric stars and clouds. Audiences filled the 2,776 seats to watch an entire evening’s entertainments with fully-orchestrated song and dance acts, vaudeville skits and feature films.
The Astro Theater
The Paramount Theater, 1930s to 1950s
After the stock market crash of 1929 took a 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. After several fits and starts in the 1930s, The Paramount Theater stayed open through the 1950s for stage shows, concerts and movies.
Creighton University, 1960
Creighton University purchased the theater in 1960 after Americans had traded their taste for grand evenings at movie palaces to evenings in front of their home television sets. Creighton removed the seats from the auditorium, which became home to the Omaha Packers, a professional bowling team.
Dubinsky Brother, 1960s to 1970s
In 1962, Creighton University leased the building to the Dubinsky Brothers Theaters, who remodeled the structure extensively and removed or concealed much of the building’s lavish decor. The Dubinskys renamed the building as the Astro Theater in honor of astronaut John Glenn’s historic flight. The Astro showed movies until 1979, when it closed.
Rose Blumkin, 1981
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 endowment for maintenance and repairs.
Despite being vacant and unheated for a decade, the building was in excellent condition as renovations began. Restoration included the repair of decorative plaster; construction of new classroom and administrative support spaces; and bringing the facility up to current building 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. The Astro was renamed the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center as a tribute to the Blumkins’ generosity.
The Rose Theater, Today
In April of 2012, Bahr Vaermeer Haecker Architecture (BVH) and Kiewit Building Group further restored The Rose, repairing a leaky facade, oriel windows, balustrades, columns and balconies. Consultants Wiss, Janney, Eistner Associates (a team of conservators, architects, engineers and scientists) identified how to best preserve The Rose’s unique terra cotta brickwork. Chicago-based Mark1 Restoration recreated the theater’s ornate terra cotta work, safeguarding the artistic value value of Omaha’s historic Mediterranean-inspired theater.
During the summer of 2014, the ceiling of the lobby and mezzanine was repaired and repainted with the familiar sky-themed mural. Ceilings and The Rose mainstage were upgraded with new lighting.
Today, The Rose Theater stands fully restored and ready to delight audiences for decades to come.