It all began in 1920
Daniel Ward and Mennie Wilson had a dream of building a beautiful and unique opera house in Rupert, Idaho. That dream became a reality in 1920.
World War I was over, the soldiers were home, and it was a time of renaissance—not only for the country, but for the little town of Rupert, Idaho.
The Wilson Theatre opened on August 25, 1920. It was a vaudeville theatre at first, but was soon showing movies with stars of the silent screen such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The theatre was also used for local plays and high school productions and soon began showing “talkies” as movies with sound tracks were called then. The building was also used for conventions, community meetings, and church events. Even the clerk for the City of Rupert was housed in the Wilson until City Hall was built in 1939.
In 1997, a volunteer group of businessmen established a community development committee called the Rupert Renaissance Initiative (RRI). The Initiative was a three-year project to gather information from citizens about the future they wanted for Rupert. To achieve this goal, the RRI had three “Vision Fairs”. Through these events, it was discovered that the citizens wanted more arts, cultural opportunities, and diversification of the economy. That information led to the decision to purchase and renovate the Historic Wilson Building & Theatre and to create, in 2000, the Renaissance Arts Center, Inc., a non-profit organization.
A feasibility study by Myers/Anderson Architects of Pocatello determined that the building was in stable condition and had maintained much of its integrity since it was built in 1919-1920.
The Wilson Building & Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 17, 2001. The renovation and restoration has been funded by grants, donations and fundraisers. No local tax dollars have been used for this project.