At noon of Christmas Day, 1920, the doors of the Capitol Theatre opened for the first time to an audience who had for a year and a half eagerly anticipated the moment. The structure was said to be "a perfect building", "the finest office building in the state" and "the Acme of building art" and was said to provide "all the conveniences and arrangements for elaborate entertainment of the people".
Visionary and builder Henry C. Kahl intended to provide "a palatial theatre" with seating capacity for 2,500 motion picture patrons. Together with the architects Cornelius and George Rapp of Chicago, Mr. Kahl planned a luxurious movie palace larger than any in Davenport or for that matter, Iowa and that would "rank with the finest in the world". Certainly the Kahl structure would be Davenport's largest business and entertainment structure and therefore was deemed a skyscraper in 1920.
The theatre can be described as an enormous piece of art. Originally decorated in a color scheme of red and gold, the Capitol seems like a royal palace. Entering the theatre one is struck with the ornate ceilings both under the balcony and above the stage. Pastoral scenes of muses and centaurs play among the 23 karat gold leaf and ornate trims and six great chandeliers of bronze and crystal. Two unique side stages on the left and right of the mainstage were the residence of two white grand pianos, one of which still remains.
Five years after opening the stage was expanded and a 10 story stage house was erected to accommodate theatrical productions and vaudeville.
Beginning in the 1950's the theatre became largely a movie venue passing through various hands until 1991 the theatre was remodeled and re-named the Capitol Celebrity Theatre and presented live entertainment. In 1994 V.O. Figge donates the Kahl Building and the Capitol Theatre to Scott County Community College for a downtown campus.
The Capitol currently has a capacity of 1550 seats (950 main floor and 600 balcony). Initial plans include removing the first 10 rows of seating to create a configurable space that will accommodate tables and chairs and increase usage. Other needed renovations include a larger concession area in the lobby and a new concession area on the 2nd floor to accommodate lobby patrons. Other planned patron improvements are new men's and women's restrooms in the main lobby area and renovation of third floor restrooms to serve balcony patrons.
- First, largest and most successful skyscraper built in Davenport
- Purposeful effort on the part of the builder to redirect downtown growth and theatre district expansion
- First palace theatre in the city
- First "air conditioning" of a building in the city
- Only intact local example of an early Classical style palace theatre
- One of the largest office buildings in the state built by a developer-builder
- Largest theatre in the state in its time and one of the largest nationally
- Later major addition added vaudeville capability to its film capacity
- Built by a builder/developer (Henry Kahl)
- Interior artwork by Joseph Sturdy (Chicago)
- Earliest movie example in Iowa by the Rapp Brothers (architects)
- An early and very well preserved example of Rapp and Rapp design
- First orchestra pit with elevator
- High degree of original materials, no major alterations to interior