In Fowler, Indiana, an immigrant’s dream to show first-run movies has helped turn the local theatre into a community treasure.
The Fowler Theatre, now owned by the Prairie Preservation Guild (PPG), is a non-profit created to restore the theatre to its former glory.
Dick Vlastos was a Greek immigrant who settled in Fowler, Indiana, with a dream to own his own movie theater.
He first worked at the Dreamland theatre in town, and then in 1940 built the Fowler Theatre.
Vlastos was determined that a town the size of Fowler should be able to see first-run movies just as big cities did, and he succeeded. The first movie shown at the theater was His Girl Friday. In keeping with his dream, the Fowler Theatre was one of the first small theatres outside of a large market to screen Gone With the Wind.
Vlastos eventually moved to Southern California and as the years went by, the theatre changed ownership several times until 2001.
Karen Moyars and the Prairie Preservation Guild
“The theatre was old,” said Theatre Executive Director Jill Byrd.
“The town was getting ready to tear it down. A storage unit company wanted to put units on the location, and that’s what sent Karen Moyars into action.”
Karen Moyars was a local of Fowler and thought the theatre should be saved. She gathered six people together and formed the Prairie Preservation Guild (PPG), a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to save old and historic buildings. Their first project was the Fowler Theatre.
The Fowler Theatre Today
“We are proud of keeping the original dream of Dick Vlastos alive,” Byrd said. “We’re able to show first-run movies when they are released, and the town has enjoyed it.”
She went on to say that each night there is a movie playing, some group or business in the community will come and work at the theatre taking tickets, and selling popcorn, all while wearing branding from their business.
“It’s been a really fun way for businesses to get involved and do a little positive PR for themselves,” Byrd said. “We have six active school groups from the High School that volunteer, and it turns into a fun community event on movie night. People in town enjoy it when the high school students come out to run the theatre.”
Byrd said when the theatre needed a new ice machine and refrigerator, the Benton Community Foundation matched the funds raised by the theatre for a total raise of $15,000.
“The community support is strong in Fowler,” Byrd said. “With local businesses and high school students helping on movie night to community partners helping us, we are extremely grateful.”
One of our core values at Pattern Energy is to be a supporter of the communities we are a part of, and so for three years in a row (and counting) Pattern has bought every seat in the theatre and donated them to the community so folks can see a film in the theatre for free.
“Oh, the days we do the free movie from Pattern Energy are always popular,” Byrd laughed. “So we don’t run into people asking, we only announce it on Facebook the day of the showing, and then it’s first come, first serve. The community really loves it.”
Byrd is excited about the future. “We’re turning the theatre into a place for more than movies,” she said with excitement. “We’re using it as a conference space, the Police and Fire Departments have used it for training, and the Lafayette Civic Theater came to Fowler and did a musical theater workshop.”
The Lafayette Civic Theater produced and put on the Disney musical, Aladdin, and Byrd said it was a big hit in town.
She believes the future is bright for the theatre, and they are looking to bring more art, workshops and productions to Fowler.
“We are applying for grants to bring even more arts to our town, and we all feel very lucky the theatre was saved and became the treasure that it is today.”