Opened in 1928, and built in Spanish Mission style, this theater was once the main entertainment venue of the city of Wailuku, on Maui. Besides screening movies, it featured live stage acts, and such stars as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, and Donald O’Connor made appearances at the ‘Iao. In 1953, the theater hosted the Hawaiian premiere of “From Here to Eternity”.
By the early 80s, the theater was in decline, and after it closed, was seriously threatened with demolition. However, a community effort to save the theater was led by Wailuku Mainstreet Association, and in 1995-1996, underwent a million dollar-plus renovation. In 1995 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Maui Community Theater, doing business as Maui OnStage, has occupied the Historic Iao Theater since 1984 and has since been instrumental in keeping the theater in operation even during times of desperate disrepair. Maui OnStage has the distinction of being one of the longest consistently running theater companies in the United States.
What began in 1930 with a handful of volunteers with deep visionary roots has flourished into an important cornerstone of the cultural landscape of the island. With a mission to provide quality performing arts experiences and stewardship of the historic venue, Maui OnStage is the community’s affordable and accessible place for self-expression, exploration, and enjoyment of the arts.
There is renewed interest from a diversity of groups and individuals in participating with MOS at the Iao Theater, and the MOS proposal for a complete, historically faithful rehabilitation is gaining attention from the County and State government.
Iao Theater a Brief History
- December 1927: Manuel Paschoal and H. B. Weller break ground for Iao Theater, designed by Edward Walsh.
- August 22, 1928: A $40,000 702 – seat theater opens with showing of Sporting Goods starring Richard Dix.
- March 30, 1930: First talking film shown, Rio Rita, a musical comedy based on a Ziegfeld production.
- 1953: Hosts premiere of From Here to Eternity, a WWII drama filmed in Hawai’i.
- 1973: Showing of X-rated film Deep Throat ends with arrest of theater manager.
- November 1984: Maui Community Theater produces Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore in Iao after losing old Kahului Fairgrounds theater to fire.
- July 1993: Maui County buys the theater and one-acre site from Lyons family trust for $882,000.
- June 1994: Iao Theater is placed on State Register of Historic Places as the oldest theater building in Hawai’i.
- February, 1995: Placed on National Register of Historic Places.
- March 1996: Blessing held to celebrate completion of $734,000 in renovations.
- 2002: Maui Community Theater became Maui OnStage.
- 2006: Installation of new seating in upper section.
- 2007: Maui County supports building restoration and installation of air conditioning.
- 2010: Installation of new sound system.
- 2012: New carpeting installed.
- 2013: Completion of new seating