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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER. The Five Flags Center is a multipurpose facility in downtown Dubuque. The complex is named for the five flags that have flown over Dubuque; the Fleur de Lis of France (1673–1763), the Royal Flag of Spain (1763–1803), the Union Jack of Great Britain (1780, during a brief interruption of Spanish rule), the French Republic Flag of Napoleon (1803) & America's Stars and Stripes (1803–Present).

Known as the MAJESTIC THEATRE, the existing theater was designed and built around 1911 by C.W. and George L. Rapp of Chicago, who went on to become America's premier theater architects. From 1929 to 1933 it was owned and operated by local prominent businessman Harker Brentnal SPENSLEY, Sr. Spensley, who was the president and manager, named the theater "The Spensley." Four years later, it became part of the RKO film theater circuit and was renamed the RKO Orpheum. By 1969 the building had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition during URBAN RENEWAL.

A committee of concerned citizens led by Wayne Andrew NORMAN, Sr. began a fund drive to save the theater, which was incorporated in the Five Flags Center project in 1972. Restoration was begun in 1975, and the theater was reopened in 1976 as the Five Flags Theater. It is currently the home of the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, high school musicals, and occasional concerts and ballet productions.

Five Flags Arena was conceived as part of a project to rehabilitate the Five Flags Theater. Construction began in 1976, and the facility opened in 1979. The $3.7 million complex wrapped around the theater and extended north between Locust and Main STREETS.

The arena can seat up to 5,200 for basketball, although in its primary use, ice hockey, actual seating capacity is only about 2,500. The creation of the floor began with a two-inch thick mat of styrofoam to insulate the floor above. Supported above the styrofoam were 9.1 miles of piping that carried 1,300 gallons of ethylene glycol solution cooled to 15 degrees F. That temperature seeped through the concrete to freeze the water into ice. Twenty tons of steel reinforcing bars stretching 11.3 miles crisscrossed above the piping. To make the actual floor, 1 million pounds of concrete was pumped through heavy hoses on top of the steel grates. Crews then worked the concrete between the grates and over the pipes. Smoothing the top to within one-eighth inch of perfection was made possible by a laser marker. Curing the concrete took two days which it submerged under a thin coat of water to slow the process and avoid cracking. (1)

The ice hockey rink was made in four layers. The bottom one-quarter-inch layer of ice was painted white after it froze to give the ice its color. Placed on a higher layer of ice were the hockey lines and other markers. A total of four layers of ice were created with 9,588 gallons of water. (2)

It features one side of permanent seating; the other three sides are bleachers, some for Loras College basketball, and most of Dubuque's major concerts.

High school graduation ceremonies for Hempstead High School and Senior High School have been held at the center.

The Five Flags Center was formerly the main convention center in Dubuque. The Center featured a large exhibition hall with seating capacity of 4,700. The hall could be converted for use as an ice hockey rink with the removal of an insulated floor laid over the ice. It was also the former home of the DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS (1980-2001) of the United States Hockey League from 1980–2001 and the home of the Dubuque Thunderbirds hockey team of the Central States Hockey League from 2001–2010.

Construction of other venues have impacted the use of the Center. In 2003 the building of the Grand River Event Center moved many events away from Five Flags. The MYSTIQUE COMMUNITY ICE CENTER hosts the expansion Dubuque Fighting Saints.

SMG took over operations of the arena in 2004, which were formerly handled by the City of Dubuque.

In 2005, the arena was closed during the summer for concession, entrance, and concourse renovation.



Please refer to other articles used in the creation of this entry.

1. Freund, Bob. "The Ice Man Cometh to Five Flags, but First..." Telegraph Herald, Dec. 19, 1978, p. 1

2. Ibid.