In 1846 the building became the Key City Hotel. In 1863 it was transformed in the Athenaeum by W. G. Stewart. It was repeatedly remodeled and renamed as it became the Peosta House, Dubuque Opera House, Bartell's Opera House, Coates Opera House and the BIJOU THEATER. This background made the location the record holder for having the longest history of being a theater site west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
Charles H. EIGHMEY and Harker Brentnal SPENSLEY, Sr. purchased and renovated the Bijou in 1908. The new building was reopened as the New Bijou and leased to the Western Vaudeville Association of Chicago. In April 1908 fire destroyed the building.
By 1969 the Orpheum along with much of the area around Lower Main Street was suffering poor economic times. The theater was scheduled for demolition as part of a twelve-block urban renewal project. Led by such community activists as Wayne Andrew NORMAN, Sr., a group developed the idea that private donations could be collected to renovate the theater into part of an exhibition-arts facility. The project was named for the five national flags that have flown over this area.
In December 1971 the fund drive was launched. In July 1972 architects were hired to design the facility. In November 1972, the Orpheum was placed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. The theater was restored in 1975, renamed the Five Flags Theater and reopened March 13, 1976. With restoration, the main floor seats 322, the balcony 357, and the boxes 38 for a total of 717. The theater has been used annually for performances of the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA.
On August 17, 1976, an overwhelming 70% of the voters approved a bond referendum for the construction of the Five Flags Civic Center.Besides the arena, which covered 27,000 square feet of floor space and seats up to 4,000, the new plan called for theater support rooms, locker rooms, storage space, and administrative offices. The complex was connected to and designed to complement the restored theater. The new civic center opened its doors in 1979.
Sources: Telegraph Herald, The Opera Houses of Iowa by George D. Glenn and Richard L. Poole