For 80 years, The Varsity brought the magic of cinema to generations of filmgoers. As Des Moines’ own art house cinema, it proudly presented movies worth talking about.

Help us bring the movies back.

Now Playing at the
Varsity Virtual

Des Moines’ Last Historic
Movie Theater

Des Moines was once home to an array of historic movie palaces and neighborhood theaters. All have been lost except The Varsity. Built in 1917 and later renovated into a Coca-Cola bottling plant, The Varsity was renovated again into a theater in 1938.

The movies have been playing ever since. The Varsity debuted French and Italian New Wave films in the early 1960s, and focused primarily on art house films by the mid 70s. It is one of the oldest, longest-running art house cinemas in the country.

A historical photograph of the marquee at the Varsity Theatre in Des Moines, Iowa
A couple walking near the Varsity Theatre in Des Moines, Iowa
A vintage advertisement for the Varsity Theatre in Des Moines, Iowa

The Restored
Varsity Cinema

Our plan for the Varsity includes:

  • Historic rehabilitation of the interior and exterior of this Des Moines landmark
  • Commitment to high-quality picture and sound
  • Expanded lobby space and upgraded concessions, including full bar
  • Renovated main auditorium plus a 2nd floor microcinema
New Varsity Cinema rendering New Varsity Cinema rendering
  • Programming which reflects the diversity of the Des Moines community
  • First-run arthouse programming, foreign and documentary, revival screenings, and more
Des Moines Varsity New Theater
Des Moines Varsity New Theater
Des Moines Varsity Lobby

About Us

Des Moines Film is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to growing a vibrant local film culture. Since 2015, we have produced a variety of unique film events, brought a diverse mix of films to Des Moines, offered educational opportunities and financial support for local filmmakers. The Varsity Cinema is a signature project that will allow us to provide year-round, arts-driven programming.

For more information on Des Moines Film and its broader mission, visit our website.

Campaign Chairs

Pat Schneider

Loretta Sieman

Board of Directors

Michael Wagler


Nick Renkoski

Vice President

Debra Kurtz


Amedeo Rossi


Katie Bryan

Danny Heggen

Larry James

Rachel Woodhouse

Rachel Woodhouse

Jon Petersen

Tim Reinders

Fabiola Schirrmeister