The Iao Theater was the most majestic performing arts center on Maui at the time of its inception. Built for stage shows as well as movies, the Maui News in August 1928 found the building to be “more than an amusement house” and “a decided addition to the community.” According to the News, to compare the new building to its predecessors and competitors was to compare “a palace to a hovel.”
Edward Walsh, who supervised the construction, described the building as “of Spanish design, but there is no close adhesion to any technical school of architecture.” The reinforced-concrete theater's style, red tile roofs, round-arched doorways with fanlights, ochre-colored tiled dado, and green tile entrance lanai floor place it in a class above its commercial neighbors. The centered Baroque gable and pent-roofed loggia mediate the corner towers of the symmetrical facade and convey the glamour of the movies and the rising aspirations of Wailuku as the cultural center of 1920s Maui. The theater's relatively modest interior has a sloped auditorium with a seating capacity of seven hundred. Its lattice-paneled side walls conceal a ventilation system designed to assure the patrons' comfort. Through the years the theater has served as a venue for various community activities. In 1993 it was purchased by the County of Maui for use as a community performing arts center.