Sunrise Theatre founder R.N. ‘Pop’ Koblegard had grand vision for Fort Pierce

R.N. ‘Pop’ Koblegard’s dream for a grand theater in his adopted hometown came true exactly a century ago

young R.N. ‘Pop’ Koblegard
R.N. ‘Pop’ Koblegard arrived in Fort Pierce from West Virginia in 1906 and became the town’s biggest developer and promoter in its early years. In 1922, he unveiled plans for the 1,300-seat Sunrise Theatre and completed it a year later. HISTORICAL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY KOBLEGARD FAMILY


When the 1,300-seat Sunrise Theatre opened in downtown Fort Pierce exactly a century ago, the city had a population of just 2,000 people. The theater’s size meant that it was big enough to fit the town’s entire population, with more than half being seated.

Today, as the Sunrise prepares to celebrate the centennial of its opening on Aug. 1, 1923, the theater stands as a testament to the vision of its founder, R.N. “Pop’’ Koblegard. While Koblegard’s name is a familiar one and his descendants are plentiful on the Treasure Coast, just who exactly was Pop Koblegard and why did he build the Sunrise on such a grand scale?

Rupert Neis Koblegard was born in 1878 in West Union, West Virginia, the son of Isophene and Jacob Koblegard, an emigrant from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jacob had prospered in his adopted homeland and was considered a pioneer in the development of central West Virginia. Starting with a wholesale grocery business, he also became president of the local bank and president of the Crescent Glass Factory in Weston, West Virginia. He also held interests in a dry goods store, hardware store and mill, all in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Jacob Koblegard had begun the business with his brother, John, and business partner John Ruhl in the 1870s selling produce in a stable in downtown Clarksburg. It became known as the Ruhl-Koblegard Co. Before chain grocery stores became dominant in the mid-20th century, most grocery stores were owned by entrepreneurs who relied on wholesalers like the Ruhl-Koblegard Co. to supply their goods.

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