On January 28, 1939 the Hollywood Theatre opened its doors to the public.
L.D. Miller owned the land once occupied by the Riewert Hotel (AKA The Commercial House, AKA The New Teton) and footed the bill for the construction of the Hollywood Theatre. Miller first made his name in Sioux Falls with his livery stable, followed by a taxi service and then by his funeral home. Miller Funeral Home is still in business today.
Floyd previously made his name locally as manager of the Granada Theatre. He started his career in the entertainment industry in Minneapolis. Floyd's organization, Minneapolis-based Welworth Theatres, paid for the theatrical equipment and decorations for the Hollywood Theatre.
The Hollywood was designed by architect Harold Spitznagel, who's previous claim to fame was Sioux Falls' City Hall. The Hollywood was described as "having a flat-surfaced exterior of brick, slate, black serpentine, and blue-gray porcelain" by Building South Dakota: A Historical Survey of the State's Architecture to 1945 by David Erpestad & David Wood.
The attractive facade was perhaps overpowered by the 36 foot-high Hollywood Theatre sign.
The bulbs on the front of the sign would chase in a cascading pattern from top to bottom. Green neon tubes bordered the letters and there were hidden neon tubes indirectly lighting the base of the sign. The picture at right shows this subtle effect nicely. A mechanical controller for the sign was in the offices upstairs and produced a clickety-clack sound when the sign was on.
All of the bulbs were changed at least once a year by a local sign company. The used bulbs were recycled into the area under the marquee and where needed elsewhere in the theater. On the back side of the sign were built-in rungs stretching the height of the towering sign. It was dangerous and impractical for access to the bulbs. The sign itself became a haven for pigeons who took it upon themselves to short out the wiring as they saw fit. If you recall seeing the sign saying HOL...OOD from time to time, you can thank the pigeons.
The the guests of the Hollywood would come through the front doors to a vestibule which was designed to provide protection during inclement weather. This room was coated with a new type of flexible rubber. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, the whole thing was rubber-coated. Kind of kinky, but whatever.
From the vestibule, the customer enters the abnormally tall lobby (2 stories tall!). It has multi-colored floor coverings (carpet) and is lit with recently invented fluorescent lamps. In this room, the guest will first lay eyes on the amazing photo mural.
The much-lauded pictorial mural, was photographed for the theater by big-time Hollywood still photographer Whitey Schaefer. Whitey used actual Hollywood actors and behind-the-scenes technicians to depict twelve phases of movie production from script writing to projection. As the twelfth image proves, he didn't neglect still photography. Whitey sent the pictures to Chicago, where Architectural Photographer Kenneth Hedrich, blew the images up to 10' making the whole series 45' wide if viewed in a straight line.
According to Roger Blair, movie theater projectionist in Sioux Falls from 1965 to 1995, the mural images were covered with layers of paint during a 1950s lobby update and completely hidden in a 1967 remodel. The images above were rescued from a broken picture frame in the basement. Though there was some talk of rescue, the mural itself may have been lost to the wrecking ball. The possibility of their continued existence has been looked into. No word on that yet.
Some of the mural images were assembled in order using my best guess. Click on each panel to see them blown-up a bit (though no where near as big as 10' tall).
From the lobby, guests of the Hollywood enter a circular foyer with a dramatically lit, round plaster ceiling (think upside-down bowl). There was, in this foyer, a curved staircase leading down to the richly-appointed lounge. Even in the end, the restrooms found down here were surprisingly modern and pleasant.
Joe Floyd described himself as "a helluva salesman" and used his mad sales skills to fill the seats of the Hollywood Theatre.
Floyd's more memorable promotions at The Hollywood include a house give-away in the 1940s, and a WWII era game called GI Blind Date, where 3 eligible young ladies were hidden behind a screen and questioned by a GI stationed at the Army Air Forces Training School. If this sounds familiar, you might recognize it as being very similar to The Dating Game. Chuck Barris could not be reached for comment.
The dates were well-chaperoned, so it wasn't quite as naughty as the more modern version of the show.
As the State Theater before it, the Hollywood Theatre used the Argus Leader to build-up to the grand opening. Little teasers in the paper hinted at the look of the theater, but the actual facade was hidden from public view behind a wooden shield until Saturday the 28th. The shield was not, however, big enough to hide the 36-foot sign festooned with over 1,500 bulbs and neon tubing that rose above Phillips ave. Hard to miss that.
The Hollywood was advertised from the beginning as the movie house for the rest of us. The ad copy says "for all the family, all the people". "Every patron is king" (or queen, presumably), although the theater is delightfully homelike. Clearly they're appealing to the people who don't ordinarily wear ties, rural folk. The kind of clientele who might understand what an acre of seats might look like. Incidentally, an acre can hold 786 self-lifting seats, while still leaving room for aisles. The Hollywood was the only theater in the state, let alone the North-West with comfort-cushioned seats rigged to flip up when you got up. We take these things for granted now days, but this was cutting-edge technology in 1939. Lifting armrests and cup holders took a couple more decades.
For its opening feature the Hollywood chose Blondie. A feature ripped from the headlines.. er.. funny pages. Actually released a month earlier, this was it's first run in Sioux Falls.
The ad copy boasts perfect Western Electric Sound, the aforementioned acre of self-rising seats, and luxurious comforts abounding. I can see the appeal of the marketing. Joe was promising that you'd be treated like royalty even if you showed up in your dungarees. After all, you're paying 20¢ for the seat, you should get your money's worth.
Phone 2222, it says. I'm guessing a real person would answer and meet your needs. I tried the number. It no longer connects.
The Desperadoes came out in 1943 and starred Glenn Ford and Randolph Scott. What ever happened to Randolph Scott?
The enormous billboard (24-sheet) atop the marquee was used only occasionally and lasted into the 1970s. When not in use, it was pulled flat against the building and then laid face-down on the canopy (marquee) so you never saw it.
I love the contrast in the Hollywood sign. Too bad the photographer cut it off. Color photography is cool and all, but sometimes black and white does so much more.
Courtesy Midcontinent Media/Ken Mills
Click on the picture for a more detailed look at the facade of the building. There's a lot happening in the picture as well, with the sign being changed and a movie letting out. Naked Alibi came out in 1954 and starred Gloria Grahame and Gene Barry.
Courtesy Midcontinent Media/Ken Mills
As the years passed, Joe Floyd's vision for the future matured. He got into radio, buying KELO radio in 1952. In 1953 KELO TV went on the air using what Floyd called "Live-Film". To avoid the expense of live TV cameras, they filmed the newscasts using 16mm cameras, developed the film, edited, and ran it out to the transmitter for broadcast. This tiresome process was somewhat eliminated in January of 1955 when KELO finally bought live cameras for use in the KELO studios on the second floor of the Hollywood Theatre. Though KELO's website claims this to be true, others remember the studios being in adjoining retail space to the North of the actual theater.
The Hollywood Theatre was the first home of the longest continuously-running children's television show in the world. Captain 11 ran from 1955 to 1995, and recorded from the Hollywood Theatre until at least 1959, when their new studios at 13th and Phillips were built. Both hands and both feet, Cap'n. Both hands and both feet.
Another gorgeous black and white shot, and the only one I've seen of the auditorium itself. 786 seats were originally installed in the theater. During a 1967 remodel, rocking seats were installed to replace the originals, reducing the seating to 567. These rocking seats are still in use in the West Mall 7 theaters in auditoriums 3 and 6.
CinemaScope, a wider format than was previously used in theaters was installed in the theater sometime around 1953. The screens for CinemaScope were 2.66:1 (2.66 times wider than it is tall) and they were curved to wrap the action around the audience. Because of the dimensions of the screen, the stage, while left intact, was covered by the new screen. Live performances on the stage were not happening quite as often as they had before, so no biggie.
Courtesy Midcontinent Media/Ken Mills
The West Mall II hosted the first run of Star Wars. For the second run, the Hollywood was host. Finally Sioux Falls moviegoers would be treated to Star Wars in full stereo! When it played the West Mall II, they only had mono capability. It's not clear to me why the newer West Mall Theaters weren't using stereo sound in 1977.
On September 27, 1987 the Hollywood Theatre showed its last film. Suitably, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show was shown to KELO radio listeners. No tickets available at the booth.
The lights went dark for the Hollywood, her rich heritage still echoing in the air.
It's Hollywood Theatre time. This is a mostly forgotten view from the dim back lot of the theater. I'd like to think that someone saved that great neon sign and put it up in their garage, but I doubt it.
There were also numbered signs that reserved parking on evenings and weekends for Hollywood patrons. Get your own full-sized copy here. Put it up in your garage to remember the Hollywood Theatre.
The marquee of the Hollywood Theatre was dark until they took her down on February 13th of 1990. The Hollywood Theatre was replaced with a blacktop parking lot, though it should have been saved as an historic landmark. The interior was architecturally significant, and it played a part in the pioneering days of television in South Dakota. Captain 11 began his record-setting run here. A record that hasn't been broken since. The Hollywood Theatre deserved better.
A note about the spelling of theater: In the United States the customary spelling is theater (er versus re), however some organizations use the re spelling. The documentation I uncovered in my research used the re ending, which I honor as I would the spelling of a proper name. When referring to the theater in general I use the er ending, which is more common in North America.
Page Updated: 3/08/2008
Information on this page was plucked lovingly from:
The Argus Leader archives at the Downtown Library.
KELO TV's website.
A very special thanks to Roger Blair who provided information, some excellent exterior photos and the excellent rare photos of the Lobby's mural.
Final picture of the Hollywood Theatre's marquee by Mike Roemer from the February 14, 1990 Argus Leader.
Additional photos Courtesy Midcontinent Media/Ken Mills.
Another special thanks to Dave Fetters who provided some excellent information.
Come talk about the Hollywood Theatre on Facebook!