At 7:30 pm July first 1909 the Olympia Theatre flung wide its doors to the public. No injuries were reported.
According to the June 30th Argus Leader, the Olympia was the Most complete and most attractive motion picture house in the state. Established in the brand new Carswell Block, the house seated 250 People upon opening (later the theater was renovated and seating expanded to 387). Ventilation was set up to exchange the air in the theater every two minutes (in the height of the summer when the theater opened, this was paramount).
It was said of manager Otis Adams; "He will run such a place of amusement that any lady or child will find nothing objectionable in connection with it". Sorry guys, no "art" flicks. Aside from clean films, Adams also offered film interpretation by a competent lecturer. According to the article; "on several occasions films have been exhibited in this city, the subject of which was so obscure that no one could make head or tale out of them". Perhaps this was more of a danger in the early days of filmmaking. Silent films don't do wordy exposition as a rule.
Notice the Trolley track down the middle of Phillips avenue. The caption on this postcard says "Phillips Ave, Looking South", but the view is actually looking North.
The first films showing at the Olympia were Her First Biscuits and The Faded Lilies, both by notorious director D.W. Griffith. There was also a live performance of the song "Lay My Head Beneath the Rose" by Herman Le Fleur.
In 1915, Neal of the Navy plays. Pictured here, manager Otis Adams poses in front of the box office. He had at least a year of prior experience before opening the Olympia. Click on the picture to see it a bit closer. Note toward the top of the frame a sign that says "Five Piece Orchestra Every Night". The orchestra consisted of his five children. Music was big in the Adams family.
This is a view from just a tad farther down the street circa 1927. This picture from after the Olympia had turned into the Royal. The building on the corner still looks the same, though the Olympia building was given a thick, stucco facade (pictures to follow).
Otis Adams, aside from running the Olympia, was said to have built over 400 homes in Sioux Falls, as well as some local business. One of the more interesting ones is Dickenson's Cafe and Bakery. The lines on this cafe are hardly typical of today's greasy spoon, and I've never seen a pipe organ at Perkins or IHOP.
Here's the exterior of Dickenson's Cafe. Owner R.W. Dickenson was a bit of an eccentric to be sure. The cafe was known by the locals as the Katzenjammer Castle, though it's unclear why. Dickenson was from England, and the term katzenjammer there translates into hangover. If it was the result of a night of drunken fancy, then well done!
The Olympia is seen here during a WWI preparedness parade. Notice Weatherwax's clothiers to the north of the Olympia.
The Olympia Theater lasted from July 1, 1909 to New year's eve 1924. The final film was Lon Chaney's He Who Gets Slapped, a film about an inventor turned clown. It was the first film to be filmed at fledgling MGM Studios, though not the first to be released.
The newspaper ad for the film suggested that Recoil would be coming soon. It was either never shown or it was never advertised.
The site of The Olympia Theater today houses Skelly's Pub and retains no external indication that it was once a movie and Vaudeville house. It did survive as a theater for years to come after it stopped being the Olympia. First as the Royal Theater and then as the Time. More on those later.
Here's the view from the parking ramp to the theater's southeast. The rear of the building belies its age more than the front does at this point. I'm hoping Skelly's will get with the program (meaning the city's facade easement program) and adopt a more traditional facade.
Page Updated: 12/16/2008
The Argus Leader was used for dates and ads.
Nancy Rudolph, granddaughter to Otis Adams provided information and pictures of the family.