The State Theater

314 S. Phillips Ave.

On March 2nd, 1926 the State Theater opened to the public as a Vaudeville and movie house. It welcomed visitors with 1,350 comfortable seats. For years it was the premiere theater in Sioux Falls, showing the more prestigious films, leaving the B-movie fare to the likes of the Egyptian and the Strand.

On March 1st of 1926, State Theater owners M.L. Finkelstein and I.H. Ruben placed a full-page ad in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader to promote the opening of the State Theater. By this time Finkelstein and Ruben had nearly 90 theaters in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The ad proclaimed it to be Glorious as Fairyland, yet sturdy as the pyramids!

 

The original sign was 36-feet high and beckoned to those who passed on Phillips avenue, the busiest street in the city. There were 5,000 light bulbs in and on the building (I'm guessing the majority of those were in the sign), using enough current to run a city of 2,500. That's the kind of thing you bragged about in those days, though to be sure, a city of 2,500 didn't use near as much as it would today. Imagine the brilliance of this beautiful sign lit at night. The Fargo Theater (in Fargo, ND of all places) has a very similar sign and it exists in its original form today.

The Fargo is a slightly younger sister to the State. It opened 13 days after the State and was also owned by Finkelstein and Ruben Theatrical Enterprises. Minneapolis architects Buechner & Orth of Saint Paul designed both.

 

 

 

 

Here in 1936 the marquee has been improved upon. Compare with the 1926 version and you'll notice the lighted flourishes above the sides. That might add 50-100 more bulbs to the whole affair. There is more ad space below the marquee as well. A banner flies from the top part of the sign, too. This reveals some interesting things; By 1936 the movie business had gotten more competitive. Lots of cash was put into advertising. There were other theaters downtown to compete with and each of them used these methods to fill the seats. Movie theaters did well during the depression, but that didn't mean they didn't have to fight to bring in the traffic.

The State Theater was open only 10 years before renovation. You see similar renovation cycles in other theaters in the area as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's the mezzanine in 1936, the area just outside the balcony. Have you ever been to a movie that has an intermission? They used to have them much more frequently back in the day. I think they're due for a comeback. Imagine seeing Peter Jackson's King Kong in the theater and concentrating on the film rather than your bladder. During the intermission, you could go to the comfortable mezzanine and stretch your legs a bit, maybe discuss the camerawork with another film buff.

 

 

 

Here's the stage in 1936. To either side of the stage are the organ chambers, each chock full of the apparatus used to make the sound effects and music for the silent films of the 20s and 30s. Click on the image and you'll be able to see the Mighty Wurlitzer in front of the stage and to the left a little better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's the view from the stage in 1936. Imagine being up on that stage and seeing 1,350 faces looking up at you. Amazingly, many of the lighting fixtures seen here are still in place 72 years later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here you see the view up Phillips facing North. These painted postcards tend to muddy the details of the photo. I'm not entirely sure that the 35¢ at the top of the sign is truly there. I've never seen it in any other photo, and it seems a bit pasted on. Still, not a bad price for a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1936 sees the State Theater showing The Country Doctor. This must have been in warmer weather. The awnings were a must for a building back then. Keeping the sun out meant more comfortable patrons. The State Theater had a water-based cooling system of some sort when it was first built, which was not as efficient as a freon-based system, making the awnings a must. The projectionists had it bad back then. Poor ventilation in the booth and hot projector elements made for miserable working conditions. An innovative projectionist at some point installed a shower on the roof just outside the projection booth for cleaning up and cooling off after a shift.

 

 

 

Here we are circa 1947, the present sign design. More subtle for sure, but quite classy. Betty Grable and Dan Daily in Mother Wore Tights entertained at the time of this photo. Downtown was still king and the state was the jewel in the king's crown.

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This page last edited July 14, 2008

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