SIOUX FALLS, SD -
To say a lot has changed since 1926 would be an understatement. That's the year Marilyn Monroe was born, Henry Ford announced the 40-hour work week and President Calvin Coolidge was in office as Route 66 was created between Chicago and Los Angeles.
At the same time, an icon of downtown Sioux Falls would open its doors for the first time.
But a growing number of people are hoping the State Theater can help a new generation return to those days gone bye.
The State Theatre in downtown Sioux Falls was a social hub when its doors first opened in 1926. During the decades that followed, hundreds of people could be found lining the block, waiting for a show, featuring some of the biggest films of all time.
"Back in the day of the State Theatre, when it first opened, it was the gathering point for the community," Rick Weiland said.
Today, the Sioux Falls State Theatre Company
is working to restore the theatre as a main attraction. The theatre closed its doors in 1989. But since then, the exterior has been restored. Now crews are working on the inside, removing layers of paint, hoping to uncover the original colors. It's hard work but those behind it say they want to return the building to its authentic state.
“I think that's what crucial about it. That's what unique about it. That the opportunity we have, to create a new experience," project director Stacy Newcomb said.
A look inside an old lighting booth also gives planners a hint at the original colors.
A $200,000 federal grant was recently secured to help with the restoration process, but the board will have to raise another $200,000 to match that grant. Much of that will go to restoring the lobby.
"It is tough. Fund raising is always difficult but I think when you look at this structure, it’s really worth it. There are few things in life that I've found I'm really confident about and this is one of them," Newcomb said.
Originally, the theatre could sit about 1,600 people, but the old seats were pretty small. When it’s completed, the seating will now be about one thousand because the new seats will be larger.
There will also be some updated features, like bathrooms on the main floor and a concession stand.
"It is one of its kind in this area that's still standing, that's just waiting to be restored and reopened and I think people will walk in here and be blown away," Weiland said.
Board members are now hoping to have the theatre open by the end of 2011 or early 2012. They plan to show current movies half of the time, and use the stage for recitals and other events. They say it's a plan that could return the historic building as the place to be in downtown.
"We think it will be a gathering point that will bring hundreds, if not thousands, of people downtown every week to watch a newly-released film. So we're excited about it and think it's got a lot of potential," Weiland said.
Potential that's been building behind closed doors for 21 years.
State Theatre supporters also point out the economic benefits that the downtown area could receive if the theatre reopens. But to keep the work going, they're looking for volunteers and donations.
© 2010 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.