SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — KELOLAND businesses know the importance of keeping their customers in climate-controlled comfort during hot summer days. But cooling-down was an elaborate process at one downtown Sioux Falls attraction, during a time long before central air, or even wall-mounted units were commonplace.
Movie night and air conditioning make for a great double-feature during a heat wave.
“Air conditioning, I feel, kind of goes hand-in-hand with movie theaters. I think we all can relate to wanting to escape the heat in the summertime,” State Theatre Executive Director Allison Weiland said.
Part of the recent restoration of the State Theatre in downtown Sioux Falls included the installation of central air-conditioning units in both the auditorium and the lobby.
“It feels really good when you walk in the doors, that’s for sure,” Weiland said.
But the State Theatre relied on a much different cooling system when it first opened in 1926. The basement is a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the auditorium that served as duct work for a big fan blowing cold air.
“Had a bunch of holes in the floor and then it would push the cold air through them and then it would pump up through the floor to keep the theater cool,” State Theatre General Manager Steven Dahlmeier said.
One of the tunnels used for air-conditioning back in the day is big enough that you can walk through. In fact, the staff here still uses the tunnel to get easy access to the stage. Just as long as you bend down low enough, and aren’t afraid of the dark.
“Those series of tunnels that are underneath have actually been really helpful running lines, all kinds of things, sound and networking and everything. They’ve been really helpful,” Weiland said,
The State Theatre used this so-called chilling system right up until it closed in 1990. More than 30 years later, central air courses through the building for movie fans to chill-out on a hot summer night.
The State Theatre even used its chilling system as a marketing tool by advertising that it was always 70-degrees inside the building. That was a big summertime draw during the Great Depression, when few people could afford air conditioning in their homes.