Stories of Remodels: The 100-Year-Old Theater

Really old theaters are often considered obsolete. With so much new technology, no one wants to pay to sit in a crummy theater and watch something on a broken down screen. That leads to many theaters simply just going broke, unable to afford the repairs or not having the space to include stadium seating and those plush leather cushion chairs that are all in the rage. Still, none of this stopped local historic Elks Theatre's owners in Elk City, South Dakota from doing something really incredible with the lobby area.

Elks Theatre will celebrate its 100th birthday this summer. Owner, Curt Small, took that as a sign to do something special, and he wanted to do it in a big way. The theater is one of the landmarks in the city and therefore the historic theater deserves a facelift.

"So many cities just let theirs go," said Small. "There was a time those theaters were the jewel of downtown."

The restoration grew as two parts, one that was finished just last week, removing the 1970s-themed drop ceiling from the center of the lobby and restoring the 1929 "barrel" ceiling that had been covered up all this time. Going back to its roots, Small wants to really give the customers something to look forward to when the theater's restoration is complete. The project has so far been a great success in returning the theater to its older style while still keeping some of the new.

"It will give our customers a good preview of what's to come," Small said.

Small actually began working at the theater in 1994, buying it in 2008. He had always wanted to make some changes to the design of the place, but the budget is actually a fraction of what was available for other major remodeling projects that have been in the works for Rapid City. In fact, the theater is beside the Elks Building, which received a multi-million dollar gut remodel by a new owner, the law firm Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore. If only the theater had something akin to those figures, but that's not really going to change anything in Small's mind. He wants the theater to just look refreshed and different, giving something for customers to celebrate along with the theater's birthday.

Scott Sogge is the head of the project. He's the owner of Remodel-King Construction. He says that he's a fan of historic buildings and the theater is his favorite, but "it takes a lot of $4 tickets" to fund a project like this one. Sogge says that the theater is "iconic" and is known for showing second-run movies, in addition to its Sunday-evening Nostalgia Night Film Series. The "charm and authenticity" according to Sogge are the reasons that he keeps on coming back.

But much of that has been covered up by some renovations that happened in the 1970s. The older historic parts of the lobby were hidden all this time. They are finally being brought to attention and really starting to blossom. The theater changed hands three times before Small actually bought it in 2008. Before that, it had a long history including being an opera house and also showing the first "talkies" in Rapid City.

The unveiling of the entire remodel will be in June, along with an original silent film along with live piano music, to celebrate.

Amy Wright
Amy Wright is the Lead Editor of Remodeling Central. When she isn't playing with her dogs she is trying to remodel a classic Chicago style brownstone with her husband.

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