“They just don’t make buildings like this anymore, especially theaters.” The Elks Theater in downtown Rapid City features 110 years of history.

The Elks Theater in downtown Rapid City was originally built in 1912 as an Elks Lodge. Curt Small, the owner of the Elks Theater, said it started out as an opera house which was kind of a big deal in Rapid City.

Small continues, “The Elks Lodge had it from 1912 until 1920. And a gentleman named Art Rose bought it at that time. He owned it for five years and sold it to Black Hills Amusements. And those folks operated it from 1925 to 1969.” 

Elks TheaterAlthough the theater was originally built as a vaudeville house, a projection booth was also built because they thought that silent movies might catch on.

Small says, “And in 1928 is when talking movies came to Rapid City. Black Hills Amusements in 1969, sold it to Commonwealth Theaters, which was a national chain at that point in time. They operated it 15 years, and then they sold it to another national chain called United Artists. They operated it for a very short amount of time and then closed the facility. And while it was closed for that brief amount of time, some water lines had froze and broke and filled the entire main floor. Luckily for Rapid City, a couple by the name of Doug and Lori Andrews bought the theater and started putting time and energy into it and bringing it back to life. And that would have been 1992.”

The Elks Theater turned 110 years old on June 6. Small took over ownership of the theater in August of 2008.  

Small elaborates, “I love this building and I truly think it’s an asset to not just downtown, but Rapid City in general, in large part because of the generational thing that it has. Even in my 28 years here, I’ve met little kids that are now adults bringing their little kids and to see great grandparents and grandparents coming in with their families, saying, I remember back in 1951, we watched this Fred MacMurray movie here. And so it’s tough to mimic that kind of connection with new construction.”

The main theater is called the event theater which holds a lot of events outside of just movies. Although the Elks primarily features movies, they also host concerts, dance recitals, convention meetings, and special screenings. The event theater seats just under 600 people. 

Featuring a robust sound system and the largest screen in South Dakota, Small says that it is truly an event when you come to a movie. 

In addition to the event theater, the Elks Theater also has a smaller theater upstairs.

Small explains, “That’s the old ballroom. It was originally built in 1912 as the ballroom for the Elks Lodge. The history of that space, there’s been a lot of stuff in it. We, meaning myself and Doug and Laurie acquired it in 1999 and converted it into a very cool little hundred seat theater while keeping as much of that history that that room has in it. It is a bit of a hike to get to it. We had to install a stairwell that has 53 steps to get us up there. The good news is, once you get up there, everything you need is up there. So I’ve got three kids myself and there’s a lot of times where if you go out with your whole family, it can be ridiculously expensive, even for something simple, like going to a movie. And that’s something that we’ve always really been conscious of trying to provide the best movie going experience at a price point that really is accessible to everybody.”

If you have an opportunity to visit the Elks Theater, you will be able to feel the history of the building as soon as you walk in the door.

Small says, “They just don’t make buildings like this anymore, especially theaters. So it’s been a challenge to retain as much of the historical significance of the building while making it current with new technology and new amenities. Trying to find that balance is something that we take pretty seriously.”

For more information about the Elks Theater visit their website here

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