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Project restores 100-year-old theater lobby

In this March 20, 2012, photo, David Schubauer, a carpenter for Remodel King, attaches a track which will hold a ceiling grid inside the entry of the Elks Theatre on March 20 in Rapid City, S.D. The barrel in the Elk's entry is under construction. (AP Photo by Tim Appel/Rapid City Journal)

Barbara Soderlin
Rapid City Journal

Rapid City, SD (AP) — In honor of the Elks Theatre’s 100th birthday this summer, owner Curt Small is undertaking a year-long project to remodel the theater’s lobby, restoring it in a way he says will reflect the importance of the venue to the city’s history.

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

Most of the first phase was finished last week, removing a 1970s-era drop ceiling from the middle of the lobby and restoring the curved 1929 “barrel” ceiling underneath.

“It will give our customers a good preview of what’s to come,” Small said.

The restoration will continue throughout the year with changes to the lobby’s ticket counter area, concessions sales counter and the stairways leading to the balcony.

Small started working at the theater in 1994 and bought it in 2008. He has been itching to make changes, but said his budget was a fraction of what was available for some of the other major remodeling projects seen in downtown Rapid City in the past few years.

Next door, the north half of the Elks Building saw a major, multi-million dollar gut remodel last year by its new owner, law firm Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson and Ashmore.

Small told his contractor, Remodel-King Construction, “It takes a lot of $4 tickets” to pay for his project, Remodel-King owner Scott Sogge said.

Sogge, formerly a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, shares Small’s love of historic buildings and the theater in particular.

“If I want to see a movie, I wait and go to the Elks,” Sogge said, calling the theater “iconic.” The theater is known for showing second-run movies, independent films and classic films through its Sunday-evening Nostalgia Night Film Series.

“The experience is worth it to me,” Sogge said. “It’s the charm and the authenticity.”

Sogge said much of that charm was covered up over the years.

“It’s a sleeper,” Sogge said. “There’s a lot of beauty hidden behind that ceiling that we have now started to remove.”

The Rapid City Elks built their lodge from 1911-12 at Sixth and Main streets, and included in it a large “opera house” for theatrical productions. But while the Elks fraternal organization stayed downtown until 1963, it sold the opera house portion of the building in 1920 to Art Rose, who sold it in 1925 to Black Hills Amusement Company, which brought the first “talkies” to Rapid City.

The theater changed hands again three times before Small bought it in 2008.

He is planning several events for the theater’s 100th birthday in June, including showing an original silent film along with the live piano music that once accompanied it.

Sogge said he was glad the theater was in Small’s hands.

“He’s got a good passion and he’s there for a reason,” he said, “and Rapid City’s got to hand it to him for having the perseverance to continue what he’s doing.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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