100 Years Of The Orpheum

A staple for the performing arts in downtown Sioux Falls is celebrating a monumental birthday. 100 years ago this week, the Orpheum theater was first opened to the public.

KDLT’s Phil McIlrath gives us a look back on the last century for this iconic theater house.

The year was1913, Sioux Falls is a little more than 50 years old, and a brand new venue for entertainment is open for business on Phillips Avenue.

At the cost of just over $62,000 dollars to build, construction on the new Orpheum theater is complete and seats are ready to be filled.

“The night of the opening was a pretty grand affair,”said Rick Huffman. “It was a big dress up affair and tickets were like the unheard of price of $5 dollars.”

The Orpheum was designed to give the best possible view from any spot in the house whether you were seated in the main floor, balcony or two boxes.

Big entertainment in the early part of the 20th century was primarily vaudeville and in this genre the Orpheum excelled.

“They even had railroad spurs that pulled up behind the building so they could unload their props and costumes and even animals,” said Huffman.

Over the last century the Orpheum has seen its share of talent come from behind this red curtain. From local actors, to vaudeville and even Hollywood, this stage has been their temple.

Notable local actors included Alba Alney, Everitt Mento and Edna Torrence. More famous names include the likes of Jack Benney and Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy.

In 1927, the Orpheum was sold to a company in Minnesota, which converted it into a movie house, where it would show second run and B-movies. It quickly became known as a place to see a flick for cheap, a popular place for kids.

“Being able to come down on a Saturday morning for a nickel and watch two or three movies throughout the day and get out from under mom and dad’s feet,”said Huffman.

In the fifties, the theater changed hands again and live theater was once again center stage.

In 1963, a relatively unknown actress at the time stepped on stage…only to become a household name only a few years later.

“The actress was Anne B. Davis who…this was 1963..about 5 years later would become Alice on the Brady Bunch. It’s had it’s share of big names here,”said Huffman.

Through the years many renovations have been added including storage and dressing rooms.

But the theater itself has its own form of star power. The hand painted murals, originally installed when the theater was opened are still a big draw to patrons.

‘The big centerpiece is in good shape as you look at it now compared to what the side murals used to look like it has a lot of brightness to it,”said Huffman.

Surviving the test of time by keeping up with it.

“The place has survived just due to a lot of love and sweat and tears over the years to keep it a part of our downtown,”said Huffman. “I don’t see why it can’t last another 100 years.”

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