ABOUT THIS ARTICLE: In 1987, the Forsyth Chamber of Commerce and
Agriculture commissioned the Montana Historical Society to conduct
an inventory of the historic buildings in Forsyth. Architectural
historian Mark Hufstetler moved from Bozeman to Forsyth for about
eight months to conduct the inventory. He spent the time researching,
cataloging and touring the town's old houses and commercial and
government buildings. He dug through old files, newspapers and
books, and devoted thousands of hours of research to the project.
One result of the study was a book entitled Forsyth: An Architectural
History, which is very interesting reading if you can find
a copy (it's out of print now).
At the time the survey was done, Tom
Clifford and I had already "modernized" the Roxy's
hadn't really thought about the fact that we were altering a genuine "historical
treasure." (At one point, we'd even considered replacing
the neon marquee with a modern plastic backlit sign!) After Tom
had left the business, after the survey, and after listening
to Mark Hufstetler talk about the historical siginificance of
the building, I came to the realization that it would be better
to preserve the old-time theatre atmosphere in the Roxy, and
to celebrate the historical value of the building, rather than
cover it up. That's when I decided to restore the neon, the upstairs
windows, the patterned carpet, and other touches that
make the Roxy a classic example of 1930s theatre design. I decided
to focus the "modernization" of the theatre on the
auditorium and projection and sound equipment, while trying to
keep the "front end" of the building in the old style.
As part of the history project, Mark
Hufstetler created inventory sheets on all the older buildings
in town. The following is the information he compiled for the
Roxy. According to Hufstetler, except for the Rosebud County
Courthouse, the Roxy was his favorite building in town. Mark,
if you happen to read this, thanks for opening my eyes to the
genuine "coolness" of the grand old buildings in Forsyth.
- Mike Blakesley
Blakesley with historian Mark Hufstetler, taken by Pat Corley during
the historical survey of Forsyth.
Description: The Roxy Theatre
is a two-level building with strong Spanish Eclectic design features.
The stucco walled structure has a shed roof, with a small side
gabled area marking the facade. The portion of the roof line
visible from the street is surfaced with tile, now painted red;
the remaining roof area has built up roofing. The symmetrical
facade is marked by a small central pavilion containing the entry
area and originally topped by a large, multiple-light hinged
window (60 panes in four major divisions) framed in a semicircular
arch. This window was later filled in with matching stucco. Smaller
windows of similar design bracket the entry on both the first
and second level; the entry's arch is mirrored in the stucco
work above the first floor windows. First level windows are now
used as signboards for advertising material. All fenestration,
except the modern outer entry doors, is wood framed and original
to the structure. The facade is currently painted beige, with
brown trim. Side and rear walls are of red brick, devoid of ornamentation
and largely without fenestration.
A triangular marquee with backlit letterboards
and much decorative neon is over the entry. It is not original
to the building, but does appear in very early photos. (At construction,
a rectangular metal canopy sheltered the entry area.)
The building's interior displays a layout
typical of small theatres of the day. A small entry foyer (originally
open, now enclosed) includes the ticket window and leads to two
double doors (original) opening to the lobby. The window, woodwork
and finishes in the ticket booth area are all original. The lobby
area (largely remodeled) includes a snack bar, restrooms, and
stairs to the balcony. Short hallways leading to the auditorium
area bracket the snack bar. The auditorium, originally finished
with highly textured plaster, was remodeled in 1983; seats are
modern, and acoustical fabric covers the walls. In contrast,
the balcony area largely retains its original appearance with
its exposed plasterwork. Much of the original plasterwork can be
also seen in the lobby walls and ceiling.
Although the Roxy is Forsyth's only building
specifically designed as a movie theatre, movies were regularly
shown in town for over twenty years prior to its construction.
A makeshift movie facility may have operated near the Commercial
Hotel soon after the turn of the century, and by 1909 a storefront
at 963 Main had been remodeled into the Star Theatre. This facility,
renamed the "Lincoln Paramount" in 1918, remained in
service until the construction of the Roxy.
The Lincoln was purchased by A. C. Wolke
and Frank Faust in 1922. By early 1930 this partnership had acquired
three lots on the corner of 10th and Main as the site for a new
theatre building. The Home Trading Company, a large wooden structure
which had burned the year before, formerly occupied two of the
lots; a small frame building on the third was razed by Wolke
and Faust. Spokane architect Charles Wood was commissioned to
design the building. Wood's primary concern was said to be designing
the structure to meet the acoustic requirements of the new sound
motion pictures. For an unknown reason, Wood chose a locally
uncommon Spanish motif for the theatre. (Interestingly, the theatre
in nearby Hysham is a stucco Mission style building.)
Bids were requested for the theatre's
construction, and the contract was awarded to C. A. Haynes of
Billings. He began initial excavation work in June, 1930, and
construction continued throughout the summer. The project was
largely completed by late August, and the theatre's first movie,
"The Bad One," starring Dolores Del Rio, was shown
September 6, 1930.
The theatre was named Roxy, after the
well known New York City theatre. Forsyth's Roxy featured a state
of the art RCA Photophone projection apparatus, as well as an
efficient "Arctic Nu Air blower" ventilation system
connected to the Forsyth Central heating plant. Tickets were
50 cents for the main auditorium, and 60 cents for the "loge"
seats in the balcony (seats at the Lincoln had been 35 cents).
With brief interruptions, the Roxy has
remained in operation since its opening. The business has had
only four owners since 1930. Its current operator remodeled
much of the interior between 1979 and 1983, adding new seats,
carpeting, wall coverings, screen and projection system. The
Roxy, though, retains much of its original atmosphere and continues
its role as a social outlet for the community.
building's exterior exhibits a generally good level of integrity,
and some original detail remains in the interior, as well. While
the loss of some fenestration in the facade compromised the architect's
plan, the changes were made in a manner sympathetic to the building's
overall design, and the "feel" of the structure is
virtually intact. The modern wall coverings have cost the main
auditorium much of its historic appearance, although original materials
and finishes may be seen in the balcony, stage, lobby, and ticket booth. The
retention of historic use has helped preserve the Roxy's integrity,
Historical and/or Architectural Significance:
The Roxy is significant historically
as the only movie theatre in Forsyth, and consequently an important
social gathering point for the community over the years. It has
served in its intended function for nearly six unbroken decades.
Most Montana communities of Forsyth's size once had such a facility,
but relatively few remain in operation, and few possess the Roxy's
level of design integrity.
Architecturally, the Roxy is both distinctive
and locally unusual. The relative care taken in its design, construction
and furnishing reflects the local significance of its function.
It is a visual landmark in Forsyth's downtown streetscape, and
an anchor in Main Street's row of commercial enterprises.
Deitchler, Karen. "Forsyth:
100 Years," Forsyth, Montana, n.d.
Forsyth Times Journal, August 21, 1930; August :28, 1930; September
Interview with Mike Blakesley, Forsyth, Montana.; October 15,
Records of the Rosebud County Clerk and Recorder, Forsyth, Montana.