History of the Roxy

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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 auditorium. We 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

Photo: Mike Blakesley with historian Mark Hufstetler, taken by Pat Corley during the historical survey of Forsyth.

Physical 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.

Historical Information: 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.

Integrity: The 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, as well.

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 4, 1930.
Interview with Mike Blakesley, Forsyth, Montana.; October 15, 1988.
Records of the Rosebud County Clerk and Recorder, Forsyth, Montana.