History of the Roxy

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The history of the Roxy   Updated 5/25/2011

When moving pictures took off in the early 1900s as a form of entertainment, the race was on in nearly every town to bring this novel new diversion to the citizens. In most smaller towns, an existing storefront was converted for use as a theatre. Of course, this called for a lot of compromises in quality, but who cared -- the movies were in town!

According to local newspapers, Forsyth's first movies were shown in a makeshift facility near the Commercial Hotel (now the Howdy) for a few years in the early 1900s. Forsyth's first full-time movie theatre, the Star, was located in a converted store building at 963 Main Street. This building currently houses the Forsyth Station Casino and is two doors Forsyth - Downtown, 1921west of where the Roxy is now. (You can see it in this picture -- it is the building near the left, with four vertical windows.) The Star Theatre was renamed the Lincoln Paramount in 1918.

In 1922, Minnesotans Frank Faust and Tony Wolke were traveling to see a theatre in Polson, Montana. They didn't buy it, but on the way home they stopped in Forsyth to visit a mutual friend. Before they could get out of town, they found out the Lincoln Paramount Theatre was for sale, and purchased it.

Business was good enough that in 1924, Faust and Wolke were able to purchase the Home Trading Company building, which was on the corner of 10th Avenue and Main Street. They operated a car dealership out of that building, until it was damaged by fire in 1929.

The movie business was growing along with Forsyth's population, and by early 1930 the big news was sound. The Lincoln Paramount, of course, was a silent theatre, and had become too small to handle the growing crowds, so Faust and Wolke decided to build a new "talking" theatre on the site of the fire-damaged Home Trading building.

The Roxy at nightThe lots were cleared, and the Roxy Theatre was built in the summer of 1930, at a cost of $35,000. The theatre opened on September 6 with the film "The Bad One," starring Dolores Del Rio. Adult admission was 50¢ for auditorium seats, 60¢ for the balcony.

After only six years of operation, Tony Wolke died. His wife, Minnie, took over his interests, so the theatre continued to be operated by "Faust and Wolke." Eventually, Harvey Wolke (son of Tony and Minnie) became involved, and after Minnie's death in 1955, he continued to operate the theatre until the early 1960s. Frank Faust retired in 1957. Harvey Wolke eventually sold out to Roy Welter, who ran the business until 1967.

In the 1950s, television was presenting its first challenge to the theatre industry. To make matters worse, movie quality at the time was at a low ebb. The hard times were finally too much. Roy Welter closed the Roxy in the spring of 1967.

You can't keep a good theatre down, though, and it was only a few months before the Roxy was purchased by Forsyth business owners Don and Georgia Herndon. They opened in the fall of 1967 with the film "Up the Down Staircase," starring Sandy Dennis.Don & Georgie Herndon The theatre business saw a major revival in the 1970s with the beginning of the blockbuster era; movies like "Jaws," the "Star Wars" series and other major hits packed the house, and it finally was apparent that the movie business and the TV business were going to get along just fine.

The Herndons operated the theatre until March 1979, when they sold it to Mike Blakesley and Tom Clifford. Both had been employed by the theatre as projectionists.

The Roxy has seen many remodelings and improvements over the years. In 1940, the theatre's first popcorn machine was placed in the outer lobby. In 1953, the full concession stand was built in the inner lobby, and the screen was enlarged to its current 30-foot-wide size. And the most popular seats, those near the rear of the auditorium, were replaced with more-comfortable slide-back models sometime in the early 1960s.

The tradition of periodic upgrades was continued when Blakesley and Clifford took over the business. Soon after their purchase of the theatre, the exterior was repainted; new carpet was installed; and within a year, all-new projection and sound equipment was installed. The biggest remodel in the theatre's history took place in 1982, with the installation of modern seats and fabric wall coverings.

In 1987, Clifford left the business. Blakesley turned attention to the growing demand for improved movie sound, adding Ultra Stereo sound in 1992 and DTS Digital Sound in 1995. The neon marquee was restored in several steps; the projection booth windows (long boarded over) were replaced; and the building was repainted yet again in 1996. The ancient "Arctic Nu-Air Blower," a major source of pride in 1930 but just a sweat-inducing swamp cooler in the 1990s, was replaced with a modern air-conditioning system.

In 2000, Mike Blakesley got married, and he and his wife Lynn soon launched another record-setting project: The 1982 seats were replaced with new chairs featuring liftable arms and cupholders; the carpeting was replaced with a patterned style that recalled the original carpet in the building; and the auditorium wall coverings were replaced with more classic colors. No detail was spared: Even the light bulbs in the concession stand were replaced.

In February of 2006, the sound system in the Roxy was given another upgrade with the addition of Dolby Digital Sound. The Dolby system replaced the aging Ultra Stereo/DTS hybrid system, and exchanged the original three amplifiers for five QSC amps, recognized around the world as the best in cinema technology.

In early 2008, attention turned to the inner lobby. The 1982-era faux-brick paneling in the lobby was removed, and brighter colors were the order of the day. Original stucco work in the ceilings and walls in the lobby area were exposed and restored. The original stage area, with its distinctive railing and stucco front, was restored at the same time. Behind the scenes, the roof was replaced in the fall of 2009.

In 2010, the Roxy made a huge technological leap with the installation of digital cinema and Dolby 3-D projection equipment, just in time for the theatre's 80th birthday.  This new technology provides a brighter, steadier picture along with uncompressed digital sound, and will also allow related new developments in the coming years. 

In late 2012, the sound system received another upgrade with the addition of a full baffle wall behind the screen, and a complete new set of QSC stage speakers.  The baffle wall stops echoes and directs the sound forward through the screen to the audience -- all of which helps with dialog clarity and stereo separation.  The theatre's 12 surround speakers were also replaced, giving the Roxy "cinema-designed" surround speakers for the first time. Since the project required removal of the screen, the theatre was closed for six days -- the longest closure in its history (not counting summer closures in the 1960s and '70s).

Whatever happens, it's clear that the Roxy will continue to live up to the simple, but essential early motto coined by Faust and Wolke:  "Always a good show."


Photos:
Historic Main Street: Walter Dean
Lobby and marquee: Mike Blakesley
Herndons: Photographer unknown, courtesy of Debbie Herndon Trovatten
 

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