Historic Preservation Month: Walla Theater
Today we continue our series on National Historic Preservation Month with a story on The Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was built in the Moderne style in 1949. It replaced a two-story Opera House that had served the community for a number of decades—but following World War II, an update was needed to meet the needs and standards of the community.
The new theater was designed by Minneapolis architects Perry E. Crosier & Sons, and constructed immediately adjacent to the old Opera House. That building later became a bowling alley, and was eventually demolished.
In 1949, good weather extending into the fall allowed builders to make good headway. It was slated to be completed in March of 1950, but a fire broke out in the new building. Luckily, it was contained, but this still cause a delay, with the grand opening finally taking place on June 22nd.
Two new movies, were scheduled for the opening: “The Reformer and the Redhead,” starring June Allyson and Dick Powell; and “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady,” starring June Haver and Gordon MacRae.
Aside from movies, the Walla Theater was a venue for distinctive annual events. This included the Santa Show, a community holiday celebration, and John Deere Day. Tex Ritter, “America’s most beloved Cowboy,” also appeared at the Walla in September 1951.
The building had some ornamentation around the front entrance, with a lighted marquee. The façade was pale pink-beige, with a bottom row of turquoise. Inside, there were seats for more than 400 people, and a “cry room,” which allowed people with an unhappy child to still see and hear the film. The Walla closed in 1982.
In 2008, the Gorge Arts and Heritage Council took up the cause of getting the theater back on its feet, restoring and repairing the building. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and re-opened 2018, with a grand opening in May 2019 that featured Lorie Line in a concert that sold out two weeks before the event.
Tune in on Thursday for our final Datebook about National Preservation Month when we’ll hear about a home in Bismarck in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form – Walla Theater
Walhalla Mountaineer, Wednesday, March 20, 2019, p1
Walhalla Mountaineer, May 29, 2019, p1