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The Bismarck Auditorium


The Bismarck Auditorium, today known as the Belle Mehus, has been around since the early part of the 20th Century when it was built by local architect Arthur Van Horn. Local newspapers reported on the progress of construction of the building, which was to be a prize gem in the community. Finally, in 1914, it was done. Last minute touches were being put into place on this date as opening night, January 19, was just two days away. No stone was left unturned; even the seats were tested to make sure they would support enough weight.

On opening night, January 19, 1914, the New Amsterdam Theatre Company of New York City came to town to present Robin Hood, a popular comic opera of the time with well-known stars like soprano Bessie Abott, who once was a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. Ticket prices for the box seats went as high as $18 a piece —a pretty price back then. The play was a hit, but the building, with its remarkable acoustics, was the greatest success.

After it opened, Mrs. W. F. Cushing, wife of the Bismarck Tribune editor, reviewed the new addition to the city, writing that "It was a brilliant assemblage, one of which Bismarck, Queen of the Slope, has every reason to feel proud." The Bismarck Weekly Tribune later reported that this theater, the two large hospitals, schools, businesses and hotels pointed towards Bismarck’s progressiveness.

The Bismarck Auditorium was used regularly after that, playing host to many local and famous concerts and convocations. The stage saw performances by various stars over the years, such as Al Jolson, Dorothy Stickney and Ethel Barrymore. Will Rogers told stories on that stage; Beverly Sills and Marion Anderson sang there; famed ballerinas Anna Pavlova and Dame Alicia Markova danced there. It was used in a political arena as well, with Woodrow Wilson, JFK, Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy all appearing.

The building fell in and out of disrepair, with the last major renovations campaigned for in 1989. It was updated, and today fills a unique, functional role in downtown Bismarck. It was put onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and is 97 years old this month; and hopefully, with love and care, the old building will remain for another 97 years, and more.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker



Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 23, 1914