Grand Opening on October 2, 1913
On October 2, 1913, the grand opening of the Orpheum Theater at 315 N. Phillips Avenue was a full-dress affair with patrons paying the unheard price of $5 per seat. First nighters were entertained with a full line-up including a concert by the Orpheum Concert Orchestra; acts including “An Evening in Honolulu,” which featured vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers; White’s posing animals; two different comedy acts; and screen projections of Pathe news.
Theater Design – The Solari Bros.
The Orpheum is the oldest existing theater in Sioux Falls. It was built for the Solari Bros. in 1913 at a cost of $63,200. The theater incorporates elements of the Prairie style and Neo-Classical Revival in its architecture. The façade of the building is constructed of a polychromatic, light-gray colored terra cotta block that resembles marble. John and Frank Solari designed the 1,000-seat Orpheum to be a state-of-the-art theater for the staging of vaudeville. A railroad spur led to the theater back door, which enabled performers to unload their animals, props, instruments and wardrobe trunks straight onto the stage.
Finkelstein and Ruben
In 1919, the theater was sold to Finkelstein and Ruben, a major theater management firm. It is surmised that at the time J.J. Liebenberg, who designed many commissions for Finkelstein and Ruben, did work on the building. In the early 1920s, repertory theatre became popular at the Orpheum. Stock companies performed the current play for one week while at the same time they rehearsed a second play to be performed the following week. During this time, tenants of the small shop spaces located in the front of the building included a confectioner, several grocers, some clothiers and a barber. Small apartments were located above the two shops on the second floor.
Minnesota Amusement Co.
The Orpheum remained in use as a vaudeville house until 1927 when it was sold to Minnesota Amusement Co., who converted it into a B-movie and second run theater. The building slowly declined into disuse until it was purchased by the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse (SFCP) in 1954.
Sioux Falls Community Playhouse
The first performance the SFCP produced on the Orpheum stage was Separate Rooms. This production starred Lyle Talbot, a prolific actor in movies, TV and stage. Talbot had starred in Separate Rooms on Broadway in the 1940s and was also one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild.
Another famous actor to grace the stage during SFCP’s ownership was Ann B. “Schultzy” Davis. In 1963, Davis stepped in for Anne Zabel, who was injured in an accident four days before opening night of “Everybody Loves Opal.” Miss Davis had been touring the past two summers playing the same role, and being a personal friend of Director Bill Cohen, flew into Sioux Falls to ensure that the show went on. In addition to the five shows performed during each main stage season, SFCP also presented touring productions of other theatre companies, including both the Guthrie Theater and the National Players of Washington, D.C. In 1961, Mrs. John Tilton, wife of the then playhouse director, organized the Children’s Theatre and Teen Theatre, which later was combined into the Young People’s Theatre.
Spitznagel Partners of Sioux Falls
At the time the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse purchased the Orpheum Theater in 1954, the theater had seating for 876. In 1975, Spitznagel Partners of Sioux Falls rehabilitated the theater, which included stuccoing the exterior of the side and rear brick walls. A stucco-clad 30’x50’ addition was built near the alley on the north side of the building in 1978. The theater underwent a remodel the same year, which included new seats, and reduced the number of seating to 692.
“Kings of Clubs Building”
Referred to as the “King of Clubs Building,” the 44’x150’ building at 319 N. Phillips Avenue was built in 1949; this is the last historic building to be constructed in the district. The building has concrete block side and rear walls and a tan colored brick veneer façade set in a running bond. The structure was built with a large open space in the back for use as a bar and dance club. The side and rear walls of the building were stuccoed in the 1980s.
Upon the building’s completion in 1949, King of Clubs and Imperial Liquor Store occupied the street level of the building, and Bob’s Floor Covering leased the second floor. Businesses in the building changed on an almost yearly basis, partly reflecting the declining importance of downtown. King of Clubs was replaced by another club in 1951, Bob’s Floor Covering was gone by 1952 and Imperial Liquor moved out in 1954. Later tenants of the building included a dressmaker, a sod company, a travel agent and several other bars including the Cabana Club from 1955 to 1962.
The City of Sioux Falls
The City of Sioux Falls purchased the King of Clubs building in 1994, which had most recently housed the Rainbow Bar and Lime Light Casino; the city then entered into a contract-for-deed agreement with the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse on the building, and it was renamed the Actor’s Studio by SFCP. SFCP began construction on a link between the Orpheum Theater and the Anne Zabel Actor’s Studio in 1995.
The Sioux Falls Community Playhouse performed in and rented out the space until 2002 with a Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues concert, Mose Allison, as the last performance under SFCP’s ownership. The City of Sioux Falls purchased the Orpheum, Link and Actor’s Studio in 2003 and contracted SMG to manage the facility.
In the fall of 2009, two of the original five murals were reinstalled. As renovation and restoration projects took place at the Orpheum, the murals had been identified as a key component to the theater’s setting. The murals had seen decades of neglect collecting soot, dirt and even overspray by painters upon the canvas. Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis was brought in to work on the murals. The first two were restored with the remaining two and the large center one still to be done. Originally there were six murals against the balcony wall, but during the restoration efforts in 1983 two of them were sent off to be restored and never returned.
With help from SMG, the city restored the facility to its full use and named the entire facility the Orpheum Theater Center. This latest remodel further reduced the seating to 686 and includes accessible seating. As of 2012, permanent residents of the building include CityLink, the Sioux Falls Municipal Band and the Sioux Empire Community Theatre. Frequent users of the building include the Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Society, The Comfort Theatre Company, Balleraena, Main Stage Ballet, Dance Gallery, Dynamic Cheer & Dance, Triple S Dance, Children’s Care Hospital & School, Jade Presents, The Collective Efforts Union, Pepper Entertainment and many other community and professional organizations.
The Orpheum Theater was listed on the national register of historic places in 1983. These historical plaques were created in honor of the centennial celebration of the Orpheum Theater.
In the past, the Orpheum Theater Center housed the offices of City Link, the Sioux Falls Municipal Band and the Sioux Empire Community Theatre, and it was the home stage for the community theater and Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Society. Other frequent users of the building include dance studios, concerts, meetings, conferences, weddings and more.
Washington Pavilion Management Inc.
On July 1, 2019, Washington Pavilion Management Inc. took over operations for the Orpheum Theater Center, both in managing the facility and ticketing events. Today the Orpheum Theater Center houses the offices of City Link, Downtown Sioux Falls, the Premiere Playhouse and the Sioux Falls Arts Council.