Traill Theatre

17 N. Main Street,
Hillsboro, ND 58045

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Traill Theatre

Charming little, small time theatre. The Gem Theatre was opened in the 1920’s. In 1942 it was renamed Traill Theatre. It operated until at least 1950. Although abandoned it appears fairly intact.

Contributed by john coursey

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 4, 2011 at 5:42 am

The name is supposed to be spelled Traill Theatre. Hillsboro is the county seat of Traill County. The photo shows the second neon “l” on the vertical sign. The same photo accompanies this post by Hillsboro blogger Terry Dullum.

There is some hope for the Traill Theatre. In 2007, local residents Michael and Amy Bishop formed a non-profit organization to save the Traill. The Hillsboro Banner ran four articles about the project, on September 21, October 5, October 19, and December 20, 2007:

Initial effort made to save Hillsboro’s Traill Theater.

New preservation effort tries to save old Traill Theater.

City, county agree to lend a hand in saving theater.

Landmark given second chance to shine.

I’ve been unable to find anything more recent about the project in the newspaper, but efforts to raise money are apparently ongoing. A record of the November 8, 2010, meeting of the local school board includes this item: “It was noted that Michael Bishop is requesting permission to use our facilities for a play company in order to raise money for the Traill Theatre, which is a non-profit organization.”

The Banner articles reveal that, as of 2007, the house had been closed for forty years, and that there were no longer any seats in the auditorium. A 1967 closing date would jibe with an item in one of the Banner’s “Over the Years” features, which cited the following news from December 14, 1966: “John and Mavis Nelson planned to re-open the Traill Theatre in Hillsboro on Christmas Day, under a lease agreement with owner Orville Overmoe.”

As of 2007, both the roof and the floor (the building has a basement) needed to be replaced. The lobby still had decor from a 1950s remodeling, which was also when the leather-padded doors were installed, and Bishop intended to keep the lobby in that style.

The Banner also says that the building was erected in 1916. The vertical sign and small marquee, however, are obviously later alterations, and probably date from the late 1930s or early 1940s.
The Banner doesn’t say if the building was built as a theater or was originally a commercial building that was later converted into a theater, but it seems quite likely that it has always been a theater. A 1921 issue of the religious journal The American Missionary mentions evening church services being held at a movie theater in Hillsboro, North Dakota. The theater’s name is not given, but it could very easily have been this house.

The Traill building’s facade shows the influence of the Prairie Style of architecture, which was developed largely in Chicago around the turn of the century, with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright among its chief developers. I’d bet those two little wall sconces are original. The tapestry brick looks to be in pretty good shape, even after nearly a century of North Dakota winters. I doubt that we’ll find that the Traill was designed by one of the well-known architects of the period, though. Quite possibly there was no architect at all. Small town builders and masons of that time were quite capable of coming up with good designs in the popular styles, with details modeled on buildings they had seen in trade and professional publications.

I’ve been unable to find any mention of the Traill Theatre in Boxoffice’s archive, or any of the old publications available from Google Books. Information about this house from non-local sources will probably prove to be scarce.

Chris1982 on July 6, 2014 at 4:47 am

This theatre does go back to the 1920’s when it was known as the Gem Theatre. The name change heppened in 1942 when it became known as the Traill Theatre. It was still listed as open in 1956.

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