Babcock Theatre

2812 2nd Avenue North,
Billings, MT 59101

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Babcock Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This theatre is one of some 200 that could be described as “Skouras-ized For Showmanship” which is the title of the ANNUAL of 1987 of the Theatre Historical Soc. of America. In the late-1930’s through the 1950’s, there occurred on the west coast of the United States a phenomenon known as the ‘Skouras style’ in recognition of the oversight of the Skouras brothers in their management of several cinema chains. They employed a designer by the name of Carl G. Moeller to render their cinemas/theatres in a new style best described as ‘Art Moderne meets Streamlined.’ The then new availability of aluminum sheeting at low cost was the principal material difference to this style allowing for sweeping, 3-dimensional shapes of scrolls to adorn walls and facades in an expression that would have been much more expensive and not at all the same in plaster. With the use of hand tinted and etched aluminum forms, the designers could make ornaments in mass production that allowed much greater economies of scale. The ANNUAL also show in its 44 pages how some 20 theatres were good examples of this combining of aluminum forms with sweeping draperies heavily hung with large tassels, and with box offices and facades richly treated with neon within the aluminum forms. Few of these examples survive today, but it was a glorious era while it lasted, and this collection of crisp b/w photos is a fitting epitaph by the late Preston Kaufmann.

Contributed by Jim Rankin

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

JimRankin
JimRankin on May 27, 2004 at 1:59 am

The ANNUAL referred to is available from:
PHOTOS AVAILABLE:
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
www.HistoricTheatres.org
and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 40 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to loan it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on February 14, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Thursday Night Fights are still going on at the Babcock. Status should be open. Function would be…live performances?

CharmaineZoe
CharmaineZoe on March 2, 2013 at 1:34 am

Had a complete remodel in 1928 in the Colonial Spanish style at a cost of $100,000. Was then owned and operated by the Theatre Operating Company of Billings, Max Fregger & Eugene O'Keefe. Seating capacity was nearly 1,500 persons.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm

The NRHP registration form for the Babcock Theatre (PDF here) has a detailed history of the theater and numerous photographs, including photos of the original 1907 interior designed by Edwin W. Houghton and of the 1927 interior with decoration in the Spanish Colonial style by Carl F. Berg of the Shearer studios in Seattle. The theater was closed from June 7 to September 24 for the 1927 remodeling project.

The architect for these major alterations, which included moving the theater entrance from an interior arcade to the street front, and the removal of the 300-seat gallery and the boxes, was not named in the document, but it might have been John G. Link, who did work on the building at some point according to this page from the Montana State University Library.

On the night of February 21 and morning of February 22, 1935, the Babcock Theatre was severely damaged by a fire that caused the roof of the auditorium to collapse. The Wutlizer Hope_Jones organ was destroyed. Reconstruction after the fire took almost six months. The rebuilding project was designed by local architect Edwin G. Osness. The decoration, in the Art Deco style, was by the Heinsbergen Studios of Los Angeles.

The Skouras-style remodeling for Fox Theatres, designed by Carl G. Moeller, which is still largely intact, was done in 1955.

Chris1982
Chris1982 on July 23, 2014 at 4:07 am

website for the Babcock Theatre.

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