Header image by McGheiver under Creative Commons Licence 3.0
Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota
I subscribe to my home town paper, The Rock County Star Herald, and I am constantly amazed by the positive tone and progressive activities the paper reports. For example, there is a $1,000,000 renovation to the library getting underway. The town just beautified the four corners of the major intersection in town to make it more appealing, and the community voted to extend some sort of special State financial assessment that benefits the public school system. The town has three museums, a new hospital, and a beautiful Veteran’s Nursing Home. The Rock County Historical Society raised $150,000 from private funds to remodel its new building, and the newspaper recently referred to the director of the Historical Society (an elderly woman who taught with my mom) as “Rock County’s Sweetheart of History”.
I think one reason for all this good natured progressiveness goes back 100 years to the building of The Palace Theater in 1915. It is a grand structure in the Beaux arts style with 550 seats, built by Herman Jochims for traveling theater troupes, orchestras, and vaudeville acts. It has an orchestra pit and, after 1926, air conditioning and new decor in the Art Deco style. Herman wanted the Palace to compete with any of the theaters in large cities , and spared no expense decorating it. The second story was used as a ballroom and eventually as Maude and Herman’s residence. In 1926 Herman installed a pipe organ which his wife, Maude, played during the silent films he showed. She was an elegant woman noted for her musicality and elegant dresses. I watched movies at the Palace all through my childhood and adolescence. It was so posh inside. The first things I always noticed after walking in the foyer were the two large, round mirrors, hung directly opposite one another, so that they reflected the other in smaller and smaller images as though the images went on into infinity.
By 1977, the Palace had fallen on hard times and had been foreclosed by the bank down the block. My parents often talked about the travails of the theater at this time, and I got more details about the issues in a paper by Maianne Preble of the Minnesota Historical Society in 2009. Community members raised money and got grants, and volunteers helped with renovations, so that the theater opened again and was purchased by a local theater group. Some movies and live plays were presented, but there was trouble ahead when the theater group’s Board of Directors sold the building to one of its members in 2001. There was a general uproar at this, and, eventually, a new and revised Board of Directors repurchased the building after it again went into foreclosure by the bank down the block. This bank gave the new Board of Directors a line of credit with which to buy the building back. More extensive renovations took place, and the building is now owned by the city, which partners with the theater group for its day to day management. Movies are shown, and live theater and musical groups perform regularly.
My hometown isn’t perfect by any means. There is the conflict and disagreement and hard feelings that you find in all communities. I think, though, that the live performances and movies gave people the opportunity to see beyond their current situation and dream of something better. Many people have reported seeing the ghost of Herman up in the balcony, and the organ has been heard playing when it was turned off and even dismantled for renovation. (Maude, no doubt, wanting to play again.) I like to think that when there are hard decisions to be made in town, their spirits flit out of the Palace and start whispering in people’s ears “Do it right. Make it beautiful.”
What local landmark lifts your spirits?