The Lund Theater
A tribute to 95 years of Movie Theater In Viborg,SD. by Richard Skola
The name and location of the movie theater in Viborg may have changed over the years, Wild West Theater, Dream Theater, Glud Theater, Lund Theater, but it has always been a place of entertainment in the lives of many generations of Viborg area young and old. There may have been previous attempts at showing some type of moving picture show within various Viborg organizations to their own membership, but the very first mention found so far of an advertised public presentation of a motion picture in our fair city occurred on Saturday evening, August 19, 1911, with the showing by a traveling motion picture company operated by a Mr. McKinzie of a documentary-type silent film entitled “The Slums of New York” presented in the meeting hall of the Danish Brotherhood Society that was located where the Wells Fargo Bank building now stands. The next advertised moving picture show was presented several months later on Saturday evening, December 9, 1911, in the hall of the Modern Woodmen of America, (MWA) but it is not clear if that was by another traveling company with an early example of a portable screen and projector of if it was presented to the public by the lodge members. The lodge building of the Modern Woodmen of America was located where the Daneville Heritage Museum now stands on the west side of the first block of North State Street.
The first owner / operator of a public theater or theater equipment in continuous operation in Viborg occurred when a man by the name of J.F. Thomas moved from Marion and opened Viborg’s first regularly operating motion picture theater. He rented the MWA Hall on Tuesdays and Saturday nights for showings of primarily western shootout, chase silent films along with the occasional damsels-in-distress melodramas, slapstick comedies reminiscent of the Keystone Kop variety, documentary and educational films, and continued weekly serial adventures that had each episode ending with a “cliffhanger” that would keep regular movie goers coming back for the next week’s resolution. Thomas named his movie business the Wild West Theater and hired a young man by the name of John Hojem who also worked for the Viborg Enterprise as assistant theater manager and projectionist. For the first year or so, there were no ads in the newspaper telling the names of current running or coming attraction films. There would be only a two or three line mention in the society section of the paper each week remind folds that the theater would be open to the public at 8:00 PM sharp on Tuesday and Saturday night. During the summer months of the first couple of years, the Wild West Theater would generally be open only on Saturday nights. Ticket prices for the first few years were 10 cents for children and 15 cents for adults. There would be two showings of the movie on Tuesday nights and Saturday nights, at 8:00 PM. and approximately 9:00 PM. The first motion picture presented under the name of the Wild West Theater in the M.W.A. Hall was on Saturday night April 20, 1912.
Now things become a little more confusing. By the following Saturday night, April 27, 1912, a competing theater has opened in Viborg. The movie house is called the Idle Hour Theater. There is no mention of who the owner or manager is, in what building the theater is located, or any titles for movies playing. The Idle Hour Theater is only open on Saturday night. Wherever it was located, perhaps in the back room of another downtown building, the Idle Hour Theater seems to have gone out of business a few months later without any explanation or even a mention in the newspaper.
In March of 1913, the Wild West Theater moved out of the MWA Hall and established itself in a building of its own after a new floor is installed. That location was a narrow wood frame two story building that stood at the southwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and Blaine Avenue where today Mick’s Station is located, right next door to where the theater would be located permanently in less that three years.
The Enterprise editor John Widlon has been joined by Viborg druggist Clyde A. Keller, as co-owners of the business and move tickets are always available in advance at Keller Drug Store. Widlon and his employee John Hojem are the managers and bookers for the theater until Hojem is called to serve his country during World War I. The name is changed from Wild West Theater to Dream Theater in Mid-March of 1915. But this would be a short business venture of only about two and a half years.
Construction on the present theater building began in May of 1915 by brothers Niels Anton Jorgensen and Charles Jorgensen Glood and the finished product was ready for its film debut by October of that year. The brothers were also partners in the hardware and implement business.
The brothers hired John Widlon to continue managing the theater and kept the name Dream Theater for their new business venture. The brothers dissolved their partnership on January 5, 1922, and N. A. Jorgensen released Widlon from his management lease and took over the management and ownership of the theater. The Dream Theater remained with that moniker until Jorgensen renamed it the Glud Theater during the first week of April of 1925. The name and its Danish spelling referred to the place he and other members of his family had immigrated from in Denmark.
During the teen years and through most of the 1920’s, silent films would be accompanied by a piano and sometimes by a two to four piece orchestra including two violins that occupied a small orchestra pit below the stage area. During the times when there would not be someone available to play the piano during a movie, a player piano would continuously play the same piano roll over and over. The music played generally had nothing to do with whatever was happening on film.
Rumors from the earliest days of the theater building suggest that there may have been a “Speak-Easy”, a place that served alcoholic beverages during the days of Prohibition, in the rear of the Dream / Glud Theater in a small room within a larger room that was located behind the screen and back to the alley. Access could be gained from a doorway behind a curtain on the south side of the stage or from the alley behind the theater building. The larger room was used by visiting live performers as a makeup and dressing room, props storage area or a waiting area for performers and actors not on stage at a particular time.
Jorgensen sold the building and business in mid-September of 1928 to a young Viborg businessman by the name of Eskild Lund, another Danish immigrant. He also bought the adjoining building to the north that had been the second location of the Wild West Theater and the first location the Dream Theater. The first movie to play under Eskild’s ownership was a silent film titled “Anybody Here Seen Kelley” on September 19, 1928. Eskild and his brother Arne operated the theater and continually updated its equipment as sound motion picture technology was developed perfected and came into prominence. A photo of the theater auditorium in an old newspaper ad that ran after its purchase by Lund and some refurbishing had taken place shows that originally there was no center aisle, there were aisles on each side. Eskild installed the fist sound system which was called Vita phone not long after taking ownership of the business. It consisted of 14 to 16 inches wide vinyl records played from the inside out on a separate machine from the one that played the reels of film. The record had a start mark on it that matched a mark on the film. Sometimes the two devices would get out of sync and the sound from the actor’s mouth would be delayed up to a few seconds. The whistling from the audience would notify the projectionist to correct the situation. Actual sound on film came less than a year later and totally did away with the need for a piano player or small orchestra in the pit below the stage to accompany the silent files of the past. Eskild and Magda Lauritsen Lund, whom he married in 1929, experienced some lean years with the theater in the early 1930’s but business picked up in the 1940’s when line of movie goers waiting to get in for weekend showings would often stretch out of the open theater doors and down the block south, especially for musicals. Starting on April 1, 1933, and continuing during the 1940’s, and into the mid-1950’s movies would play each night of the week, often with double features on weekends. Because of the popularity of television and proliferation of more school activities becoming available for students, the Lund’s switched to five nights a week in 1957 and by the early 1970’s were open for business only on weekends.
Eskild and Magda did not change the name from Glud Theater to Lund Theater until doing extensive remodeling to both the inside and outside of the building in 1950 when they added the current marquee, several display cases for currently showing and coming attraction posters both inside and outside, the present ticket booth, the lobby and sitting area, restrooms, office and storage area. Eskild celebrated his 50th year in the theater business on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, September 19th and 20th of 1978 with free showings of the “That’s Entertainment, Part Two.” Eskild died in 1982 while the theater was undergoing renovations following a fire that did considerable damage to the structure on May 21, 1982. Magda reopened the restored theater a month later on June 24th with the classic modern drama “On Golden Pond.” She sold the building and business to the present owners, Kenny and Sue Kessler, in February of 1983. They chose to honor the place that the Lund family has in the history of Viborg by retaining the Lund name for the theater.
The Dream, Glud, Lund Theater building has played host to every form of entertainment imaginable over the years since its construction in 1916. Within its walls have been held political rallies, professional wrestling matches, live vaudeville acts of every kind including magicians, singers dancers acrobats, comedians, and even ventriloquist and jugglers. Other activities and programs include high school plays, debate contests, and graduation exercises, visiting international lectures in both the Danish and English languages, piano recitals involving students of local keyboard instructors, traveling opera and operetta companies presenting lavishly costumed and scenic productions, college orchestra and choral concerts particularly from the University of South Dakota, Yankton College, Augustana College, Dakota Wesleyan, Sioux Falls College, Southern Normal School in Springfield, General Beadle Normal School in Madison or Columbus College in Sioux Falls. Amidst the old silent westerns, damsels in distress melodramas, and slapstick comedies of the silent film days between 1910-1920’s would frequently play Denmark-produced silent movies with Danish subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Even a few world famous concert violinists, classical pianists and opera singers presented recitals on the stage of our own local theater.
It is not totally surprising that our town theater building was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Dream, Glud, Lund Theater building may very well be one of the most all purpose buildings still standing and still in use in southeastern South Dakota.
The theater main floor auditorium area today has 200 seats and after having had to construct a second staircase to meet building codes, there are 75 seats in the balcony. For several years, the policy has been to show one major film each week on four nights, Friday, Saturday6, Sunday and the following Wednesday. Kenny and Sue often get first run films on the same day that they are released nationally and sometimes they must wait for a prominent film to have run its course in the theaters of major cities. The admission prices are more than reasonable and the concession stand prices better fit the pocketbooks of average Americans as compared to the prices in large mega screen theater structures in larger cities.
In recent years the Kessler’s have returned the theater building to the glory days of its youth by hosting live on stage musical entertainment. The business has not provided Kenny and Sue with anything near their needed living expenses over the years, they both have full time day careers, but it has been a pastime labor of love to have kept it going into the 21st century. The community can only hope that another hometown couple will someday want to take over from Eskild and Magda and Kenny and Sue who, so far have combined for keeping a theater active for almost 80 years of its 96 year existence in Viborg.