The Empire Arts Center is celebrating its 100th birthday with an open house from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10.
The free event marks the anniversary of a grand opening of the then-New Grand theater Nov. 10, 1919. On that day, a foot of snow, courtesy of the season’s first blizzard, did not prevent residents from filling the theater, according to a historical document.
Everyone is welcome to Sunday's celebration, which includes a birthday cake, silent film shorts, guided tours of the building and kids’ story-time with local celebrity Terry Dullum.
During the official re-dedication ceremony, beginning at 3 p.m., there will be an announcement about a new series coming to the arts center this spring, said Nathan Haltiwanger, program manager. But he declined to reveal details.
In November 1919, the New Grand was the largest theater ever built in town for the purpose of showing only “moving pictures,” according to a history of the building, written by Christopher P. Jacobs, a local film aficionado.
Admission prices were 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
The Minneapolis architecture firm, Beuchner and Orth, which had “recently designed the new Grand Forks County Courthouse, planned a modern and impressive 948-seat movie palace for the city,” Jacobs wrote in his document, “Empire Theater: From Movie House to Arts Center.”
“Special basement tunnels were designed to insure that patrons would not get a chill from a concrete floor built against the ground.”
Over the course of its 100 years in operation, the historic structure has undergone numerous remodeling projects and physical improvements. Renovation of the theater and an adjacent storefront building in a multipurpose arts facility began in 1995, but the project suffered a major setback with the extensive damage — totaling from $100,000 to $200,000 in losses — caused by the Flood of ‘97.
Despite this massive disaster, the Empire Arts Center “board members voted unanimously to continue the project,” Jacobs wrote. “It would be a vote of confidence for Grand Forks.”
The Empire Arts Center, which has continued to develop and expand its programming, hosts a variety of theater productions, performing arts, films, concerts, speakers, community events and meetings. The arts center welcomes about 30,000 visitors each year, according to its website.
For more information, call the arts center at (701) 746-5500 or visit www.empireartscenter.com.