Grand re-opening of an iconic landmark
Fallon Theatre shows off its improvements to the community
Opening night — or in this case the Friday re-opening of Fallon Theatre after remodeling — sparkled on South Maine Street.
Since it opened on Dec. 20, 1920, the theater, one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the Silver State, rises above the other downtown businesses with its tall, iconic Fallon neon sign and marque on 71 S. Maine St.
Mike Berney, president of Fallon Community Theatre, greeted visitors Friday afternoon to show them the improvements done to the popular venue during the past two months. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the governor shut down businesses such as theaters for fear large crowds would spread the disease.
A bright, red carpet with multi-color spotlight images greets guests as they enter the building and walk toward the concession stand. Berney said Ralph Mills and David Widmer of The Depot provided and installed the new carpet, and the Carpet Connection installed flooring inside the concession stand area. In the floor-level theater, Berney said Scott Tate and the Nugget funded the new seats, and patrons will now see a major difference — plenty of leg room.
Berney, who said the theater organization had also received money from Churchill County, would also like to see the entire concession stand area have new flooring.
Originally, the theater had a big auditorium for movies and other community activities. Five years after Bob and Mary Beth Erickson and Bill and Nancy Janess bought the theater in 1978, they divided the auditorium into two theaters, each providing seating for up to 155 guests. Over the years, they updated the theater’s sound system to a DTS surround audio system.
In a 2013 interview, Bob Erickson said the theater attracted movie goers from the surrounding area from as far away as Eureka to the east and Tonopah to the south.
The Janesses sold their share of the theater to the Ericksons in 1984, and more than five years ago, they sold the business to Dr. Stuart Richardson on Jan. 1, 2015. Improvements continued at Fallon Theatre especially with the changing movie industry. As with so many theaters across the United States, digital reproductions of the newest releases replaced the 35-milimeter film. Three months later, Richardson purchased the first digital projector.
The Fallon Community Theater, Inc. a group of volunteers that established the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, bought the theater from Richardson in January 2017 by using funds that were awarded from a Community Development Block Grant.
The theater has evolved ruing the last century. Fallon was a small agricultural community in 1920 when plans for a theater to replace the existing one were drawn by noted architect Frederic DeLongchamps. World War I had ended in late 1918, and a military convoy rolled through Fallon in September 1919, months before the dream for a new building.
That dream for the 1920 project rested with John Walton (J.W.) Flood and his wife, Maebelle E. Hayes, who had bought the Rex Theater on South Maine Street, which was built in 1911. The newly constructed building became known as the “New Rex.”
Documents and newspaper accounts at the Churchill County Museum reveal ground broke for the project on March 6, 1920, and the grand opening was held Dec. 28. Every seat was sold and dignitaries in attendance included Lt. Gov. Maurice J. Sullivan and U.S. Sen.-elect Tasker L. Oddie.
Erickson said the Floods were famous vaudeville players who were well known in the 1890s and early 1900s.
According to an account in a 2013 article in the LVN, “the first silent film in the theater, “Humoresque,” was shown on Dec. 30-31, 1920. Reserved seats for opening night were 50 cents. General admission for pictures at the time ranged from 10 cents for children to 35 cents for adults. Vaudeville show admission was 15 cents for children and 55 cents for adults.”
The Fallon Eagle-Standard reported in its Feb. 4, 1920 edition, “The buildings were fireproofed, according to the Feb. 14, 1920, edition of the Fallon Eagle-Standard. The steam heating plant and electricity were placed in a separate building behind the theater.”
The Floods and DeLongchamps also had another bond. The Floods lived in San Francisco and survived the 1906 earthquake, and DeLongchamps had a role in the city’s rebuilding. The Floods wanted their new Fallon theater to withstand earthquakes. The first and only major test occurred in 1954 when a series of earthquakes rocked the area between July to November. According to accounts in the Fallon Eagle-Standard, the theater received minor damage.
Another change awaited the theater when the “talking movies” or “talkies” began to replace the silent films, and a new owner ushered in a remodeling project that would make the theater more suitable for sound reproduction. The remodeling eliminated the balcony but provided a 500-seat theater. In 1930, the new owners changed the name from The New Rex to Fallon Theatre, which at the time was only one of two cinemas that showed the “talking movies.”
Berney said the theater will be open Thursday and Saturday nights for movies, which will give volunteers time to thoroughly clean the seating area and lobby.
Former LVN reporter Dave Price did research on the theater’s history in 2013 and some of his information is included in this article. For Price’s article, go to https://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/lahontan-valley/theater-shows-fallons-history/.