The finishing touches were being put onto the brand-new Fargo Theater on this date in 1926, only days before its much anticipated opening. Isaac Ruben, co-owner of Finkelstein and Ruben Theatres Company, arrived in town to direct last-minute installations.
No theatre of this scale or finery had ever been seen in the state. The Bijou, Fargo’s first theater to feature moving pictures, opened in 1906, but it didn’t rival the grand theaters of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Enter Moses Finkelstein and Isaac Ruben, two men who had been building theaters in the Upper Midwest since the turn of the century. By 1925, they were operating over a hundred theaters in four states, including the famous Capitol Theater in St. Paul and the State Theater in Minneapolis. The men decided to expand their business into North Dakota, and hired the local firm T. F. Powers and Company to construct the new theater. Built on the former site of Idlekope’s Fruit Store, the theater was constructed at a cost of $350,000, a small fortune in 1926.
Ruben and Finkelstein broke ground for their new enterprise on September 15th, 1925, and after six months of construction, the state-of-the-art theater was ready for its grand opening. With its landmark 36-foot-tall Fargo marquee, fine Italian leather seating for 1300, and five-thousand light bulbs, the theater was indeed monumental.
The theater’s first patrons entered for a 2 pm showing of Syd Chaplin’s film, The Man on the Box, which chronicled the comedic antics of a wealthy bachelor turned taxi driver. They were also treated to music performed on the theater’s $25,000 organ, the Mighty Wurlitzer.
Despite the popularity of the theater, it eventually fell into disrepair. In the 1980s, local residents raised funds to restore the theater to its original glory, and in 2001, the first Fargo Film Festival was held in the restored venue. Today, patrons can attend a variety of shows in the art-deco building, and can still hear the music of the Mighty Wurlitzer.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 36. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Tribune. Monday (Evening ed.), March 15, 1926; p. 1.