Plains Folk

Dinner and a Movie


The projectionist was a little shy. The kids in the ticket booth weren’t. The movie was a little corny.


Dinner and a movie in Page, North Dakota, on a summer night.


We had been in Page earlier in the week and had lunch at the Page Café, which is a community café, run by the Page Cafe Association. The food was good and good value, and we noticed the Saturday night special was BBQ ribs. We also strolled a couple of doors south on Morton, the main drag, and admired the colorful exterior of the Page Theater. We resolved to come back on Saturday, eat some ribs, and take in a movie in a historic movie house.


Page is one of those country towns that has endured the vicissitudes of the twentieth century and come out on the other side with the realization, We’re still here, so what do we do about it?


A railroad town founded on a branch of the Great Northern, Page peaked with a population of 600 in 1918, and declined through the rest of the century. The high school won a couple of state championships in six-man football, in 1937 and 1940. In that same period of years, the Lindsey family converted a business building into a theater, which prospered for a few years. The theater lapsed in the 1950s and 1960s, but was revived in 1969 with the help of the Page Community Club.


Population of Page in the 2010 census: 232.


It’s hard to keep things going when a town is in demographic decline. In 1968, for instance, the Page Homemakers attempted to operate the old Brass Rail Hotel, a notable landmark, as a community museum. In 1970 they gave it up, and the building was moved to Bonanzaville, in West Fargo.


That was then, this is now, a different generation, a different century.


In the past couple of years Page, like other small towns across the plains, has faced a technological challenge to community viability: the digitization of motion pictures. Digital distribution makes it impossible for theaters not possessing digital projection equipment to get first-run pictures.


Page is one of the success stories where a community rose to the challenge and made the transition. I’m not sure how it happened, but the Page Community Club raised $70,000 to install the digital system.


So, we were the beneficiaries of community vision and largess when we settled into the Page Café to eat our ribs, at a most reasonable price, and then our pie. We were already parked on the street—in the middle of the street, the way they do in Page—and so we walked over early to the theater to look it over and ask fool questions.


The theater, architecturally, is what you might call Moderne Lite, but here’s something notable. There is a genre of the Moderne style known as Zigzag Moderne. The side walls of the Page Theater are adorned with big zigzags, rendered in composition board.


The feature film was Man of Steel, which devotes a fair bit of attention to Superman’s small-town roots and values. There was an audible murmur among the attendees when the villain disparaged the hero’s farm boyhood. And you know what happened then. I suspect that Page’s Clark Kent, manning the projection booth, smiled.


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