The Elks Theatre has been one of my favorite places in Rapid City since I was a kid in the mid-1980s. Like it does now, the theater then had a periodic children’s movie series that my mom occasionally dropped my brother, sister and me off for.
I don’t think it was part of the series, but I remember seeing “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” from the balcony there, and I also remember feeling sad when the theater closed late in the ’80s.
The theater’s history dates to the early 1900s, when it was an Elks Lodge opera house, according to a timeline at Elkstheatre.com. Eventually, the theater began to show “talkies.”
It was 1989 when United Artists closed the Elks. Rapid City residents Doug and Lori Andrews bought the Elks in 1992 and began repairing damage done when pipes froze in the building while it was abandoned.
The Andrews added the upper-level screening room in 1999, and the theater suddenly held twice the fun. After a precipitous stair-climb to the screening room, movie goers are treated to a more intimate film experience that is no less distinctive than the one they get from the main screen.
Since then, the theater has reasserted itself as a must-go place in downtown Rapid City. For $4 ($1.50 when it reopened in the early ’90s), it doesn’t really matter what’s playing. Just being inside the historic theater, in front of the largest movie screen in the state, is worth sitting through some of the duds I’ve watched there, such as “City of Joy,” “Batman and Robin” and, most recently, “Battleship.”
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Renovations in the theater are ongoing, and it’s looking better than ever. Current owner Curt Small bought the Elks from the Andrews in 2008, and he has continued the tradition while expanding the kinds of entertainment the theater hosts. You can now catch rock concerts, comedians and a variety of film series there.
The place has become an entertainment magnet in the heart of downtown, and one of the most gratifying things about it for me is that I’ve been able to pass my fondness for the place on to my children. A family of fledgling film buffs, we find ourselves plunked down in the flicker of that huge screen a few times a month, sharing the biggest bag of popcorn and the largest cup of soda the concession stand offers.
The Elks Theatre is at 512 Sixth St. in downtown Rapid City.