Press "Enter" to skip to content

Ah, Progress: State Theatre Installs Outdoor Digital Displays

In today’s teapot tempest department, Patrick Anderson finds some people who like and some people who don’t like the new $52,000 digital signs installed on the historic State Theatre downtown. “It’s not historical,” says one woman in the street… but then neither was the 1947 plastic letter board that the digital signs have replaced. The digital displays don’t fit “with what the feeling was in that old building,” says a downtown business neighbor, even though the Sioux Falls Board of Historic Preservation unanimously approved the signs at its June 8 meeting.

The outdoor digital displays are no more of a deviation from the building’s history than the digital projection equipment that will splash movies onto the restored big screen inside… someday. State Theatre management will do business with cell phones, not dial phones with calls patched by the Ma Bell operator. Ushers will show us to our seats with LED flashlights, not candles.

If DeLon Mork had had a million dollars to save the old Masonic Temple in Madison and turn it into a community cultural center, I would not have begrudged him and up-to-date Daktronics board on the front of the building to advertise the art classes, string quartet performances, and Saturday sockhops we’d have hosted there.

A hundred years from now, someone downtown stroller will grumble about the new holographic movie previews playing on the sidewalk in front of the State Theatre. “Why can’t they restore those beautiful antique Daktronics signs that that nice pilot kissed me under when they announced the end of the Trump Civil War? And while they’re at it, bring back those lovely clicky keyboards the office staff used to enter the display information instead of these new-fangled telepathic readers?”

The signs are up. The State Theatre people can now use them to grab attention, promote the project, and make the final push to light up that screen and turn that old building back into a functioning cultural hub downtown.


  1. Don Coyote 2016-09-09 10:44

    Plastic marquee letters in 1947? Hardly. I can’t say when the 1947 sign was replaced but when I worked there as an usher in 1969, the marquee still used a 3-D metal letter that hung on metal rails. They had to be re-painted every year in a bright red. It was part of my job as was changing the marquee.

    Considering the painstaking and expensive effort they’ve put into the interior of the project, I find it sad that they couldn’t have come up with a better renovation of the marquee. It’s not in character with the building and I think looks like crap.

    As for the Board of Historic Preservations approval, remember these are the same jackwagons who signed off on the Monstrosity at McKennan.

  2. Shelly 2016-09-09 14:00

    It’s terrible. Reminds me of urban renewal in the 70s. It’s jarring & doesn’t fit with the style and age of the building.
    I hate the new Corn Palace makeover as well. It’s not Vegas. It’s Mitchell. It ruined the charm & kitsch.

  3. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-09-09 18:14

    I have to admit, I totally agree with Don on this one…Although, he will probably not agree with me on the remainder of my analysis…

    Just how much longer is it going to take to complete the State Theatre preservation project, I must ask? This “Save the State Theatre” idea has been going on since the early 90s.

    You would think that in a town which has successfully established the “Phillips to Falls” project, built a new Events Center, revitalized the Coliseum and has successfully attached it to the Multi-Cultural Center, saved the old Washington High School building and has turned it into the Pavilion, just built a new Aquatic Center, and has worked with private entities to establish a sports authority area in recent years, that such a town should also have the ability to save, preserve, and complete the State Theatre project in due time. But oh no, this thing just seems to linger on like a spouse’s false promises….

    Now, some will say these new lights are the answer, but I question that. I think the City needs to buy the theatre and get the job done like it has with the other aforementioned projects.

    Oh, I know, as good South Dakotans it is best to let the private sector get it done, but in this case I don’t think that is the truth nor the best idea. The private sector has had their chance (nearly 30 years). It is time to take down those gaudy lights and have the City take over the project…..

    Where is the money going to come from, you ask? Well, if we do not build the new administration building I guess we will have some extra cash flow, and if we build the new administration building, then what’s the hurt in acquiring the State Theatre, too?… ;-)

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-10 06:51

    John KC, you do ask an interesting question about private vs public effort on this particular project. Sioux Falls has wealth, strong support for downtown development, and lots of existing downtown businesses and events to synergize with a theater. Why haven’t those factors led to completion of the private restoration project?

    On the role of city government: has the city already done its part by focusing on the Washington Pavilion?

  5. Darin Larson 2016-09-10 08:40

    The key to the State Theatre being a success in the long run is for people to be interested in going there and being aware of the events there. How does that happen? One way is a cool new video display that people see when they drive by the State and can be aware of the schedule of events. It also is a visible sign of the progress going on inside and it was integrated into the existing sign. They are painstakingly restoring the inside of the Theatre to original historic grandeur, but here on DFP we have people throwing fruit from the cheap seats.

    Are you part of the solution or just part of the problem?

  6. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-09-10 12:20

    Cory, I think you have zeroed in on the real problem, which is the Pavilion. I am of the impression that a completely restored State Theatre is seen as in direct competition with the Pavilion and the Orpheum, which is another completed project that the City has shepherd over the last twenty years, and as a result I believe there are some civic leaders who wish to not see the State Theatre returned to its complete grandeur because of its potential competitive qualities.

    In my estimation, another one of the major problems in selling the State Theatre restoration project is how to merely justify it in the wake of the Pavilion and the Orpheum. It seems that there is almost a subconscious interest in the State Theatre by all which stretches only to its exterior historic facade and not to the actual completion of the project. That is why I find the new lights so offensive, because no matter what is your opinion of the State Theatre, its never-ending restoration project, and its eventual use, that these new lights non the less strike at the heart of its historic statement which I think almost everyone enjoys, can appreciate, and be thankful for….

    Hopefully, over time the continual growth of Sioux Falls will put to rest any concerns about the State Theatre’s place in our community and it will be completed sooner than later….. Are there not any Federal Grants for such a project if the City is not interested?….. If we can relocate a railroad yard then certainly we can restore a theatre in do time…. you would think….

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-11 18:55

    Interesting, John KC. Do folks just want to see a nice façade that reminds them of the old days, or do they want a functioning cinema and another cultural anchor downtown?

    I am open to a discussion of the merits of prioritizing a modern display outside when there’s nothing going on inside yet to advertise. Maybe they are close to that point? Maybe the sign on the outside draws more attention and donors and accelerates the completion?

  8. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-09-12 16:26

    Corey, hopefully, the sign is temporary to raise funds and interest, but if it is permanent then it makes as much sense as to place a digital face on the Old Courthouse clock tower in Sioux Falls, and that would be awful in my opinion….It would be practical, but awful….

    I think that the facade and the historic maintenance of its integrity are important. Otherwise, we are overlooking a historic part of it for the sake of asserted progress, which is partially analogous to unfortunately tearing it down for the sake of progress or change.

    Let us face it, we already have the Pavilion and the Orpheum in Sioux Falls. So, if we violently (in my opinion) distort a major part of its exterior historical significance then we have destroyed a great part of the purpose of its restoration to begin with… Now over time, the growth of the city itself will mostly likely justify the State Theatre’s place in our community once again regardless of the debate on that, but the historic exterior will have already been lost, if the sign is permanent, which is not necessary….

    You know, in the car restoration business car collectors enjoy “barn finds,” “survivors,” historically correct restorations, and/or “RestoModes,” and often there is great debate within that community about what you should do with a given antique auto. The State Theatre is a known “barn find,” which for years has had good intended civic leaders working to accurately restore that building to its historic authenticity or should we say “historically correct” status, but if that new sign stays long term, then it is no longer a restoration rather it becomes a “RestoMode” – a project that gives the hint of appearance of a particular era or make, but instead takes it in a totally different direction for practicality at best and or licensed whim, but then doesn’t that reality then question its need and restoration if that has to be done?…. And I ask, do they have electronic boards at Williamsburg outside of their modern visitor center?….. When are we going to get the more practical digital clock for the Courthouse clock tower in Sioux Falls, I ask?….. ;-)

    I realize that there are far more important issues for all of us to be concerned about in Sioux Falls, our state, and nation, than just a new digital sign at the State Theatre. Especially, if we have to postulate and/or prepare ourselves for the thought of a Trump presidency in the near future, but I think it is sad when historic preservation physically becomes a victim of commercialization long term, because such a reality creates a whole new category for the unnecessary destruction of our past and our heritage, in my opinion….

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-12 22:06

    I speculate that removing the digital signs would only happen at some far future date when the reopened theater is such a smashing success that the owners can afford to give up the utility they get from the boards and restore… what? the non-original 1947 plastic marquee? a re-creation of whatever was on the original building?

    I do appreciate the comparison to the clock tower and Williamsburg. We assign different levels of sacred to different historical structures.

    I wander a little and note that the Statue of Liberty used to be brown. We now cherish her tarnish.

Comments are closed.