Saturday, July 18, 2009

The State Theatre ...

I love exploring old buildings, and don't get to do it anywhere often enough. If I could pick one building in Montana to see the inside of, this might be it: the old State Theatre in Harlowton. Considering the size of the town, it's a huge, huge building, looming over the rest of Main Street, and it's been abandoned for decades.

Harlo is a great little town. I shot this photo about three years ago while passing through one morning ... I really need to go back there and spend a little more time with my camera.


  1. It is very cool inside, it would have been great to see it back in the day. I would love to restore it if only the money was available.

  2. Yep, it would definitely be interesting to see the inside -- it was definitely intended to be a very grand place, though I wonder if it was ever entirely finished. And I guess there was a fire inside a number of years ago?

    And it really DOES deserve to be restored. It would take a huge pile of money, though ... and then what would happen to the place? There just isn't a market for a movie palace in Wheatland County ... which is really too bad.

  3. There is a surprising amount of the building left after the fire. Only the lobby and part of the balcony seating was destroyed. Most of the damage has come from the roof being damaged over the years. The molding is damaged and the plaster ceiling has fallen down but there is definitely enough left to recreated and restore it. Getting it up to modern day code would be the most costly part. The stage area is big, but not modern in design and could attract performances similar to the Fort Peck Theater.

  4. Many thanks! That's good to know, and actually a little bit encouraging. It would be wonderful if something positive ever happened to that building, and it would be really great for the town, too.

    And if you ever see me parked out in front, doing my best to peer inside ... hopefully you'll unlock the place for me! :)

  5. I really like the above photo that you took and would like to use it for the Facebook group that I have started but only if that is okay with you.

    Thanks, Ryan

  6. Absolutely! And I'll be one of the first to join the Facebook group.

    I'm really glad you like the photo.

  7. I grew up in Harlowton. When I was 21 I had a chance to buy this building for $8000.00 from the owner Gay Murry. He was well into his 80's at the time.
    This was before the fire.
    I had never been inside the building - the theatre part of the building that is. In High School, I had a couple of friend who lived in the 2nd floor apartment and if you drove down the alley there was another apartment door and window in the back. Gay had build an apartment on the stage that you could enter from the alley.
    I had dreams about restoring this building, but that is all they were was dreams.
    In 1981 I was painting a mural across the street from the Theatre. Gay would come out and watch me while I painted, if the truth were to be told — I was scared to death of Gay Murry, My whole life he was the old man who lived in the abandoned theatre. To top it off he drove this HUGE 1958 or Cadillac. He drove it into every light post, wall and closed parked car. There was not a corner of that Cadillac that did not have a dent in it.
    Anyway one day while I was painting he invited me in. The building was in real bad shape even back then. Part of the entry way had been sub-divided off to house another business in the 60-70's and an apartment had also been cut out. It must have had a huge entry back in the day. When you walked into the Theatre you could see daylight through the cracks in the sidewalls. At the bottom of the slopped floor was an orchestra pit and a stage. But it was the funniest thing because on the stage a cube had been built. It was the apartment that you entered from the alley, In all the times I had been in that apartment, I had never known that I was on the stage of the theatre. The three wall of the apartment that faced the audience in the theatre never had any windows or doors on that side.
    All the seats had been tore out, and the balcony had all been ripped out too. I think what I found the most interesting was the third floor. When Gay took me to the third floor, it was like walking into some sort of an old locker room. Bead board walls stained dark, with individual lockers build along one wall, the roof had been leaking and had caused a lot of damage all ready. He told me that room had been used for Klan meeting back in the day. If you look on the front of the building you will see little diamond squares across the top. These each were a gun turret window.