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Ruby Theatre - Three Forks, MT
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member BK-Hunters
N 45° 53.561 W 111° 33.149
12T E 457137 N 5082273
Quick Description: Though closed for many years now, the 400 seat Ruby Theatre provided entertainment for the town of Three Forks, and much of Gallatin County, for around 65 years, closing in about 1980.
Location: Montana, United States
Date Posted: 11/12/2018 3:09:50 PM
Waymark Code: WMZH7Z
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member ZenPanda
Views: 0

Long Description:
Built to house not only a vaudeville theatre, which became a movie theatre, but also retail shops and offices, the Ruby Theatre was, over the years, home to a diverse number of businesses and shops. The building's designer was Wellington Smith of Butte.

Built of red brick with buff brick accents and stone trim, the building was obviously architect designed. At the cornice is a relatively plain pressed metal cornice with the name "Ruby Theatre" appearing in raised letters in a rectangular panel that extends above the main cornice line. Beneath the cornice there is a single row of buff colored soldier bricks. Three larger upper floor windows have low with a smaller rectangular window between each. Below the windows are four rows of buff bricks, three on edge, one on end. On the ground floor are a pair of store fronts flanking the theatre entrance. The store fronts have been changed somewhat at various times as various businesses came and went.

Today the upper floor has been converted to apartments and while the rest of the building is occupied by the Three Forks Bible Church, which purchased the building in 2006.

The large RUBY neon sign still hangs on the front of the building, with the neon on one side still shining.


The town of Three Forks, born a division point for the Chicago, St. Paul and Millwaukee Railway took root in 1908. As the town grew to a sizeable settlement of 2,300, the Empire Theatre opened to serve local audiences. Manager David R. "Slim" Byrd attracted travelling troupes on their way to other destinations. In August 1912 Byrd held a grand re-opening of his newly remodeled "amusement house." He renamed it the Ruby Theatre after Ruby Langdon, a local teenager who not only knew how to recruit talent but was also a well-loved local singer. A few weeks later, David Byrd married nineteen-year-old Ruby and soon sold the theater. New owner E. C. Waddell brought the first silent movies to Three Forks including "The Idler" (1914), "Anna Karenina" (1915), and "The Girl I Left Behind Me" (1915). Theater goers also enjoyed live road shows, traveling magicians, and high school plays. The present building of concrete faced with red brick replaced the old frame theater in 1916. Butte architect Wellington Smith designed the building—a grand undertaking for a small community. The new Ruby Theatre had an auditorium seating 400 and two commercial storefronts while the second floor housed professional offices. As "talkies" replaced silent movies, the Ruby continued to offer community entertainment linking Three Forks to the world through newsreels, epic movies, and famous actors. The Ruby provided entertainment until the 1970s. The historic theater retains most of its original design elements including its pressed metal cornice, original nameplate, decorative brickwork, and arched second-story windows.
From the NRHP plaque at the building
Ruby Theatre
The Ruby Theatre in Three Forks, built in 1916 to replace an earlier frame theatre building, represents the second phase of commercial construction, typical of many fledgling Montana communities and characterized by the erection of more permanent, masonry buildings. The theatre remains a very prominent structure on Three Forks' Main Street and testifies to the high aspirations embraced by this small railroad town only a few years after its founding. In addition to its entertainment offerings, the Ruby Theatre also served as the community meeting hall for many years.

The town was incorporated on December 20, 1909. By 1911 the population had increased to about 2,300 people. About this time the Empire Theatre was opened, operated by D. Russell (Slim) Byrd. A few years later the theater was known as the "Ruby Theatre," reportedly named for Ruby Langdon who became Mrs. Byrd. The Theater was then purchased by E. C. Waddell...

In 1916 Waddell had plans for a new theater prepared by Wellington Smith, an architect from Butte. Construction began in May, 1916; the first show in the new building was given on November 8, 1916. "Birth of a Nation" was presented in January, 1917, followed by other epics, good movies and bad movies. Lon Chaney, Marie Dressier, Rudolph Valentino, Tom Mix, The Three Stooges, and many, many others appeared on the Ruby screen. The Ruby primarily offered movies for entertainment, but travelling theatrical troupes also played there. For example, "Ole the Swede," a live show, was heavily advertised in March, 1920. Also in that year a lecture sponsored by the Non-Partisan League, a local band concert, and the Armistice Day observation were held at the Ruby.

With few changes either externally or internally, the Ruby Theater continued to serve the people of Three Forks for about 60 years.
From the NRHP Nomination Form

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