The history of the Grand Theatre, a registered historical building, is long and flamboyant. Built in the late 1920’s by millionaire William Blakesly, it was the first solid concrete building in Lander and the first building to sport air conditioning.
The air conditioning room, that is what it is, a room, was created by using piping with little sprinklers with a catch pan. Air is sucked in through a vent and blown over the sprays of water which is then pumped into the theatre with another blower.
William Blakesly was the one of the first wave of Californian’s to come into Lander for hunting and fishing and decided to stay awhile. He saw the chance to start a business. The old TJ Bossert buidling across the street from the now Grand Theatre, was the original Grand. It hosted stage shows with an occasional black and white film. Stage shows were the first theatre entertainment since movies were just coming into their own. He bought the old Grand, and then bought the land across the street when the old Wyoming Hotel burned down.
William Blakesly was not greeted warmly by Lander Society as evidenced by the local newspaper. When the new Grand Theatre was built and opened, the local paper was strangely quiet about it. No articles can be found, except where Mr. Blakesly applied for a building permit. But the Riverton paper was more open minded and a few pictures of the new Lander theatre appear there.
The local Lander High School performed many Senior plays there as evidenced by the graffiti still on the large air conditioning ducts. In fact, the stage and storage rooms underneath the theatre stage sport many generations of graffiti that are allowed to remain due to their historical value.
The Grand, because of it’s solid concrete construction, acts like a large cave. It remains a constant cool 65 degrees, except in the winter, when that dips a little on a night that runs below 0. It continues to be heated by steam heat due to the need for the humidity for the movie screen. Because they did not have the sound systems back then that we do now, the Grand has an awesome acoustic ability. Any sound from the orchestra pit can be heard distinctly in the balcony.
The Grand has been kept as original as possible. The ceiling has not been repainted due to the artwork by a local Shoshone artist. We have never been able to get his name, but he was contracted to do the paintings on the sound boards between the antique lead glass lights in the auditorium. Due to age and water damage those are now covered in sound fold. But his native patterns remain on the ceiling and can be viewed best in the balcony.
The Grand theatre is unique in its building for several reasons. It’s front was designed in the Californian Mission Style archway, while sporting two business fronts that have faithfully through the years provided income in time when movies or plays were not doing as well. In the back of the building it can be seen that it has a raised back. This was due to Blakesly genius. He knew that movies eventually would be the thing. So to hedge his financial bet, he built the Grand so that the movie screen and stage drops could be raised up into that part of the building, leaving the stage free.
The stage is still in place, but now a stationary screen stands on it with Voice of the Theatre speakers standing tall behind it. The Projector booth still contains one of the original Simplex projectors which has been converted down the years and is still in use. The Balcony is currently under construction and will be offering the finest seating in the theatre with love seats. Additional charges will apply for this preferential seating.
There are many more unusual stories about the Grand including a bee invasion, bat skirmishes and the occasional ghost story. For any more information or questions please contact us.