Helena MT 59601
The building we now call the Grandstreet Theatre has sheltered Helena residents for over one hundred years –first as a house-of-worship, later as an interim city library following Helena's destructive earthquakes, and since 1976, as the home of Montana's oldest continuous community theater.
Built as a Unitarian Church in 1901, the facility included the sloping floor and the proscenium stage area as you see them today. Even then, early church documents indicated it was intended as a multi-use facility. The Reverend Leslie Willis Sprague was quoted in the Montana Sunday Record in October, 1901:
"It is not our purpose to so consecrate this building that it cannot be used for all sorts of conventions, meetings, entertainments, and in fact, for anything that tends to build up the better life … and we expect to have social rooms which will be in demand for various sorts of gatherings for clubs, classes, social events and all the rest…."
"I for one," continued Reverend Sprague, "do not believe in putting $20,000 into a building and then using it but a few hours each week. Nor do I believe God wants churches that are too holy for usefulness in any cause, even for the entertainment and pastime of His children…."
In 1933, the church was donated to the City of Helena in memory of Ellen Dean for use as an interim library following the near destruction of the original facility by earthquakes. Renovations were made to the building by leveling the house floor and adding a mezzanine.
In 1976, Broadwater Productions, known as Grand Street Theatre, assumed occupancy and transformed the building into Helena's full-time, year-round community theater.
The Helena/Lewis & Clark County Historic Preservation Commission has recognized the efforts of Grandstreet Theatre in restoring the theater to its former elegance with a historic preservation award to Managing Director Tom Cordingley in May, 1996. Growing Friends of Helena also awarded Grandstreet with a landscaping award in 2001.
Grandstreet Theatre goers have noticed a new look over recent years. Gone are the worn seats that were old when a Grand Street Theatre work crew removed, loaded and U-Hauled them from a theater in Dillon . . . replacing them are 200 "brand new, out-of-the-box" seats. The rose carpeting also has been replaced and new draperies cover the church-style windows.
Many of our renovations were made possible by dollars the Theatre received from the city's tax-increment financing funds. That, combined with an additional fund-raising effort by Grandstreet Theatre's patrons and generous givers, enabled Grandstreet to complete the restoration of the auditorium, box office, balcony, back stage area and lobby.
In early 2005, the large window over the front door was replaced with a window design that was found in the 1901 blueprints to finish off the intended design of the architects. Woodcrafter Tim Carney and "Glassman" Barry Hood worked together to create a wonderful addition of Public Art to Downtown Helena with the help from donations from the public and government entities.
To honor family and/or friends, there are still some unsponsored chairs available in the balcony for those interested in contributing to our continuing capital improvement efforts.