A Small Community Saves South Dakota's Oldest Movie Theater

Apr 25, 2014


Front view of the Lund Theater on Main Street in Viborg, SD
Credit Nate Wek / SDPB

The small Danish community of Viborg is holding a grand re-opening on Sunday afternoon for its one-hundred year old movie theater. The Lund Theater is the oldest running theater in South Dakota along with being listed on the Historic Register. Here's more on this historic building and the efforts to keep it open for future generations.


For nearly one-hundred years, the Lund Theater has been the center of the town's main street. Even though this is a small town, a decent amount of traffic still makes this their daily route. The movie theater isn't very big and can only show one movie at a time. But, that doesn't stop people from loving the history it holds.

Kenny and Susie Kessler owned the theater for around thirty years. About three years ago, the Kessler's decided to close down this historical site, because major upgrades were needed. Glenn Peterson from Viborg decided to step in and with the assistance of others, the Historical Lund Theater Association was formed. Petersen is the president and he says something needed to be done to save this building.

"They were talking about maybe closing the theater, so a group of folks in town here, along with the Viborg Development Corporation, decided that we would pitch in on the repair of that room and keep that historic theater going," Petersen says.

Ticket Booth at the Lund Theater
Credit Nate Wek / SDPB

Petersen says the town then created a volunteer organization to help raise money for the renovation and at the same time show off a little Danish pride.

"The development corporation put together a group that we called SVEN, S-V-E-N, and that stands for Strengthening Viborg's Economy Now and that group became the working arm of the development corporation," Petersen says.

Most historical buildings in South Dakota rely on free will donations and fundraisers for upgrades and renovating. The Lund Theater in Viborg isn't any different. Petersen says they held car washes and garage sales and the donations were enough to save the theater.

"A lot of it has been twenty dollars, one-hundred dollars and then bigger. A number of folks pledged over a two year period of time, we did take pledges for two years, and everybody has faithfully kept their pledges," Petersen says.

Petersen has lived in Viborg for only eight years, but he says he is passionate about the town. He says everyone has a memory of some kind about the historic Lund Theater. 

"That was one thing we did early on, was have folks reminisce about the first movie or their first time in the theater, and of course first dates, and kids throwing gum balls from the balcony, and proposals and all kinds of fun stuff," Petersen says.

Petersen says the theater was well used and outdated.  He says other communities also helped with donations  to upgrade the theater.   

"The seats that were in here were in need of replacement and we had originally not planed to replace them right away, but when the Carmike Theater in Sioux Falls closed, we contacted them and they graciously donated as many seats as we wanted to take out," Petersen says.


Digital Projector System
Credit Nate Wek / SDPB

The Lund Theater is also digital. This new digital projector system runs and sounds like PC Computer system. It's about two feet tall and has multiple features. Movies can be projected from online streams, zip files or even a BluRay or DVD disk. 

Glenn Petersen says this alone cost around eighty five thousand dollars. Total, the SVEN organization raised nearly one hundred and sixty thousand dollars to keep the Lund Theater open for generations to come.

This Sunday, the theater is hosting a Grand Re-Opening event for the people of Viborg. Petersen says the theater has been closed the last five weeks for the majority of the renovation, but up until then, the theater never really closed. He says Sunday's event will give the public a chance to see the changes and begin the process of creating new memories.

"On Sunday we're going to have an open house for about 45 minutes, starting at 1:30, where folks can come in and just see what we've done and tour the facility. And then at 2:15 we're going to have several speakers, we'll have a program, and then we're going to have a ribbon cutting and then we'll show a matinee," Petersen says.

The movie scheduled to run on Sunday is RIO 2 and tickets for this special showing are only two-dollars. Petersen says seeing the smiles on Sunday makes his part in the project worth the effort.