A work in progress is what folks called it for many years. Prior to that the “old Belt theater” was just referred to as a mess.
Today you would hope to take your best friends and family to see the beautifully restored theater and meeting space.
The Historic Belt Theater held a grand opening last week and received rave reviews. As you walk down Castner Street in Belt, Montana, the storefront looks nice but you have no idea what a treasure lies behind those beautiful new doors.
The building was opened in 1916 as a meeting place for the Knights of Pythias (you’ll see the K of P initials at the top of the building). I hadn’t even heard of that organization but is was the first fraternal order to be chartered by an act of Congress in 1864. A little history – Pythias and Damon were friends and members at a school founded by Pythagoras, also known as the father of Greek mythology. Even in 1864 that would have been ancient history!
The Pythian Theatre showed silent movies and also vaudeville acts into the early 1920s. Admission was 10 cents and 20 cents for matinees, 25 cents and 35 cents for evening performances. Fast forward a couple of decades and the renamed Palace Theatre showed movies that had sound! Another name change to the Belt Theatre came about in 1941.
Today the Historic Belt Theatre has a beautifully renovated 114-seat theater, an added back stage, dressing rooms (with signs saying “Actors Only”) and restrooms. The second story of this grand dame was used for dances in the 50s and 60s and it has now been restored as meeting space. I was impressed with the craftsmanship in the building. Rich woodwork surrounded doors and windows, not elaborate but very elegant.
The restoration committee received a well-deserved historic preservation award for the significant work that went in to saving this treasure.
As I sat upstairs in this old building, sipping a locally made brew from Belt’s Harvest Moon Brewery, I thought about the history of the town. In the 1890s, bituminous coal mining kept Belt’s population around 4,000. Today it hovers at 600.
The beautifully renovated 102 year old theater has added new life to this little town. I can think of plenty of events and performances that would be a perfect fit for the building.
I’ll be back to see you Belt, Montana!