The History Behind the Theater
The Alberta Bair Theater in one iteration or another has been an integral part of the cultural scene in Billings for more than 80 years.
Originally it was called The Fox Theater which opened its doors November 13, 1931, with a parade, a short-lived street dance and the motion picture “Merely Mary Ann” with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.
Alberta M. Bair
This elegant theater, with its chandeliers, art deco design, dressing rooms and stage, was financed in part by the 20th Century Fox Corporation, which purchased the land from Charles M. Bair. The Fox Theater had the distinction of being the last Art Deco style theater in the United States built by the 20th Century Fox Corporation and designed by Robert C. Reamer.
The Fox Theater served as home for the Billings Community Concerts Organization for over fifty years. It was also the home venue for the Billings Symphony and Chorale and offered live plays and musicals that benefited the Fox Committee for the Performing Arts. This Committee was responsible for bringing such stellar performers as Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, George Winston and Judy Collins to our community. The Fox Committee’s name still lives on in the popular ‘Fox Series’ offered each season by the Alberta Bair Theater.
The Fox Theater was purchased by Carsich Theaters, a movie house company, in 1978. They planned to renovate the much loved but decaying theater into a three-screen, modern day movie house. The Fox Committee stopped this conversion and involved other community leaders in a drive to raise enough funds to renovate the building. The community support of the fundraising campaign was overwhelmingly positive.
The original Charles M. Bair family homesteaded sat on the same spot where the Fox Theater was built. This house, on the corner of what is now Broadway and Third Avenue North, is where Charles’ daughter Alberta M. Bair was born. This prompted Alberta Bair to provide the lead gift for the project and in 1987 the renovated Fox Theater was named in her honor.
Thanks to the dedication, vision and hard work of the founding board members, the Fox Committee and numerous community-minded people, the Alberta Bair Theater still stands as a world class performing arts center for all the people of Billings and the Northern Rockies.
Today the Alberta Bair Theater is the largest fully equipped performing arts center in the region. The 1400 seat venue showcases professional touring companies, featuring musician, dance, and theater performances, as well as local performing groups. The Alberta Bair Theater provides outstanding educational programming for 25,000 school children annually and serves a population of 400,000.