The $13.6-million renovation of the Alberta Bair Theater is the culmination of a decade-long effort to breathe new life into the venerable theater. Originally opened in 1931 as the Fox Theatre, the venue was a regional destination for film and stage performances. It was designed by Robert C. Reamer and financed in part by the 20th Century Fox Corporation, which purchased the land from Charles M. Bair. The last Art Deco-style theater in the United States built by 20th Century Fox, the design displayed elegance with crystal chandeliers, period design elements, luxurious dressing rooms, and decorative stage detail. Much of this historical detail was lost in the mid-80’s fly loft expansion and facility remodel to bring larger theatrical and music performances to this remote part of the country. What little Art-Deco detail was left has been carefully preserved and showcased within the new design.
Following a feasibility study to establish priorities, the renovation and expansion focus on three primary areas: visitor experience, visitor comfort, and performance improvement. Beginning at the entry, the project reworks the street frontage by bumping out the envelope of the building to capture an area of sidewalk for an expanded lobby and ticketing area and to provide space for improved vertical circulation and ADA access. The two-story, 4,800-square-foot addition is wrapped with a glass curtain wall system making a visual connection to the activity within the theater. A metal fabric scrim covers portions of the glass to reduce energy loads and is pulled up at the corner to playfully animate the exterior aesthetic. The addition also supports a more efficient ticketing and lobby experience, while guest comfort improvements include a remodeled theatrical house with updated acoustics, new seats, updated balcony-level seating, and additional restroom capacity. Less visible, but equally important back-of-house improvements include upgrades to the building’s structural, mechanical, electrical, roofing, and plumbing systems. The team also modernized performance spaces such as stage rigging, catwalks, lighting, and audiovisual capabilities.
The 26,800-square-foot, 1,390-seat theater remains the only performing arts center in the Northern Rockies (between Spokane, Washington, and Denver, Colorado) that is fully equipped to present shows by major professional touring companies and artists. As an extension of its mission, the Alberta Bair provides ongoing educational programming for 22,000 schoolchildren annually. With the renovation, the theater is now restored to prominence as a preeminent performance space providing an important resource for the greater Billings region and its population of 400,000, as well as the entire intermountain region.
Cushing Terrell design team Mike Tuss, Principal in charge Bob La Perle, Project Manager Joel Anderson, Design Lead Kevin Nelson, Project Architect Mallery Johnson, Design Professional Madeline Rajtar, Interior Design Dane Jorgensen, Structural Engineer Raelynn Meissner, Mechanical Engineer Roger Wheat, Plumbing and Fire Protection Engineer
Consultant team Cushing Terrell (architecture, interior design, structural engineering and special inspections, mechanical engineering, fire protection, electrical engineering, building commissioning) Schuler Shook (theater design, lighting) Threshold (acoustical engineer) SK Geotechnical (geotechnical engineering) Sanderson Stewart (civic engineering, landscape) Langlas & Associates (contractor)