A grumpy, possessive male entity and an enthusiastic female spirit enjoy the shows.
The Alberta Bair Theater has the distinction and honor of being “the only fully equipped performing arts center between Denver and Spokane large enough to present a broad spectrum of artistic work by major professional touring companies and artists.”
This 1400 seat theater is truly a beautiful building! The ambitious renovation of the old 1931 building, that expanded the stage, seating area, orchestra pit, dressing rooms and lobby was well worth the investment. It transformed a small-town theater that showed movies, held community events, supported community arts into a professional theater that cannot only handle what they did before, but also be a major draw for large-scale stage shows, and well-known performers, artists, and comedians, guaranteeing a much greater income to support the programs and up-keep of the theater.
The stage area – The new plans for the auditorium and stage were impressive indeed. By realigning the stage house and the orchestra level seating by 10 degrees, not only was the seating greatly increased, but space for a much larger stage was created as well.
This new design offered some interesting angles and just a few technical challenges that were solved by people who think outside the box. The Lighting Control Booth was relocated at the rear of the orchestra level, and the Sound Control Booth sits at the front of the balcony. Under the front apron of the stage, that has its own hydraulic lift, is the new home for the orchestra pit with room for 40 musicians. Plus, for private events, “A custom designed orchestra shell and large vinyl dance floor provide complete versatility.”
Two large chorus dressing rooms and two star dressing rooms can accommodate more than 40 performers. These dressing rooms are also located under the stage.
Because of the new, improved larger lobby space, the main staircase to the loge and balcony was moved, and is now actually outside the main shell of the building “adding both style and function via a distinctive glass stairwell over the corner entrance.”
With donations and financial support from many organizations, The Albert Bair Theater offers many educational programs to the community, including: Special discount performances, Professional Development Workshops and the Summer Teachers Institute, school residencies, master classes, student workshops, lecture demonstrations, panel discussions and informal performances featuring touring artists and their companies who are performing at the ABT.
Wealthy sheep rancher Charlie Bair and his family once lived in a home that was located on this property. In the late 1920s, Charlie sold it to 20th Century Fox Corporation, because he was constructing a new mansion in the suburb of Martinsdale.
The Fox Theater had the distinction of being the last Art Deco theater that was constructed in the United States by the 20th Century Fox Corporation and designed by Robert C. Reamer. The theater opened with great celebration, on November 13th, 1931, that included a parade, and a street dance, that was brief, due to the freezing weather, though a few hardy souls briefly participated.
Then, people poured into the elegant theater, admiring the chandeliers, and Art Deco decor, and settled down in the auditorium to enjoy the film “Merely Mary Ann” with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.
The people of Billings truly loved their theatre, that was built for both movies and for small thespian productions and musical performances, such as the Billings Symphony and Chorale that entertained many on the small theater stage. The people became involved early, forming The Fox Committee for the Performing Arts, that worked hard to bring such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, George Winston and Judy Collins to The Fox Theater.
As the years passed, the people still dearly loved their theater, but the structure was decaying. By 1978, this community treasure was in need of a boatload of money to repair and renovate it. Four-plex movie houses that were built just west of Billings were drawing huge crowds. In order to compete, it would have to find a way to offer more.
20th Century Fox Corporation decided it would be cheaper, and less of a hassle if they sold this building. Perhaps they knew something that they failed to mention to the new owner, Carsich Theaters, who bought the property; There would be strong resistance to renovating this old theatre into a three-screen movie venue. Sure enough, when plans were made to do so by Carsich Theaters, The Fox Committee for the Performing Arts, along with Billings Gazette arts editor Christene Meyers, quickly moved to get this decaying structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This action stopped the three-screen movie house plans, as well as forever ending the back-up plan if this building ever went on the market again; the city of Billings longed to buy it and tear it down for a parking structure.
The Fox Committee for the Performing Arts got together with other community leaders to raise funds to not only buy the building back from Carsich Theaters, but to completely renovate it so it would be a viable venue for big, professional stage productions, as well as other events, and movies. The community enthusiastically got behind the effort, raising money from such fund-raisers as bake sales, to individual donations; the biggest one coming from Charles Bair’s daughter, Alberta Bair who generously donated $600,000. The theater was named for her, and for her family’s history with the property. When Alberta Bair died in 1993, The Charlie M. Bair Family Trust donated a one million dollar gift to the Alberta Bair Theater Endowment in her honor.
The City of Billings, local businesses and regional foundations got behind the fund-raisers and did their part to raise money. With everyone working for a common goal, the raising of funds was a huge success, raising $5.2 million dollars! The committee of people who were in charge of drawing up the plans did their homework. After consulting professional theatre consultants, and taking surveys to see how wide an area of the Northwest would support a professional theatre venue, built to handle large scale, professional productions, positive results were reported. It was found that a “rich blend” of such performances wouldn’t only attract a local Billings area population of 130,000, but a new regional population of patrons as well; numbering nearly 400,000; mostly from south central Montana and northern Wyoming.
Armed with a real boatload of money, spectacular plans, and full community support, they went forward with this expansive renovation project, that gutted the old theater building “to the brick walls,” beginning this renovation with nearly a clean slate, rebuilding from the inside out. However, “One existing support column, located in the right wing, remained for structural reasons.”
Alberta Blair Theater proudly opened its doors to an admiring public on Saturday, January 24th, 1987. The people enjoyed a Gala performance by Burt Bacharach, followed by an upscale party at the Billings Sheraton Hotel. Unlike the celebration in 1931, no outside street dance was planned, though people could dance at the Billings Sheraton Hotel celebration! With this much improved, larger building, The Alberta Bair Theater enjoys a substantial income boost, as well as having the status of being known as the premiere, “World class performing arts center for the people of the Northern Rockies.”
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Two known entities are at the Alberta Bair Theater; The male entity has some issues, and the female is a happier spirit who maybe just visits a lot. Others may indeed be here also, not yet discovered, but so far just these two are being reported.
Unknown Male Entity: Described as wanting to be noticed, out of sorts and possessive.
Theory 1: Deaths by accidents, or suicide or natural deaths that happen in theatre buildings or public buildings can cause entities to stay where they died, either not wanting to accept their death; still wanting their life in this world, or just upset that it happened to them so quickly.
This male entity could be a past employee, past actor, or past stage manager who hasn’t given up in this world yet, and feels possessive of the stage area.
Theory 2: During Prohibition, mob enforcers would kill their victims because they welched on a debt, fell in love with a mobster’s love interest, knew too much, were a rival power or had the chutzpah to cheat the Mob, thinking that they could pull it off.
Urban legend tells the tale of a workman who was hired to help with the building of the 1931 Fox Theater. He was killed and buried in the cement foundation of the theater, though no record of deaths or missing people have been made concerning the disappearance of this workman.
In 1929-30, during the time of construction, it was still Prohibition, and the speak-easy/gambling/prostitution activity was still occurring at The Rex. Uh Oh! Mob Enforcers, “Big Louie” types were good at scaring potential witnesses, killing and burying their “victims” in unmarked graves in basements, in ponds, in caves, etc. Perhaps these “fellas” killed the worker, and poured cement over him, burying him in the foundation. This unmarked, permanent grave would be well-hidden, being under a theater!
Unknown Female Entity: Described as being very benign and friendly.
People who invest money and time in a structure for a cause dear to the heart, often like to visit after becoming spirit people.
Theory 1: This entity could be Alberta Bair who likes to come and watch, when she visits.
This female Entity became active just after Alberta Bair died at the age of 93!
Alberta Bair gave the largest donation toward the new theater, and was honored by having the theater named after herself.
She and her sister have been seen sitting at their favorite table at The Northern Hotel.
Actresses and singers who long for one more performance, or who have fond memories of their work in a theater, often like to stay around and watching others perform.
Theory 2: This female entity could be an actress or singer who is still yearning to perform on stage in this world, but since she can’t, she is making herself happy by staying in the balcony to watch the productions.
In the basement, one of the smaller dressing rooms has a sad, depressed aura that make performers and staff very uncomfortable. No one stays in there very long. Some performers choose to dress in the bathroom instead.
A technician reported hearing footsteps follow him up the stairs that start in the basement by the dressing rooms and wind up on the stage level. It is no wonder that technicians don’t like to go up certain staircases unless they have to do so.
Footsteps have been heard in the hallways when no one alive was walking.
Throughout the building, staff and various paranormal investigators have heard formerly locked doors being slammed shut at all hours of the day.
Seen and Unseen:
Late one night, a Lighting Technician, working in the Lighting Booth at the back of the Orchestra seating, saw what is described as a “Shimmering Mass” floating across the stage.
Another technician was going down the staircase that led to the stage. When he arrived on the stage, he heard an unseen presence jump down from these same stairs, and land right behind him. He then felt a cold chill, and an angry feeling surround him.
A cleaning lady reported this personal experience to a staff member: that the theater has a ghost in the balcony, and that she had talked with this friendly, female ghost.
A group of little children, dancing on stage, spotted something standing and watching them from the balcony. Needless to say, it broke up the rehearsal because crying children ran off stage in fright.
A staff member saw an odd light anomaly in the balcony area.
Probably so! Credible witnesses have reported compelling experiences, with some captured hard evidence as well that may back up those personal experiences.
Chances are there may be more than 2 spirits that haven’t been identified. Discovering who is haunting a structure comes in bits and pieces through both psychic and scientific investigations. Eventually, if other spirits love this theater as well, their presences will be made known as well.
Paranormal experiences of the staff and other investigators have been reported for years.
Montana Paranormal Research Society investigated this theater in January of 2009 and recently on August 5th, 2012.
First investigation in January of 2009:
Questions and answers obtained by use of a dowsing rod seem to suggest that at a least two spirits; one male and one female were willing to communicate. While dowsing rods are frowned upon by more scientific-oriented investigation groups, the correct use of rods can trigger spirit involvement by enticing unseen entities to try this “parlor game” with the living. The results are not considered hard evidence, but can invite more participation from spirits.
During the August 5th investigation: Caught some compelling evidence:
Montana Paranormal Research Society had many hours of audio and video to review, and presented the hard evidence caught this time to the Alberta Bair Theater. The results were more in depth and solid than their first investigation in January of 2009. As it hasn’t been made public yet, perhaps the theater doesn’t want it to be known. Or, perhaps they are editing a film together to sell to their fans, showing their evidence, like they did for their investigation of The Western Heritage Center.
2801 3rd Avenue North
PO Box 1556
Billings, MT 59101
(406) 256-6052 * Tickets: (877) 321-2074
The Alberta Bair Theater can be found 3 blocks north of Montana Avenue, on the corner of North Broadway, and 3rd Avenue North, in downtown Billings.
- “More Haunted Montana”
by Karen Stevens
- Alberta Bair Theater web site
- “Haunted Montana” on Facebook
- Montana Paranormal Research Society on Facebook – Alberta Bair Theater photos
- Distinctly Montana – “The Alberta Bair Legacy” (Spring 2006)
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr