The show must go on: The 104-year-old Fallon Theatre premieres a new Heritage of the West event

Unlike modern movie venues, the Fallon Theatre doesn’t have plush recliners or show previews of future releases. Patrons who purchase a soda can borrow a drink holder from the concession stand. Still, Nevada’s oldest continuously operating theater looks good considering she’s nearly 104 years old—and she’s survived fires in 1939 and 1943, earthquakes in 1954, and several significant remodels. 

Acrobat J.W. Flood, (“Jumping Jack”) and his singer/dancer wife, Mabelle, spared no expense when they built the theater as a vaudeville venue, purchasing a concert grand Steinway piano and a $20,000 Johnson concert organ. The Floods commissioned esteemed Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps to design the 800-seat theater with an upstairs, three-bedroom apartment for their residence. As survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, both Flood and DeLongchamps were intent on safety and style. A specially built cellar housed the steam heating for the building, and electrical wires were routed through conduits for fire safety.  

The new Rex Theatre opened with a silent film, Humoresque, accompanied by a string orchestra on Dec. 30, 1920. Many prominent Northern Nevadans attended the sold-out premiere, including U.S. Sen.-elect Tasker L. Oddie. To “supply the very best entertainment in motion pictures, vaudeville and traveling productions,” the theater charged 35 cents for movies and 55 cents for vaudeville acts. 

Along with the arrival of “talkies” in 1930s came a redesign. The new owners, Mr. Stone and Mr. Hull, added it to their string of Northern Nevada movie houses. They removed the balcony, incorporating Spanish-style arches and cove ceilings. On Sept. 1, 1930, the theater re-opened as the Fallon Theatre with 500 seats—one of only two theaters in Nevada capable of showing movies with sound. 

Thanks to the foresight of Flood and DeLongchamps, the theater survived the earthquakes in the summer of 1954 with minimal damage. In 1983, the large auditorium was divided by a sound wall into an upper theater with 113 seats, and a lower theater, retaining the original stage, with 124 seats. In 2017, the Nevada State Register of Historic Places added the Fallon Theatre to its register. 

Today, the nonprofit Fallon Community Theatre, Inc. (FCT) operates the venue, hosting community events and offering free films to the public. Managing an aging theater during times of rising costs requires nimbleness worthy of J.W. Flood’s acrobatics. In addition to pursuing grants, corporate sponsorships and sustaining memberships, the FCT rents the auditorium for parties and the marquee for celebratory messages, which included a marriage proposal last December. 

“She said yes,” confirmed Jessica Huckaby, a FCT board member.  

Though the days of vaudeville have passed, the theater remains true to its commitment of “best entertainment,” hosting school and community productions, local bands, touring comedians, all-class reunions, political debates and even “The Living Last Supper” during the Easter season. Over the years, the Fallon Theatre has been decorated for Halloween and Christmas, and hosted an October show ’n’ shine and even a Valentine’s 5K run. 

“We do a little bit of everything—or try to,” Huckaby said.  

On Saturday, April 13, the theater will host its inaugural Heritage of the West event, featuring performances from Nuestra Herencia Mexicana Dance Group and Fallon Paiute-Shoshone dancers; acoustic cowboy music from Chip Noll; and cowboy poetry from Dave Morgan, Star Olsen and Stewart Richardson. Mel Glover will portray a 1905 fictitious Hazen resident sharing the tale of Nevada Red’s lynching. The entertainment begins at noon; admission is free, and proceeds from the concession stand will support the theater. 

Due to ongoing public support and a dedicated core of the volunteers, Fallon Theatre is not simply a listing on the Nevada historic register, but a viable part of the surrounding community. 

“It has been a community gathering place,” said Glen Perazzo, Fallon Community Theatre’s secretary. “It has offered community events to bring local residents back to Maine Street. It has also been a respite to those who are a part of the daily grind, offering a cool place during the summer and a warm place during the winter.”  

Heritage of the West will take place at noon, Saturday, April 13, at the Fallon Theatre, 71 S. Maine St., in Fallon; admission is free. The theater screens a wide range of vintage and second-run films on Friday and Saturday evenings, and admission is always free. For more information, visit www.fallontheatre.com or www.facebook.com/fallontheatre.