Looking Back: Coolidge Sylvan Theater from 1929

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Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the June 6, 1929, edition of The Brookings Register. Photos courtesy and information compiled by Tom Thaden, Brookings Historic Preservation Commission.

This picture shows the Coolidge Sylvan theatre with the addition of the center balcony, which was completed this week and presented to the institution by the graduating class of 1929 during commencement exercises in the outdoor theatre Monday evening, June 10. This will be the first year commencement has been held in the sylvan addition to the campus.

The theatre is a gift of the classes of 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929. It was dedicated September 10, 1927, by former President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge and the memorial stone in the wall was laid by them at that time. In the background is the Lincoln Memorial Library.

The commencement exercises at State College on June 10 will mark the completion of the Coolidge Sylvan theatre, the gift of the graduating classes of 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929 to their alma mater. The final unit, a beautiful balcony at the rear of the stage, will be formally presented at the evening commencement exercises by Lester Horrigan, president of the class of 1929.

It was almost two years ago, on September 10, 1927, that former President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge dedicated the theatre and laid the memorial stone in the stage wall. At the same time 15,000 viewed the ceremony, and plans are being made for an immense crowd to view the commencement exercises which will mark the completion of this beautiful structure.

The theatre is built on a natural slope that will easily seat 5,000 people. The front stage wall and stage steps are of ruble stones with the rear walls of the stage, the gateways, and stage entrances of red brick and imitation stone harmonizing with the brick and Bedford stone of the Lincoln Memorial Library, campus gate, and the new campanile. A grotto for a fountain or suitable statuary is located in the center of the rear stage wall. Wrought iron gates designed and made by students in the forge laboratory at State College were the gift of the class of 1921.

The new balcony, which is the gift of this year’s graduating class, forms a fitting background for the entire structure. It rises 21 feet above the floor of the stage with two flights of stairs with wrought iron railings leading up to it from the rear of the stage. Topping the balcony will be a red tile roof harmonizing with the brick of the main part of the structure.

South Dakotans in years to come will look with pride upon the granite memorial stone which is located in the center of the ruble stone stage wall and bears the inscription: “Coolidge Sylvan Theatre; this stone laid by President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, September 10, 1927.” This stone was the gift of the Dakota Granite Works of Milbank, S.D.

Shrubbery and trees flanking the theatre, and vines climbing on the walls give a beautiful effect. The stage floor is a carpet of bent grass. Plantings of trees in the rear of the stage have already been made and will eventually form a beautiful sylvan background. Elms may also be planted in the aisles of the theatre proper at a later date.