These undated tickets once admitted moviegoers to La Crosse’s Strand Theater near the corner of West Avenue and Jackson Street. Built at a cost of $10,000 in 1915, the new theater seated 400 people. Its first manager, Frank J. McWilliams, also ran The Casino Theater at 303 Main Street.
The Strand opened on Thanksgiving Day 1915. Its opening silent film “Pennington’s Choice” starred Francis Bushman and Beverly Bane. A week later, The Strand promoted “Shadows of the Past” with Bigelow Cooper and Mable Trunelle as, “a splendid four part Edison drama…This is one of those good old-fashioned dramas that everybody loves so well. The Edison company spared no expense in putting on this production, and all who see it will be pleased.”
The Strand was by no means La Crosse’s only silent film theater. Others included The Bijou, The Dome, The La Crosse Theater, The Majestic, The Star, and The Casino. Many originally hosted plays and vaudeville. The Strand featured vaudeville troupes early on, as well as amateur talent contests between La Crosse’s North and South Side.
The new theater ran into trouble almost immediately. In February 1916, Rev. J. E. Watson of a neighboring church brought legal action against The Strand for operating on Sundays. The jury ruled to acquit Strand manager McWilliams, who announced that ten percent of Sunday proceeds would continue to be given to charity.
Another Strand Theater charity donation in November 1916 used potatoes as admission. Instead of a dime, the theater charged moviegoers one potato for children or two potatoes for adults, then donated potatoes to feed the hungry.
Interestingly, area theaters didn’t run pictorial ads for movies throughout most of the 1910s and 1920s. Instead, newspaper columns described movie plots for each theater. In 1924, The Strand tried a big pictorial ad in the La Crosse Tribune for “Teeth” starring Tom Mix, then reverted to plot descriptions again.
Both the Strand and Casino Theaters closed in early 1927 for redecorating and installation of new projection equipment. But more changes were on the way.
The same year Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” created a sensation as the first movie with sound. The Rivoli Theater already had Vitaphone sound equipment and was the first theater in La Crosse to show it.
Many thought sound movies were a fad. But by 1930 The Strand, Majestic, Bijou, and Riviera all installed new sound equipment, following the lead of the Rivoli.
The Strand continued as a major La Crosse movie theater through the mid-1950s. But competition included two drive-in theaters, the Starlite and the North Star, in addition to the Rivoli, Riviera, 5th Avenue, and Hollywood.
The Strand began running movies only on weekends, then only on Sundays. One of the last movies shown there in June 1956 was Rock Hudson’s “Never Say Goodbye”.