The Rialto Theater in Deer Lodge, Mont., c. 1942
It’s often said that small towns enjoy an enhanced sense of community; they are places where neighbors work together, help one another, and pitch in for the common good. Nowhere does that seem to be truer than in Deer Lodge, a tiny town of 3,400 located an hour and a half southeast of Missoula, in western Montana.
Since 1921, Deer Lodge's Rialto Theater has sat at the heart of the town, and as the only auditorium in the area, hosted events from rotary talent shows to weekend movies. In 1995, with the National Register-listed theater deteriorating and its ownership no longer able to maintain it, members of the community banded together to form Rialto Community Theater, Inc., a nonprofit that would run the theater and lead a restoration project.
By 2006, the organization had poured more than $100,000 into upgrading the theater. Then, disaster struck.
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David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.