Proctor has historically been known as a rough town due to its railroad heritage, but this reputation could not have been further from the truth. In actuality, Proctor’s heart and soul was its strong sense of community. The Odd Fellows Temple likely encapsulates this idea more than any other building in Proctor.
Following significant population growth between 1900 and 1910, a growing local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows identified and fulfilled the need for a public hall in Proctor. And in 1911, they completed a two-story, ornamental building representing an investment of over $15,000.
It comes as no surprise that the Odd Fellows would identify and fill this need, even at such cost. Earliest documented in 1730s London, Odd Fellows is a fraternity that brings people together from all walks of life to develop a common fund that can be used for charity and philanthropy. Independently established in the United States by Thomas Wildey in 1819 under the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), the organization explains, “Such altruistic and friendly society came to be known as ‘Odd Fellows’ because it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind.”
Complete with a 700-seat theatrical auditorium on its first floor and a large hall for public use on its second, the building was truly a community center in a time when a building with such grandiose facilities otherwise was not available. Of course, frequent use of the facility showed its value. The upstairs hall was often reserved for Odd Fellows meetings, but also rented out for weddings, dances, and other special events, including Proctor High School’s first graduation in 1912. While this upstairs space was a popular venue, the most prominent use of the building was as a movie theatre on the building’s ground level.
Billed as the Date Theatre, the downstairs auditorium served regularly as a movie house through its existence. Hosting peak attendance during the 1930s and 1940s, the theatre projected big feature movies onto its silver screen. These included films like 1925’s Tumbleweeds, 1931’s Frankenstein, and 1939’s South of the Border, among others, often presented as double-features. However, as time went on, only so-called “B” movies took standard residence in the building’s auditorium. It also hosted weekly serials, like The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, and The Adventures of Ellery Queen. Admission for these showings ranged from five to 50 cents throughout the theatre’s existence.
No matter the price, the building maintained its sense of community, especially during Christmas time, when then-Proctor Police Chief Dean Tresise sponsored a free movie show for youth in the community. Unfortunately, with the emerging popularity of television and the increased access to Duluth’s theatres, the Date Theatre’s attendance dwindled throughout the 1950s. Although the father-son projection team (including then-Village Clerk Henry Eiler) gained enough local support to boost attendance for the theatre by going on strike during this time, the theatre was not able to sustain itself, hosting only one patron for its last showing.
Following the closing of the Date Theatre, the Proctor Journal ran a story describing the building’s history. The article noted, “The Date Theatre didn’t die. It faded away, but not from the memories of those who, as youngsters and, yes, as adults, spent so many pleasurable hours there.”
Still one of the most prominent buildings in Proctor, the former Odd Fellows Hall is now the home of the First Nat’l Bank of Proctor, which moved from its former location down the street, on the corner of Highway 2 and 2nd Street, in 1960. Appropriately enough, the building still retains some of the the original sense of community instilled into its brick and mortar in 1911.