Local Landmark: The Ellen Theatre, a cornerstone of Bozeman

When you first enter the Ellen, you may be surprised at how well kept it is, considering its age. The theater is truly the shining gem at the center of Main Street. Opened in 1919, it was built by the sons of Nelson Story, one of the founding fathers of Bozeman itself. Named for their mother, Ellen Story, Nelson Jr. and Thomas Byron Story set out to make sure that their creation would outlive their dear mother, bringing joy to the people of Bozeman for generations.

When the theatre first opened, the halls were packed with a myriad of different types of shows ranging from movies, school plays, concerts, and even an opera with a live elephant. Boasting some of the most talented acts of the time, The Ellen drew legendary comedians such as Vivian Vance (of “I Love Lucy” fame) and Edward Gallagher and Al Shean (of Marx Brothers fame). Ever since the Russell Family took control in the late 1920’s, the theatre has been a magnet for all sorts of stars both of Broadway and Hollywood.

However, like most theaters, the Ellen suffered a period of disrepair with the coming of the age of television, and for years the singing and rapturous halls fell silent in stark contrast to the Ellen’s early days. Thankfully it would not be the end of the story, as the Montana Theatreworks non profit came along in 2005 and decided that it was time to refurbish the theater and bring back the jewel of Bozeman.

Truly what makes the Ellen important to the community is the ways that it brings Bozeman together. For example, this past week the Ellen hosted the Independance, wherein independent choreographers from the Bozeman area are given a chance to show off their art. This Friday, September 16th, at 7:30 p.m., the Ellen will be showing the small indie hit “Don’t Think Twice” for one night only. These events can be found on the “Upcoming” page on their website or through calling the box office. When contacted, the Ellen will gladly tell you of all the varied events that they do provide venues for and how they bring the community together.

The true draw of the theater is the authenticity, as it would appear the entirety of the interior is preserved from the original layout down to the wood framing around the stage. The seats are fully restored. The lobby, while small and easily crowded, comes fully stocked with a bar that serves all manner of drinks from fine wine to Bud Light in addition to light snacks such as gourmet popcorn and other small confections. The employees are delightful and the venue is more than charming. Just make sure to clean up after yourself, as we owe it to ourselves to keep this elegant piece of Bozeman in a good status so that generations to come can enjoy this landmark of Montana.