Movie Theatres of Valley City

By Carla Kelly, Times-Record Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2005 3:34 PM CDT

Valley City is known statewide as the City of Bridges. City of Theatres is a
nickname almost as appropriate. From the early 1880s, with the Odds and Ends
Hall, to the present Theatre I & II, nearly a dozen movie theatres, several
opera houses, a music academy, a college auditorium, and other similar
venues have brought culture both high-brow and low-brow to an appreciative

In its day, nothing was as fine as the Piller Theatre. In 1925, John Piller,
German-born local entrepreneur, built a big theatre in The City of Bridges
that any metropolis quadruple in size would have envied.

“Piller Theatre” still announces itself in stone over Dutton’s Valley
Gallery. The theatre is hidden now by a false floor and ceiling. Time has
moved on since “those thrilling days of yesteryear,” when cowboys and
robbers thundered across the screen, and Harpo Marx scooted around, tooting
his horn and leering at the ladies.

It’s been a long time since Greta Garbo wanted to be alone, Mae West urged
the fellas to come up and see her sometime, or Mickey Rooney declared, “He
ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.”

It’s also been a long time since Frances Piller Holm, 97, oldest of John and
Mary Piller’s 11 children, played the big Wurlitzer organ for silent films.
She says she tried to concentrate on the music, but she really wanted to
stare at Rudolph Valentino as “The Sheik” on the big screen in front of her.

And when she wasn’t accompanying the joys and woes of Charlie Chaplin,
Buster Keaton or Theda Bara, she made popcorn in the lobby, toasted cheese
sandwiches in The Movie Shop next door, sold tickets, or ushered moviegoers
down the aisle. “We Piller kids were a regular corporation,” she said.
“Everyone had a job.” They were paid $2.50 a week for their contributions to
the family business.

Any Piller offspring not doing something or other at the Piller could be
found down the street at the Rex Theatre, doing much the same. John Piller
managed the Rex and Grand theatres when he and the Piller clan came to
Valley City in 1919. Once the Piller was constructed, the Rex reverted to
showing B westerns, those horse operas with heroes and villains
distinguished by black or white hats, and amazing revolvers that fired 50
rounds without reloading. Or there might be a Charlie Chan flick at the Rex,
always a crowd-pleaser.

But the Piller was John’s baby. As he told a friend after it opened, “I came
to Valley City without a dime, but now I owe $100,000.”

The Piller might never have happened, if Mary hadn’t put down her foot when
her husband started considering a prospective theatre in Wilmer, Minn. “Mom
told him, ‘We’re not moving,'” Frances said. “‘You go buy that lot on
Central Avenue and build your own theatre.'”

He did. “It was a fortress,” Frances said. “Really a strong building.” John
shared the front of his building with a jewelry store on the corner and a
gift shop. Frances remembered an apartment upstairs, a dentist’s office, and
her father’s office.

On Nov. 11, 1925 – Armistice Day – the doors opened on Valley City’s finest
theatre at the time. Burgundy velvet panels hung between gold-painted
pilasters. The organ itself took three weeks to install down front in the
orchestra pit.

The theatre seated nearly 1,000 patrons. As one of four usherettes dressed
in burgundy and gold with daring satin pajama-like trousers, Frances helped
seat the audiences for “The Pony Express,” starring Betty Compson and
Ricardo Cortez.

The Talkies didn’t started until 1929, so Frances logged plenty of hours on
the organ bench, providing mood music for the silent screen. When
distributors sent movie reels to theatres, they also sent along a music
score for the accompanist. Since movies changed every other day, this meant
the organist had to be a quick study to learn the score. “I still had to
improvise some of the time,” Frances said.

Sometime Frances had help. She remembers that Julius Meyer, professor of
mathematics at Valley City Normal   School (VCSU today) had a beautiful
baritone voice. When “The Volga Boatman” came to the Piller Theatre in 1926,
he sang the title song each night.

In 1929, “The Jazz Singer,”Al Jolson’s groundbreaking talking movie,
enchanted American moviegoers. Briefly called a fad, talkies soon spread
across the nation. Quick to respond, the Piller installed a Vitaphone unit
to let the actors speak.

In mid-April, 1929, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a 74-minute movie starring
George Bancroft, introduced Valley City fans to the latest in talking

The Valley City Times-Record trumpeted the event with an appropriately
extravagant headline: “April Twelfth Is Dawn of New Day.” The article went
on to gush that “theater-goers have marveled and are still amazed at the
thrill of talking movies.”

All movies quickly became talkies, which lessened Frances’ time down front
at the organ. There was still plenty to do, however. Frances remembers
hurrying through suppers at home, then rushing off to the Piller, where
movies were usually shown twice a night. She often found herself doing
homework in the ticket booth.

Talkies had their thrilling moments. In 1935 during “Dante’s Inferno,” an
intense drama starring Spencer Tracy, a lady in the audience fainted. “They
had to stop the show,” Frances said.

Although they could be exciting, movies in the ’30s were tame by today’s
coarser standards. Even though they were all expecting it, audience members
in 1939 gasped in unison at the end of “Gone with the Wind,” when Rhett
Butler told Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Even though he was a businessman right down to his shoe leather, John Piller
had a kind side, too. Frances recalled an afternoon when a bunch of little
boys lined up outside the theatre, wanting to get in. All of them were shy
of the 10-cent admission fee, but hopeful.

“Dad saw them outside and asked,

‘Do you want to go to the show?'” Frances said. “Everyone did, of course, so
he gave each kid a dime and a free box of popcorn.”

This story came home to roost years later when Frances’ daughter Linda went
to Hollywood to begin her career as a writer and eventually assistant editor
of Photoplay Magazine. Dale Olson, well-known publicist to the stars and
former Valley City resident, showed her around and arranged celebrity
interviews to help her break into the business.

Linda told him once about the time her father gave those kids free admission
to the Piller. Dale laughed and told her, “I was one of those boys.”

Although he could be generous to children, Piller was a businessman,
showman, and salesman through and through. One of Frances’ proudest
possessions is a large scroll presented to her father by the United States
government, honoring him for war bond sales during World War II.

She only wishes the scroll contained the actual amount. “He sold more than
$1 million in war bonds from the Piller Theatre,” she said.

He sold them out of the theatre, too. One night while coming home from the
theatre, John was struck by a car at the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth
Street. “They took him to the emergency room, and he sold the doctor there a
war bond for $500,” Frances said.

Another proud moment, one that would be a landmark court case, involved
John’s refusal to rent or play motion pictures that didn’t meet his
standards for family entertainment. United Artists brought suit against John
Piller to force him to accept the bundle of movies sent.

“They sent movies in a block, mixing good ones with not-so-good ones,”
Frances explained. “Dad said he wanted family movies.”

The district court agreed with John, and on October 31, 1931, dismissed
United Artists’ claim. “Grandpa got to choose his movies,” Linda said.

By 1948, John Piller was ready to retire. He closed the Rex Theatre, and
leased the Piller to another corporation. After his death in 1961, the
building was sold. A major remodeling, gave the Piller a serious facelift,
turning the theatre into a sportswear shop, shoe store, law offices, and


Aadne Aadneson Hoiland

Aadne Aadneson Hoiland

Aadne A. Hoiland, with his wife Johanne, and her widowed mother, Ellen Kristofferson, and his nine remaining children, came to Barnes County in 1887.  John Hoiland, the oldest son, had preceded the family in 1883.

Aadane, Jr. took a claim in Ransom County.  Andrew eloped with his bride and went to Oregon.  The two youngest sons remained with their father when the family moved to East Prairie, where Anton file and bought additional land.  Sarah, the oldest daughter, married Harry Jones of Valley City.  Marie married Tyler Janus Walker; Miller, Merchant and Postmaster at Fort Ransom.  Berntine married R. D. Flavin, Walker’s miller.  Hanna married Robert Bowen, and they built a hotel in the new town of Litchville.  Emma, the youngest, married Attorney Alfree Zuger, later Assistant Attorney General in Bismarck.

Albert and Anton rented out their farms and Albert moved to Fargo where he made and sold his patented “Hoiland Wild Oats Separator.”  Anton married Amalie Stahlem and worked at the Valley City Power Plant.

John Hoiland

Born September 24, 1854 at Decorah, Iowa, John Hoiland was destined to leave his mark on the history of Barnes County.  He grew up in Fillmore County in Minnesota, where his father, Aadne Aadneson Hoiland, was a millwright.  Later, back at Decorah, he worked for his father tending hop kilns.  With the decline of business in the Panic of 1883, John decided to go to Barnes County.  He first worked for an implement dealer in Fingal and gained title to the S. E. ¼ Section 14, Oakhill Township.  As clerk of the Daly School Board, he met Nettie (Annette) Johnson first teacher in the Oakville School.  They were married on December 13, 1883.  They lived on a homestead owned by his wife just across the county line in Lamoure County.

By 1896, four children had been born; Lillie, Mable, Eison, and Tyler.  Not liking farming in 1896, John with A. H. Gray and John Simons, formed the Pioneer Implement Company of Valley City.  Later he dissolved this partnership and entered in another with A. I. Anderson.  This venture succeeded until 1912 when A. I. Anderson withdrew.  John carried on alone and the next few years were very lucrative.  It ended with his death on July 8, 1918.  His last sale was a motor hearse in which he rode to his funeral a few days later.

Tyler Hoiland, his son, returned from service in the Navy to find the family fortunes on the wane.  He found a position with an auto dealer and married Marie Langemo of rural Fingal area.  Two sons were born to this couple, John Tyler and Harold Philip.  In personality and character, Tyler stood out among others.  A fellow Mason spoke of him as “noble” and this truly characterized the man. 

John Hoiland was most identifiable with Barnes County because of his wide connections, both fraternal and political.  Normally, a Republican, he nevertheless was liberal in his thinking, especially where local candidates were concerned.

In 1914, John was appointed by Governor Hanna to present a statue of Lincoln to Norway on its Centennial.  He could not accept the appointment due to the press of business, but it points up the esteem in which he held in North Dakota.


Google Earth – Old Photographs and Modern Images of Locations

Here is something to look at.  It is a website that takes old photographs and superimposes them upon the modern Google Earth images of our community and allows you to fade back and forth between them.  When they line up the effect is fantas…tic.  Wes has uploaded a few very neat photos and some information to go with them.  Much of Main Street is really quite original albeit beneath some drastic attempts to modernize things.  Maybe seeing the buildings like this will spur us on toward more historic preservation for our community!!/ll/46.924473,-98.003059/zoom/11/ See More
WhatWasThere | Explore Photos
Navigate through history – see historical photos of familiar streets

2002- 10 Years Ago At the Museum

Compiled from issues of the Barnes County Quarterly Newsletter by Arlys Netland.

The Barnes County Historical Society was informed that they would be hosting a Smithsonian exhibit in 2004. The title of the show is “Produce for Victory” which is a display of posters dedicated to the home front experiences of WW II.

The new roof was completed and insulated and …is fully under warranty for 15 years.

The new heating system was installed and the antiquated air conditioner from the roof was removed with a new system to be installed using the existing forced air ducts.

The Rosebud Committee received the good news of a grant from the Dept. of Trans. for $245,000. This was the third time the application had been asked for.

An exhibit from the ND Historical Society chronicled the history of Television in ND in 1953. Later exhibits were “250 Years of Mapping ND and a WWII propaganda posters display.

Prehistoric animals from the Ancient Savage Seas collection of Triebold Paleontology were a popular attraction. These were a Tylosarus, Clidastes, Xiphactinus fish and archelon giant sea turtle.

Lectures included two by Lori Lahlum; “Norwegian Culture and Customs” and “Norwegian Women in ND”.

Professor Dale Hoskisson spoke on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Dr. Les Wong talked on the topic “Larger Than Life ND Americana.”

A listing of 70 volunteers was included. Of these only seven are still helping out; Allan and Della Anderson, Arlys Netland, Liz Johnson, Inez McCrea, JoAnn Nathan and Phyllis Hook. Jan Stowman, Wayne McKirdy and Mike Mikkelson retired from the Board.

Members elected at the annual meeting were Liz Johnson, Tony Dutton, Paul Stenshoel, Jeff Matson, Nyle Burchill and Arlys Netland.

Cable Services of Jamestown/VC and the Sheppard family have provided free cable internet access and a Motorola high speed modem. 22 townships have paid to have panels on the museum balcony with 20 remaining. The goal is to have all completed by 2003.

A rummage sale was held during Americana Days and $450 was raised from the sale of baked goods and donated items. Jan Stowman and Jeff Matson were in charge.

RECIPES from local cookbooks Waldheim Lutheran Church cookbook–2000
 Knepfla Soup by Ruth Huus
 8 cups of water,
 2 large stalks celery,
 diced, one small onion chopped,
 two medium potatoes diced or cubed,
 one carrot grated,
two T. butter,
 1/4 cup chicken bouillon.
 Salt and pepper to taste.
 Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. One egg, 1/2 cup milk and one and 1/2 cups to two cups flour. Mix and …roll out and cut into small pieces. Add to soup and cook about 10 min. or until done. Add 1 and 1/2 cups of half and half and heat, but do not boil.

North Dakota Winter Show Women’s Division Cookbook 1987

 Almond Butter Balls by Marion Gerntholz
 2 cups flour,
 2 tsp. baking powder,
 1/4 tsp. salt,
 3/4 cup butter,
 1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup blanched almonds,
 1 cup brown sugar,
one egg,
1/4 tsp. almond extract
 Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cream butter; add sugar and egg; cream well. Add vanilla and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients, mix and shape into long rolls. Cut in 1/2 inch pieces. Shape each piece into a small ball and dip in sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet. Place a half almond in the center of each cookie and bake at 400 F. for 12 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.
Oriska Music Parents Cookbook 1972
 Lime Jell-O Salad by Mrs. Clint Stowman
2 pkgs. lime Jell-O, one cup boiling water. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water Add one #2 can crushed pineapple with juice, 2 cups of cream and 1/2 cup of ground nuts. Stir well and refrigerate.
 ND Where Food is Love Marcella Richman 1994
 Focaccia (Italian flatbread) by Audrey Gaukler
One (1 lb.) loaf frozen bread dough,
3 tsp. olive oil,
 one large clove garlic,
and 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
. Grease a 10 by 15 jelly roll pan. Stretch and press bread dough to fit the pan. With fingers poke deep holes in the dough about 1 inch apart. Place small piece of garlic in each hole. Drizzle oil over dough and brush lightly to distribute. Sprinkle cheese over dough. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 20 min. Preheat oven to 400. Bake until brown, about 18 to 20 min. Cut into 2 by 3 ½ inch strips. Serve warm.
 Mercy Hospital Auxiliary Cookbook 2001
Chow Mein Hot Dish by Mary Ann Winkler
 1 lb. hamburger,
1 lg. onion 2 T. soy sauce.
 Brown together 1 can mushroom soup, 1 can bean sprouts, 1/2 pkg. Chow Mein noodles Mix all together. Sprinkle a good handful of noodles on top and bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350.

Smithsonian “Key Ingredients.

The Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Key Ingredients: America by food” brought to us by the North Dakota Humanities Council has come and gone since our last newsletter.  We sincerely thank the local media, KOVC 1490 (Ingstad Family Media), The Valley City Times-Record, Barnes County Independent, Litchville Bulletin, Wimbledon Newsletter as well as KSJB AM600 and the Jamestown Sun for working with …us so diligently to get the word out during this time. The locally created exhibit will be around for a while yet as we put a lot of time and energy into it and managed to WOW the representative from the Smithsonian that visited us in February. It’ll probably be a while before we try hosting another one of these exhibits, but we thoroughly recommend any local community to take it on as the exhibits are of high quality and are an inspiration to look deeper into our local connections to our national story thanks to the Smithsonian and NDHC.

Greater North Dakota 1959 Movie

Greater North Dakota Association 1959 Movie
Movie made by the GNDA in 1959 to showcase the greatness of North Dakota. I do not own this and did not create this but had a heck of a time getting it to pl…