January 27, 2018
Sometimes it takes a miracle to make your dreams come true. For Jack Stephens, it took a series of them.
Don’t misunderstand him, he never lacked faith in his plan for turning the LaSalle Grange Hall into a theatre and recording studio, he just sometimes wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together. More than three and a half years of hard work and dedication have finally paid off as the LaSalle Angel Theatre is open for business on U.S. 2 near Columbia Falls.
The antiquated building sat barely used on the side of the highway for years, but is finding new life as Stephens, and his wife Catherine, have slowly converted the structure from forgotten relic to a state-of-the-art venue for music and theatre lovers.
The road was not always an easy one, and there were bumps, but the Stephens have made Jack’s dream come true. But, they didn’t do it alone.
“Every time I would ask for something, it would come when I needed it. My wife said it was the strangest thing she had ever seen,” Jack said. “It was all kinds of things. I needed chairs, the chairs became available. I needed one barn light and 21 were given to us. I have to be careful what I wish for, because I might just get it.”
Family and friends from Montana and beyond came through in spectacular fashion as vintage items came pouring into help with the restoration and remodeling. From vintage lighting fixtures and doorknobs to chairs, sinks and even toilets, the needed items just seemed to appear from nowhere when needed most.
“These people were like angels for us as we worked on this old Grange Hall, so we started referring to them as ‘Grangels,’” Jack said.
It was from those “Grangels” that the Theatre, which opened last fall as the LaSalle Grange Theatre, has gotten it’s new name, the LaSalle Angel Theatre.
“We wanted to keep with the building’s roots with our name, but the Grange folks asked us to pay a license fee to use their name, so we decided to change ours,” Jack said. “The Grange people were really nice to us, but we decided we were going to change the name of the theatre. With all of the ‘Grangels’ that helped us get this place up and running, we thought it would be perfect to just drop the G and R and call the place the Angel Theatre.”
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (The Grange), is a fraternal organization in the United States that helps farmers come together to promote community and agriculture. Meeting places for the organization, Grange Halls, were built across the country as early as the 1890s. More than 60 Grange Halls are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Operating with limited funds, Jack and Catherine have truly transformed and brought new life to the old building.
“I wouldn’t say we are operating on a shoestring budget. It’s more like flip-flops,” Jack said.
THE PLAIN and unassuming white building might not look like much on the outside, but stepping through the front door is like taking a step into the past, but with a modern touch.
There is no sign of the old drop ceiling and fluorescent bulbs that lit the building for decades. The space has been returned to its original state, with all wooden floors, walls and ceiling. Seventy five vintage cinema seats from Kalispell’s old Gateway Cinema sit in front of a small stage, which is filled with vintage musical equipment. From multiple Hammond organs and a Wurlitzer electric piano to a Fender Rhodes piano, Baby Grand Piano, replica Shure microphones and a Leslie 122 Cabinet speaker, Stephens has assembled a true “dream” ensemble for any aspiring musician.
“It really helps you attract good players when they can come into your place and see that you have authentic, original equipment,” Jack said. “There’s no substitute for the real deal.”
While the instruments are vintage, the recording equipment is anything but antique. An elaborate setup of modern, computerized sound mixers and monitors sits nestled in the back of the theatre, a stark, but interesting, contrast to the vintage items surrounding them.
“I love analog and I love digital, so I like to marry the two worlds. I love antiques and I also love high-tech. I like to put them together in such a way that you don’t notice where one phases into the other,” Jack said. “It’s antique and it’s high tech. I like to call it ‘antech.’”
No matter what you call the set up, there is one thing that is undisputed - it creates unbelievable sound.
“The acoustics in this place just sing. I can’t take credit for that, though. Some buildings just have ‘it’ and this building definitely has ‘it.’ It’s just right,” Jack said.
OPEN SINCE last summer, the theatre has already hosted a number of musical acts, screenings of classic movies and even a radio play production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the holidays.
Jack says he hopes more people will come out and see what his little theatre is all about and see how history, art, music and theatre can blend into one.
“The biggest challenge of all of this was to make sure the people who would come here to dance and vote would come in and be grateful for the way we preserved the building,” he said. “It’s a labor of love and it’s totally worth it.”
For more information on upcoming shows and events, follow the theatre on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lasallegrangetheatre