RED LODGE — Seeing your favorite movie on the big screen provides memories for a lifetime. And at the Roman Theater in Red Lodge, those memories have been happening since 1917. It’s the oldest theater in Montana and part of the very fabric of the town of Red Lodge.
Catching a movie in theaters is generally an infrequent occurrence at best for most people. But for Jim Dufour, a visit to the Roman Theater is an almost weekly event.
"My wife and I come to almost every showing if we can and I think we probably take in about 80-90% of the movies that are shown here," said Dufour.
Dufour and his wife moved to Red Lodge almost 10 years ago and the Roman immediately became a spot close to their heart.
"It really is an existential component of the community. It makes us feel more like we’re all part of the community. And when we have a place to come that’s safe refuge, and we can all meet here and enjoy very unique events, you just don’t see that other places," added Dufour.
Jeff Anderson and his wife bought the building in 2000 when it went up for sale, and there was a rumor it was going to be turned into a restaurant.
"Someone was going to buy it and turn it into a restaurant, and we heard about it. So, my wife and I said, 'we have to figure out a way to buy it'. One day a friend of ours called us up and said the Roman is going up for sale. It was a Saturday morning, and we said, 'we’ll be at your office in a half hour,' and by noon we owned it. And it was just to keep movies in Red Lodge because it’s important part of the town," said Anderson.
What makes the Roman so unique though is its ability to host live music which has become the calling card for the venue. Events like the Red Lodge Songwriter’s Festival turn the 220-seat auditorium into standing room only. Manager Mike Booth says the sign outside alone is an icon in the town and the nostalgia a visit invokes makes it special.
"Everybody feels welcome in the Roman Theater. Part of that isn’t what we do as much as it is the history. People will say, 'Oh, I grew up here and haven’t been back in 25-30 years'. If they come back to Red Lodge and they might see that their favorite bar or restaurant is gone but the Roman is still here," said Booth.
The Roman is a constant that’s stood the test of time in Red Lodge, and the connection it creates in the community is second to none if you ask Dufour.
"It creates a very strong bond, the connectivity between the community and the theater goes way beyond showing movies. I believe it’s probably the most used venue in town," Dufour added.
And he says a chance to visit the Roman should be at the top of anyone’s bucket list.
"When you read those tourist manuals and it says, go to the park and go to the ski hill and go fly fishing, there’s got to be a line that says you got to experience the Roman. I really think so, it’s that good," said Dufour.