Dreamland Theater

121 N. Phillips
Imagine if you will, a time long ago when movies were new. In 1907, before the days of air conditioning, people would sit in hot, darkened spaces filled with cigar smoke and watch as jumpy moving pictures were projected onto a small, square screen at the front of the space. Among the chairs, there would be a man standing next to the projector. The man would turn a crank on the side of the projector at somewhere near the pace of the person who filmed the piece being viewed.
The Dreamland after a pretty good snowstorm in early 1909. 
On Saturday, June 1, 1907, James V. Bryson opened the Dreamland Theater at 121 N. Phillips. At the time, films were continuously run during a theater’s open hours. A matinee would cost 5¢, and evening performances 10¢. Bryson decked out the Dreamland for optimal viewing with an inclined floor and opera chairs instead of the wooden folding chairs patrons were used to. Bryson’s ad boasted the latest Camegraph projector - the greatest motion picture machine made. It promised to be absolutely flicker-free.

From the beginning, the Dreamland was a hit. It was touted as a beautiful theater which played only high-class and refined films, suitable for women and children. Bryson could be trusted to show only the finest and least objectionable fare in his establishment. The moving pictures were accompanied by live music featuring a pianist and singer. Talking pictures wouldn’t come to town for nearly two decades. The Argus Leader reported that the new theater was packing them in, as were other theaters, which did not show movies exclusively: the Bijou, The New Theater, and the Majestic were all able to maintain full houses despite the new business encroaching on their own.

Many films at the time were painstakingly hand colored, and Bryson was sure to mention when they were. At first, the Dreamland changed its films once a week, but later on, as attendance demanded, twice a week was the norm.

In late June 1907, Bryson hired Miss Florence Kuhner to act as musical director. She would play piano, and Miss Lydia Pallansch would sing. On July 4, 1907, Bryson sent up balloons bearing season tickets for the show house. Readers of the Argus Leader were encouraged to keep their eyes out for the free tickets.

On March 18, 1908, it was announced that the Dreamland would be closing in April. Bryson said that his landlord refused to renew his lease, even at an increased rent of $125 per month. His landlord, C. C. Bratrude, said that, because of the noise, he had to charge less to rent out the apartments above the theater, and would need to increase Bryson’s rent to $125 per month. Bryson went looking for another place to open his business, but could find nothing. When he came back a week later to accept the increased rent, Bratrude had already accepted another lease.

Bryson left for Colorado to open more moving picture houses. Meanwhile, the Dreamland ran for a while longer under new management at a new location just north of 8th Street on the west side of Phillips. Bryson returned for visits from time to time, eventually marrying Miss Florence Kuhner.

The Dreamland continued to show moving pictures for several years, changing hands many times. On June 20, 1911, a small fire took the entire stock of moving pictures. Film stock at the time was produced in a manner that made it easily combustible. This nitrate film stock was seen as a danger, and city ordinance required that it be kept in iron boxes to prevent similar incidents from occurring. While the building that housed the Dreamland Theater was not damaged, the loss of film stock proved to be enough to close the popular moving picture house. It was replaced by a saloon.