The revitalization of the Alberta Bair Theater represents the culmination of a decade-long effort to rejuvenate this important cultural attraction. Originally established as the Fox Theatre in 1931 (and designed by architect Robert C. Reamer), it played a pivotal role as a regional hub for both film and stage productions. Partially funded by the 20th Century Fox Corporation which acquired the land from Charles M. Bair, it held the distinction of being the last Art Deco-style theater in the United States commissioned by 20th Century Fox.

Project Name: Alberta Bair Theater
Studio Name: Cushing Terrell

Project team
Architecture/Interiors: Cushing Terrell
Contractor: Langlas & Associates
Civil Engineer: Sanderson Stewart
Structural Engineer: Cushing Terrell
Mechanical Engineer: Cushing Terrell
Electrical Engineer: Cushing Terrell
Geotechnical Engineer: SK Geotechnical
Theater Planning/Lighting Design: Schuler Shook
Interior designer: Cushing Terrell
Acoustical Engineer: Threshold Acoustics
Theatrical/AV: Schuler Shook

Photography: James Ray Spahn and Zakara Photography

Alberta Bair Theater by Cushing Terrell - Sheet3
©James Ray Spahn and Zakara Photography

The original design featured exquisite crystal chandeliers, period-specific design elements, luxurious dressing rooms, and intricate stage embellishments. However, a mid-80s fly loft expansion and facility overhaul, aimed at accommodating larger theatrical and musical performances in the remote region, resulted in the loss of much of its historical charm. The few remaining Art Deco details were carefully preserved and showcased in the newly redesigned space.

Alberta Bair Theater by Cushing Terrell - Sheet7
©James Ray Spahn and Zakara Photography

Following a thorough feasibility study, the renovation and expansion focused primarily on enhancing the visitor experience, including accessibility, and overall building performance. Starting at the entrance, the project expanded the building’s footprint to reclaim sidewalk space for an enlarged lobby and ticketing area, improving vertical circulation and ADA access. The two-story, 4,800-square-foot addition, enclosed in a glass curtain wall system, provides an important street-level visual connection to the theater’s activities. A strategically placed metal fabric scrim over parts of the glass helps to reduce energy loads. Lifted at the corner, the scrim adds a dynamic element to the exterior. The addition not only enhances the ticketing and lobby experience but also contributes to guest comfort via the remodeled theatrical house with updated acoustics, new seating, improved balcony-level seating, and additional restroom facilities.

Alberta Bair Theater by Cushing Terrell - Sheet9
©James Ray Spahn and Zakara Photography

While less visible, back-of-house enhancements were equally crucial, covering upgrades to the building’s structural, mechanical, electrical, roofing, and plumbing systems. Performance spaces, including stage rigging, catwalks, lighting, and audiovisual capabilities, were also modernized. The 26,800-square-foot theater, boasting 1,390 seats, remains the sole performing arts center in the Northern Rockies, spanning the area from Spokane, Washington, to Denver, Colorado. It is fully equipped to host major professional touring companies and artists. Aligning with its mission, the Alberta Bair continues to offer educational programming for approximately 22,000 school children annually. With this comprehensive renovation, the theater has been reinstated as a premier performance venue, serving as a vital resource for the greater Billings region, encompassing a population of 400,000, and the entire intermountain region.

Cushing Terrell design team
Joel Anderson (Design Lead), Bob LaPerle (Project Manager/Architect), Kevin Nelson (Project Architect), Dane Jorgenson (Structural Engineer), Mallory Johnson (Architect), Michael Gieser (Electrical Engineer), Raelynn Meissner (Mechanical Engineer), Madeline Rajtar (Interior Designer), Ralph Habeck (BIM/CADD Technician)


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