Stage to Screen: Historic Theaters of the North

A brand new documentary from WDSE WRPT tells the history of some of the most storied theaters in Northern Minnesota. "Stage to Screen: Historic Theaters of the North" takes a look back to the earliest years of settlement in the region, when hard working lumberjacks and miners came to town for some entertainment. From the Iron Range towns of Virginia and Hibbing, to Superior Street in Duluth, theaters large and small, lavish and basic opened to serve the growing population.

Watch the full documentary online:

"Stage to Screen" recalls some of the theaters that have faded into history, and others that continue showing movies decades after construction. Early in the twentieth century, "moving pictures" became the rage, and by the 40's and 50's going to the movies was part of the American way of life. And historic theaters now shuttered in Duluth and Virginia may one day re-open and find new life as cultural and arts centers.

Historical Examples from the Documentary

Duluth Grand Opera House

Duluth Grand Opera House Exterior

This truly grand structure opened in 1893, and was home to a 1,000 seat performance space, about 10% of Duluth's population at the time. Duluth pioneers Roger Munger and Clinton Markell, who built the Grand Opera House, intended it as a statement that the city had arrived and was a place to be reckoned with. The building was home to the Chamber of Commerce, several businesses and the Kitchi Gammi Club, which occupied most of the top floor. The Duluth Daily News called the building "Duluth's pride and joy", and its exterior was undoubtedly the most ornate in the history of the city. The Grand was destroyed in a fire in January of 1889, less than six years after it opened.

Lyric Opera House, Virginia, MN

Lyric Opera House Curtain

This is the fire proof asbestos curtain that hangs over the stage of the Lyric Opera house. The 500-seat theater was built in 1912 by a group of Virginia businessmen. The Laurentian Arts and Culture Alliance, its current owner, plans to restore it as a multi-use facility, and rename it "The Lyric Center for the Arts." The fire curtain itself was created by the Twin Cities Scenic Company, which painted backdrops and asbestos curtains, built cycloramas and constructed sets for performance spaces around the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. It is an example of the ornate design and construction common in theatres of the period; a rare remaining example of the studio's work, and would be a centerpiece of the refurbished theater.

More Information on the Web
This webpage has the latest update on efforts to preserve Duluth’s historic Norshor Theatre.
The Laurentian Arts and Culture Alliance website for the Lyric Center, an opera house built in 1912.
A professional network dedicated to sustaining America’s historic theatres for the benefit of their communities and future generations.
Minneapolis has some classic old theaters, and thanks to this group, they’ve been beautifully restored. The Hennepin Theatre Trust website has a wealth of resources for the old theatre fanatic!
Do you have a favorite Minnesota theater past or present? It’s likely you can find it on this site, along with photographs and some history of the theater. The site is searchable by city or theater name.
If you have a hankering for Minnesota history, this is the photo site for you. Historical societies from across the state have contributed images.
The Hibbing Historical Society has uploaded high quality images from the Oliver Iron Mining Company Photographic Collection. The collection includes many historic images of Hibbing from the early part of the 20th century.

Funding for this program is provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here for more information or visit the Minnesota Legacy website.

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