Two Theaters, One Stone: Historic Auditoriums Brought Back to Life in West Duluth
NORTHLAND UNCOVERED: The West Theater was an art deco movie palace when it was originally built in 1937.
DULUTH, Minn.- It’s not your average movie theater, it has a lot of history! The West Theater is one of two historic theaters making a comeback in the Northland.
“I said I would only be interested if I could turn it back into a theater,” Bob Boone said.
This was the promise Boone made to the last owner of his newly revived space in West Duluth– that he would recreate an authentic 1937 art deco theater.
“These old movie theaters, they usually were the heart of a downtown,” Boone said.
The West Theater was one of the highest class, first run movie theater’s in the city when it was originally built.
“This theater went from showing first runs as late as ’72, maybe ’73, to showing second runs for a couple of years and then it turned into adult entertainment for a year or two and then it closed,” Boone said.
In the 1970’s, there was a trend of building theaters in strip malls, and multiplexes and classic movie palaces like the West began shutting down.
The theater wouldn’t open again until 2000 as a quilt shop and then a screen printing business, until Boone got his hands on it.
“Everywhere I could, I recreated the original look. If I could not recreate the original look… like those stairs up to that balcony is new, we went for a look that was period correct,” Boone gestured to the stairs.
Just the West wasn’t enough. Boone bought the Interior Tomato next door to the theater to make room for bigger events.
While taking a tour of the space, he learned the Interior Tomato’s original purpose when it was built in 1913.
“I may be the only person in the history of the planet to accidentally buy a theater while attempting to expand a theater,” Boone said.
Turns out, it was the long lost Alhambra Vaudeville Playhouse, hidden under suspended ceilings and false storefronts.
“I climbed up a ladder, stuck my head above the suspended ceiling and pop found a lot of original plaster work in pretty good shape,” Boone said.
The Alhambra showed photoplays and films until it closed and turned into an office space in the 1950’s.
Just like the West, Boone hopes to recreate the Alhambra and give it that authentic feel in the heart of downtown.
“Theoretically, you’ll walk down the street, you’ll see an authentic 1937 theater and an authentic 1913 vaudeville house and we’ll hopefully create an authentic arts district for West Duluth with the help of Beaner’s and Zenith Book,” Boone said.