For the first time since the 1970s, the marquee of Duluth’s West Theater will light up Friday night.
After more than a year under construction, the opening of West Duluth’s new — and only — theater will be marked by a weekend of events, including a movie showing and a performance by a musician.
Theater owner Bob Boone, who is also publisher of the Duluth Reader, purchased the building through his company Paladin Properties LLC. for $140,500 in late 2016, according to St. Louis County records.
The purchase and reconstruction, which he estimates cost over $1.4 million, was financed through loans from three nonprofits and the city of Duluth, he said. He also received some funding from local business owners, such as the owners of Tortoise and Hare Footwear.
“As a West Duluth business, we just think that this is going to be a huge boost to not only Central Avenue, but to all the surrounding businesses,” said Mary Stukel, co-owner of Tortoise and Hare. “We’re just very excited about it.”
Construction started in April 2018, but faced a setback when the project ran out of money, Boone said. After refinancing, he said they started again — for a total construction time of around nine months.
He’s trying to make the theater as accurate to its original art deco style as possible — except, this time, he said, the seats will be more comfortable.
The approximately 250 seats face a stage, which a roll-down screen can cover in the large, blue auditorium. The rest of the theater includes a street-facing box office, two lounges, a 1928 mahogany bar, an antique popcorn machine and numerous other details that reflect its original art deco style. The exterior of the building also has a new marquee, which Boone said hasn't been lit up since likely the 1940s.
To furnish and design the theater back to its original state, he said he purchased items from 20 states, Canada and England. “It was my goal to be authentic in every way I can,” he said.
While the theater won’t be completely finished for Friday’s opening, he said he’s already purchased the former garden store next door to expand. And lucky for him, Boone said the property was vaudeville theater. Remnants of the vaudeville can be seen above the suspended tile ceilings.
The West Theater, which is located 317 N. Central Ave., first opened in 1937 and seated just under 600 people.
The theater’s grand opening on Friday will be celebrated with a showing of the 1937 film, “A Star is Born,” at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35, which includes two drinks and hors d'oeuvres. On Saturday, blues guitarist Bernard Allison will perform. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 in advance and $35 on the day of the show. Tickets for both nights are available at readertix.com/organizations/duluth-reader.