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Palace Theater tour from 2002

The Palace Theater in Superior was torn down in 2006, but this video of a tour in 2002 has emerged on YouTube.

Palace Theater Superior WI

Palace Theater Demolition - Nov 2006

Post-demolition photo from Nov. 5, 2006. The Coney Island in the Schiller Building next door closed a few years later and is now Sclavi’s Italian Restaurant.

8 Comments

Endion

about 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this! It is so sad how this area doesn't recognize how unique it is with these old landmark buildings and theaters. Growing up when I would drive through Duluth I would feel like I was stepping back in time, but so much of that is being demolished or destroyed every day. I know every city wants new looking buildings, but it is a shame that Superior Street couldn't retain the old look. New buildings like the Sheraton look modern and don't really fit the aesthetics of the downtown area. The hotels along the lake are nice and that area can accommodate new buildings, but the city should have kept Superior Street looking the era. The building Lucé is in should have been made in a classic style (IMHO) and the new Maurice's should have also looked old... Not for all the streets, but for Superior it would have helped keep the old style that many come here to see.

The NorShor luckily was saved, but it would have been cool to have a nice old Victorian styled theater survive. I love the Victorian architecture up here.

Bret

about 5 years ago

What a loss.

Paul Lundgren

about 5 years ago

Of course it's sad to look back at what was lost, but it is difficult to conceive of that theater operating profitably if it were still standing.  One need look no further than Zeitgeist Arts in Duluth to see a well-funded organization in the heart of an entertainment district in a larger city, with small theaters built for realistic audience sizes for plays and movies, still struggling with tight profit margins. A big  theater on Tower Avenue would have a much more difficult going.

There have been some comments on Facebook critical of former Superior Mayor Dave Ross since this video popped up, noting that there was a developer ready to restore the theater and Ross rushed to have it demolished so there could be more parking on Tower Avenue. There are two sides to that story. 

Although Ross contended at the time that a new development was going to grace that corner, and that still hasn't happened, the Great Recession can probably be blamed. There is an open field where the Palace Theater stood that is still not a parking lot and I'm fairly certain the city still owns it and would gladly sell it to anyone willing to build there.

I interviewed Mayor Ross for a story in Business North in 2007. Here is the Palace-relevant paragraphs, which give a little more perspective on how it all went down.

As part of Ross' mission to encourage growth in Superior's downtown, three buildings were torn down last fall. One of them was the historic Palace Theater, a vaudeville and single-screen movie house designed by George Rapp in the French Renaissance style. The Palace opened in 1917 and was remodeled in 1953. It closed in 1982 and sat empty for much of the next 20 years. The city took ownership in 2002 and began searching for a developer. "It fell on my plate in 2003 when I took office," Ross said. "We went through a very long process of trying to find a developer. (The city council) decided to order the demolition of the building by a 10-0 vote in April of 2006." When asked to delay the demolition, Ross appointed a 17-member task force to make one more effort to save the building. "That didn't work," he said. "They were unable to find a qualified investor. So, we decided to tear the building down." One potential developer did emerge, but when questioned by the mayor and city councilors about his plans, he withdrew his proposal, suggesting the council had made up its mind to deny his offer. Thomas Miscoe, president of LaCrosse Theaters, proposed a $390,000 renovation of the theater with plans to create a second-run movie house and restaurant. Ross said when the city asked Miscoe for financial records, he never provided them. "He just said he was going to go out and borrow $400,000," Ross said. "We needed to know what his financials were in order to know if he was capable of carrying out a project like that — especially if the city partnered with him and became liable for the outcome." LaCrosse Theaters owns the two-screen Rivoli Theater in LaCrosse, which Miscoe said was built around 1922. He said it's the only theater his corporation operates, noting he has plans to build a new theater in Madison to replace the University Square Theatre, which was sold and torn down in 2006. Miscoe said LaCrosse Theaters has been in business since 1916 and has owned the Rivoli since 1994. He declined to disclose its ownership structure. "The first party we called when we were first made aware of the possible renovation of the Palace was the mayor," Miscoe said. "He never gave us the courtesy of a return phone call. It was a real tragedy for your community, because you had a real jewel. All you had to do was fix it up a little bit." Carol Reasbeck, a mayoral candidate and former city councilor, said the theater would have been a great destination for college students and should have been an anchor for redeveloping the area. "There's a fine line between a blighted neighborhood and a quaint neighborhood," she said. "It'll never be the same no matter what they put there." Before the wrecking ball hit the Palace, the city was challenged in circuit court by Friends of Superior, Inc., a group trying to save the building. The city prevailed in court, and dismantling resumed. When word reached Ross that Friends of Superior was seeking an injunction from a federal court, Ross advanced the demolition date by two days to avoid another delay. "I read about cities all over the country that get all excited about a project and they get all kinds of people behind it, public funds are committed to it, then it fails and they blame the politician for starting the project," he said. "I am not going to be part of a project that's not going to pay for itself and (ends up becoming) a liability to the taxpayers of Superior." Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson said he backs Ross' decision, but it was still a "shame" to see the Palace come down. "I think it was salvageable back in the late '80s, early '90s," he said. "But after 15 years of no heat in the winter, and pigeons and rain getting in, I can't imagine there was any way to save it, unfortunately."
And, since I have it on hand, below are more comments by Mayor Ross on this topic that I didn't have space to include in the article. (These are somewhat random notes from a conversation and not a single uninterrupted rant, by the way.)
   
I don't think the Palace is the burning issue in the community. I'm hearing from the community that they're tired of this issue. They know this building sat vacant for 25 years. They know it was in horrible disrepair. They know for a fact nobody was willing to invest real money into the building to save it. I think they honestly believe I did everything I could. We went through a careful city council process, we went through a very careful public process by having a citizens committee decide the fate of that building. We made every effort — more than we had to — to try to save that building. I think the community understands that. We worked very hard to try to redevelop the Palace Theater and there were no takers. It isn't a sudden decision made by the city of Superior. That building sat there vacant for 25 years. There was a court challenge to try to get a judge to rule to stop us from tearing the building down. They took us to circuit court and we won. The circuit court said there was nothing that we had done to that would cause the court to impede our ability to tear the building down. So, we preceeded to tear it down and now they have drug us into federal court in the western district. I believe we're going to prevail in the federal court as well. The sad part about this is we're experiencing costly litigation for a building that doesn't exist. I find that punitive to do that to a community to make them pay legal costs for a building that the city owned. Development takes dollars. If they wanted to save the Palace they could do as other groups that have saved buildings have done. The Blaine Business Center is an organization of 10 investors who risked their own money to do a redevelopment of a 1950s school building. That's how you do redevelopment. This group could have created a feasible redevelopment plan by putting forth their own money to save the Palace Theater, but they chose not to do so. They wanted the city of Superior to take the risk. Mr. Miscoe was not a qualified investor. He wanted us to pay for his parking lot — for a building he wanted to own. That would have been over a half-million-dollar commitment by the city of Superior. Mr. Miscoe listed as one of his successful theaters a theater in Madison which he said he owned. I was in Madison and inquired about the University Square Theater and found out he had sold it to the city and had it torn down. The very model he said was a successful model of showing second-run films and a number of other activities that he was going to do in our Palace Theater he was doing in the Madison theater, and that model failed. And we don't have 50,000 people within walking distance of the theater like he did in Madison. It took a week to assemble that crane. As soon as they were ready, that theater was coming down. We talked about starting on Friday. When we heard rumors that we would be dragged into another court after they had lost in circuit court, I made the decision to start on Wednesday rather than Friday. I was given permission in April of 2006 to tear the theater down. And I rushed? I waited until November. That's rushing? I was given full authority. I didn't need any more permissions to take the theater down. For the National Historic Trust to put on their website that this was a surprise move — how surprising is it when a man withdraws his bid, which meant the theater was dead and that the standing order for demolition would be proceeded with. How surprising is that? You can't suddenly tear a building down. We had to do the asbestos abatement, we had to make sure we had a state inspection so that our permits were granted, when we pull a permit for demolition I think there's like a 30-day waiting period before one can proceed with demolition. So, nothing is sudden. Those permits are public record. Everything we do is public. The wrecking ball did not hit the building because we got notice of an emergency court order in circuit court to stop demolition. We go into court and circuit court rules we can go ahead and tear the building down. We go back to tear the building down. We're thinking we're not going to let this happen again. We have a time frame in which we can tear buildings down and that is between when we get done paving and we start snowplowing. We have a very narrow window in which we do our demolition. In the spring we do it between snowplowing and paving. Our fear was that we wouldn't have enough time to tear the building down and plow streets at the same time. Two weeks prior to the demolition, all the parts were taken off the building. Our salvage contractor was given 30 days to salvage everything he was going to take off the building. By the time the wrecking ball hit the building, it was all taken apart. Even if they got the restraining order they would have stopped the demolition of a building that was now just a shell. Tom Miscoe's theater is failing. He was presented to us as a successful movie theater redeveloper. His theater doesn't exist anymore. It's kind of disappointing to find out that a guy who tears down theaters is coming and telling us that us tearing down a theater was somehow worse than him tearing a theater down. The NorShor Theater is a great example of how these theaters are very difficult if not impossible to redevelop. A number of people have lost a considerable amount of money on the NorShor Theater. I just don't believe there would have been a successful effort to redevelop the Palace.

Herzog

about 5 years ago

This is borderline Shakespearean in the levels of irony and tragedy. 

Slow death via wifi.

Endion

about 5 years ago

I agree Paul - there are only so many theaters that a town can support. These old theaters had so much character though. Like I said, I love the Victorian look and so little of it survives today. Even the NorShor is now in its art decco look, but imagine if it was restored to the Victorian Orpheum Theater look. The Lyceum Theater (where Maurice's is going up) was amazing looking, but that burned down. I saw something on PBS that there are  few still around, but the beauty has been covered up.  When you walk into Denfeld's theater it is amazing and retains the beauty of the past.

We went through the era where Victorian architecture went out of style just like a yellow and green kitchen with flower wallpaper did. Duluth still has a lot left and we need to preserve it. The ballroom in Greysolon is still around, but what are some other great examples still standing of Victorian interior design around town?

Paul Lundgren

about 5 years ago

The Lyceum did not burn down. It slowly fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1966.

Teddie Meronek

about 5 years ago

There are indeed two sides to the Palace Theatre story.  Try finding a video or written transcript of Tom Miscoe's appearance before the city council. It was not Superior's finest hour. Those of us who were dedicated to saving the Palace always knew that its restoration was not going to be an easy task, but we believed it was a doable one. Lots of towns, some much smaller than Superior, have managed to restore their old theaters and make them an important part of their entertainment and retail districts. We didn't get that chance. We lost the Palace not only for our generation to enjoy, but for all future generations. 

The decision was made to remove a building the likes of which Superior will never see again. People say that it was just one old building and what's the big deal about tearing it down? That's how it goes. It starts with one old building and pretty soon you realize that the Summer White House is gone along with Barker's Terrace and East High School and the oldest house in Superior and on and on. When do we stop? Will we only be happy when our towns are full of the same big-box stores and fast-food franchises? 

What if Duluth had decided to tear down all those old warehouses on Canal Park? I'm sure there were lots of people who thought they were better suited for the landfill than for the restaurants, shops and brew pubs that manage to draw throngs of people to Duluth throughout the year. It takes people with vision and a bit of courage to look at these old buildings as an asset and not a detriment to their community. I love that Duluth has never given up on the NorShor. It is going to be a wonderful addition to the city's already vibrant downtown. I wish Superior had felt the same way about the Palace.

Matt Österlund

about 4 years ago

We tried hard to keep it. Unfortunately some people like the idea of strip malls and parking lots more than an historical building as the anchor of a downtown.

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