A repurposed West Duluth movie theater has been sold to the publisher of an alternative weekly newspaper. The historic West Theater building at 317-319 N. Central Avenue was purchased earlier this month by Duluth Reader founder and publisher Robert Boone, operating as Paladin Properties LLC. The building was previously owned by David Orman, whose now-defunct promotional products business Raven & Associates headquartered there from 2012 to 2014.
St. Louis County records show Paladin Properties paid $140,500 for the 5,000-square-foot building, which includes an upstairs apartment.
Boone said he was not ready to announce a business plan for the property. The West Theater is located across the street from Beaner’s Central coffeehouse, Central Sales and the future Zenith Bookstore.
“It’s a little bit up in the air right now,” said Boone. “Give me a shout in 10 days or so and I’ll have more.”
He said financing will determine what he can do with the 79-year-old theater.
“I was able to put the money together to buy it, the rest is waiting to fall into place.” he said. “It’s a neat building.”
Orman called the theater a “vanilla box,” which means the interior is open and well equipped for renovation. He said a new roof was recently installed.
“It’s a huge space,” he said. “You could do almost anything with it.”
Orman said the building could be restored as a theater, renovated as a brewpub or could be maintained as offices or shops. “I think that the neighborhood is ripe for a little renaissance,” he said.
The West Theater was designed by Minneapolis architect Perry E. Crosier and built in 1937, financed by J.B. Clinton and his partner Clarence Kaake. Clinton died before the theater opened and Kaake became the sole owner in 1941. The Kaake Theater Company operated the West, Doric and Star theaters in Duluth for almost two decades. The West Theater screened second-run movies into the late 1950s.
Jake Musich took over the building in 1959, renaming it the Duluth Theatre. He sold it to Stillwater Amusement Co. in 1966 and it closed briefly for remodeling before returning with a 23-week screening of The Sound of Music.
In the 1970s numerous West Duluth industries closed shop and an economic depression followed. The Duluth Theatre was purchased by Ferris Alexander, the reputed “pornography king of Minnesota,” and skin flicks dominated the screen.
The building was mostly dark from 1978 until 1997. After that a handful of businesses came and went, most notably two quilt shops, Creations Unlimited and Quilter’s Co-op. Parts of old signs with the words “quilt” and “shop” remain on the building’s chimney.
Boone founded the Northland Reader in 1997, later changing the name to Reader Weekly and eventually Duluth Reader. The newspaper offices are located on East Superior Street. Boone has a demonstrated interest in the film industry. In the 1970s, he was employed at the Palace Theater in Superior, which was demolished in 2006.
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