Reader publisher buys former West Theater - Perfect Duluth Day

Reader publisher buys former West Theater


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 Duluth Theatre as it looked in 1982. Photo by Roger Nesje from the West Duluth Memories Facebook page.

The Duluth Theatre as it looked in 1982. Photo by Roger Nesje from the West Duluth Memories Facebook page.

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.


Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Boone elaborated on his West Theater plans in the Nov. 3 Duluth Reader.

Boone’s goal is to reopen it as the West Theater Center For The Arts, with an estimated opening date in late 2017. Boone describes the mission statement as: “Being a catalyst and a part of the West Duluth rejuvenation effort. The West Theater Center For The Arts will be a unique niche establishment offering a variety of entertainment choices from mainstream movies, foreign films, small concerts, local theater, and an art gallery all in one building.” The theater will also be available for recitals, meetings, weddings, fundraisers and possibly even Sunday church services. Boone went on to say, “that we’re anticipating having approximately 325 seats,” which means the West will fill the gap in area theater seating capacity between Teatro Zuccone and The Underground on the lower end; and the Mitchell, Marshall and NorShor Theatre auditoriums in the 500-700 seat range quite nicely. ... The theater will require a new marquee, a digital projection booth, HVAC, upgraded bathrooms and much more. Boone estimates that it will require at least $500,000 in additional financing to accomplish this; and hopes to have that finalized within 90 days.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

It’s interesting that the publisher of a weekly newspaper has purchased the West, because the founder of the theater is considered a “godfather” of another Duluth weekly.

Some background:

Clarence W. Kaake was born and raised in Canada and came to Duluth in 1924. He was employed by the firm of Clinton and Meyers, which owned a group of theaters that included the Doric in West Duluth. He quickly worked his way into a partnership with J.B. Clinton and, before the West was built, he used door-to-door handbills to advertise his theaters.

Eventually he formed a partnership with Herb Palmer that led Palmer to found the Family Budgeter newspaper in 1931. That paper is now known as the Budgeteer News. 

I worked at the Budge in the mid-1990s, when Herb Palmer was still around, so I heard the story a few times about how ol' Cal Kaake was the paper's first circulation manager, supplying a truck and the labor of his children to deliver the weekly rags until Palmer developed his own system.

Paul Lundgren

about 1 year ago

After coming across this ad for a skin flick at the Duluth Theatre in the July 9, 1980, issue of the Duluth News Tribune, we can assume movies continued, at least off and on, at the theater into the 1980s.

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