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NorShor Theatre, Historic Duluth Landmark, To Receive Renovation

By Philip Trapp on Apr 10, 2016 10:22 AM EDT

NorShor Theatre, Duluth, Minnesota's historic movie palace and entertainment venue, is due to receive major upgrades. The city's renovation plan for the vaudeville-era building defines its future usage exclusively as a community theater and performing arts center.

The Duluth Economic Development Authority purchased the theater in 2010 in an effort to revitalize the property. As Duluth mayor Emily Larson told the Star Tribune, the city's intent is to use the space as an all-purpose arts venue for both regional and national talent:

"We really do need one more place to showcase not just our local efforts but touring opportunities that right now pass us by," she said. "I think this vision moving forward beautifully illustrates who we've become."

Prior to the city's purchase of the building, the theater had fallen into disrepair and was being used to house a strip club. A far cry from the building's original purposes, the city took it upon themselves to restore the artistic honor of the landmark.

The NorShor traces its origins to the early 20th century, initially called the Orpheum Theatre. Early construction evidencing the period's favored neoclassical architecture, it was Duluth's first movie theater and a popular vaudeville stop.

Movie showings in the 1920s featured live organ accompaniment, a prominent trait of the silent film era. After vaudeville, the theatre was renamed the NorShor Theatre and remodeled in the Art Deco style of the '40s. The building hosted first-run movies until 1982 and live music acts thereafter.

Overcoming budget issues and contract negotiations, the city is prepared to go ahead with its estimated $30.5 million renovation project. The new, 650-seat theater is expected to be the main venue for productions by the Duluth Playhouse.

The new structure will be handicapped-accessible, with plans to feature a skywalk connection to nearby Greysolon Plaza. Chris Eng, Duluth Economic Development Authority executive director, spoke to Duluth News Tribune about the project, highlighting the building's historic status and construction requirements thereof:

"Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, it has to meet state and national requirements," Eng explained.

Duluth has long been a wellspring of creative greatness. Birthplace of folk icon Bob Dylan, the city is also home to the indie slowcore legends, Low:

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