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What was once a hit in the mid-20th Century slowly declined

By JULIA DAVIS
DCN Reporter

Looking at Duluth now, things are very different than they were 50 years ago. Changes have happened everywhere you look. Where the casino now stands there was once a Sears and Roebuck store, the Last Place on Earth used to be across the street and three blocks down from where it is now. Greysolon Plaza was originally the Hotel Duluth, and the Norshor Theatre used to be a booming business, with a tower of lights coming out of the top.

When the Norshor was first built, it was an architectural masterpiece. It paved the way for a new era of design when it came to movie theaters, or as they were more commonly known back then, show houses.

“When you’d walk in, to your right there was the ticket booth and straight ahead was a concession stand. Farther down you had a choice between going upstairs to the balcony, where you could smoke, and going to the first floor, with stadium seating,? said Duluth native Arvid Fleischer.

The Norshor Theatre was incredibly popular when it opened in 1941, and continued to be popular during the '50s and on through the '60s.

“I used to go there every Friday night [in the late-40’s],? said Mary Ellen Segrem. “All the young kids were there, and everyone wanted to sit in the back row so they could smooch with their boyfriend.?

Segrem said when she would visit, tickets only cost 25 cents, but it cost that much to drive there too.

“It was worth the drive, that was the best theater in Duluth,? said Segrem. “It played all the best movies and there was no better place to be on a Friday night.?

Dennis Nesbitt Sr., who grew up in Duluth, remembers the Norshor as a high-scale theater in the mid-50s, when tickets cost 50 cents. Everything was always nice and clean, and mischief was never tolerated.

“There was always an usher, standing in the back with a flashlight,? said Nesbitt. “If you started making noise or goofing around, you were out of there quick, so kids would always be in the washrooms making trouble, since it was more private in there.?

In the late-60s, however, things started to decline for the Norshor.

“They didn’t show as good of movies, and the washrooms were always a mess. I don’t know if it was losing money or management just didn’t want to put the money into maintenance, but it started to go downhill,? Nesbitt said.

In the mid-80s, the theater finally closed, having fallen into such disrepair that the city would no longer allow it to run.

“It sat empty there for quite a while, and it wasn’t too many years ago that it was finally re-opened,? said 83-year-old Gene St. Marie, who says he was 17 when the theater opened.

Throughout the '90s, the property changed hands a few times before finally being bought by its current owner, Eric Ringsred. During this time, it was used as a dance hall, a comedy club, and even a bar.

“Apparently [according to the Ripsaw] Charlie Chaplin was married there, and W.C. Fields performed there once or twice,? said Butch Bodin. “It used to be a big spot for vaudeville comedy, so they tried to bring that back. The renegade comedy theatre used to act there during the 90’s."

Finally, in June of 2007, the Norshor became what it is today. With some controversy, Ringsred opened a gentlemen’s’ club at 211 E. Superior St. now called the Norshor Experience.

“They kept it true to the old design,? said Gary Bishop, who lives below the Norshor. “Ringsred put a lot of money into restoring the building.?

Although the architecture stayed true to its original glory, the new shows that can be seen in the building are not what everyone would prefer in downtown Duluth.

“I think it’s in the wrong part of town for what it’s being used for,? said Nesbitt.

Comments

1) The NorShor Theatre was originally the Orpheum Theatre, built ~1911. The NorShor was built inside the Orpheum in the 1940s and featured a milk bar. The same architect that built the NorShor also built the Temple Opera Building on the corner of Superior and 2nd Ave. E. To not take away from the theatre's prominence, he had the onion and two top floors of the Temple Opera Building removed. Residents of Superior used to bitch about the glaring lights coming from the 60' tower on top of the building. The NorShor is the only vaudeville theatre out of seven still standing in Duluth.

2) Rick Boo reopened the NorShor in 1996 and ran it until 2003. The Homegrown Music Festival, the Ripsaw, the Transistor and many, many artists and musicians came out of resulting cultural nexus. After Boo, it reopened in 2004 with Pete Stiller and some mulleted radio DJ with a lot of methy friends. After them in 2005 was Chip Stewart (Amazing Grace) and Craig Samborski. After them was J.P. Renquist. Then came the titty bar.

3) Technically, Ringsred didn't open the NorShor Experience, whats-his-yutz that ran the titty bar at Fuzzy's opened the NorShor in it's current state.

Also, too, I'm pretty sure Eric Ringsred purchased the building in 1982 -- not "sometime in the '90s" as this article suggests.

When it was originally opened, there was an art gallery extending from the lobby to an exit on Second Ave. E. Had many paintings displayed.