12 Historic Minnesota Theaters Restored For A New Era

By Loren Green

Across Minnesota, many historic theaters were built for stage performance and later converted for film. Many of these were lovingly restored more than once to entertain generation after generation, from vaudeville to flickering silent pictures and into the era of high-definition digital video. Others went the other direction, as grand old movie houses were converted for stage entertainment.

Here are some of the state’s more notable historic theaters, where the action on screen and stage is only part of the magic.

  1. Canby Theatre, Canby
    Canby Theater

    Canby Theater, Canby

    Canby Theatre, Canby

    This art deco theater opened in downtown Canby and still entertains crowds in southwest Minnesota today. It has historic character with modern amenities. In 2015, it was named WCCO’s “Viewers’ Choice for Best Movie Theater in Minnesota.”

  2. Comet Theatre, Cook
    Comet Theatre, Cook

    Open and running since 1939, the Comet plays movies nightly and features a coffee shop on-site as well as a boutique gift shop with clothing, home decor, furniture, artwork and more.

  3. Cozy Theatre, Wadena
    Wadena Cozy Theater

    Cozy Theater, Wadena

    Cozy Theatre, Wadena

    From its 1914 showing of "The Last Days of Pompeii" to reopening with "Twister" and "Mission: Impossible" in 1996, the Cozy Theatre remains a key building in Wadena, identified by its vertical sign at the corner of Colfax and Jefferson.

  4. Flame Theatre, Wells
    Flame Theatre, Wells

    The original 1912 building that housed the Princess, then State, Theatre burned down in 1959. As part of the rebuild, a community naming contest was held, and the Flame Theatre was born. It's still open Friday-Monday with tickets for just $4 each ($3 on Mondays).

  5. Grand Theater, Crookston
    Grand Theater, Crookston

    This century old theater is reportedly one of the country’s longest continual-running movie theaters, though it was first built for stage acts. Today, it’s a two-screen operation that maintains its historic feel while also showing how older buildings can be modified for modern technology.

  6. Heights Theater, Columbia Heights
    Heights Theater interior

    Heights Theater, Columbia Heights / Heights Theater

    Heights Theater, Columbia Heights

    Built in 1926 by brewery heir Arthur Gluek to show locally produced stage plays and vaudeville during the thirsty days of prohibition, the Heights features an impressive 1929-vintage pipe organ, played before the 7:10 movie on Friday and Saturday evenings. The theater has both state-of-the-arts digital and film projection equipment, and hosts first-run movies as well as classic film series.

  7. Historic State Theatre, Jackson
    Historic State Theatre in Jackson

    Historic State Theatre, Jackson

    Historic State Theatre, Jackson

    Built in the 1920s, this single screen movie house has been updated to play digital and 3-D movies.

  8. Jem Movie Theatre, Harmony
    Jem Theatre in Harmony

    Jem Movie Theater, Harmony

    Jem Movie Theatre, Harmony

    With weekend screenings of first-run movies at $5 per adult, this single-screen theater embodies the charm of Harmony, located between Lanesboro and the Iowa border. In 2011, the community helped raise funds to convert to digital equipment to keep the theater running.

  9. Orpheum Theatre, Ada
    Orpheum Theatre, Ada

    The red and gold marquee makes Ada’s Orpheum jump out from its neighbors on West Main Street. The theater is nearly 100 years old and has been upgraded to keep up with trends and to keep the local community entertained.

  10. Princess Theater, St. James
    Princess Theatre Saint James

    Princess Theatre, St. James / Creekside Photography

    Princess Theater, St. James

    The St. James Princess Theatre in southern Minnesota has had multiple uses since it was built just over a century ago. After multiple remodels, the city-owned building now features a balcony level movie theater and a restored lobby in addition to its notable marquee and neon lights.

  11. Palace Theatre, Luverne
    Palace Theatre Luverne

    The historic Palace Theatre in Luverne / Jim Juhl Myhre Studio

    Palace Theatre, Luverne

    The Palace was built in 1914 as a stage theater. Since a remodel in 2007, it’s been a mixed-use facility hosting live stage productions and movie screenings.

  12. State Theatre, Hutchinson
    State Theatre, Hutchinson

    When it opened in 1937, Hutchinson's State Theatre showed "True Confession" for 35 cents a ticket. Over the next 75 years, it expanded from one screen to three before closing in 2001. New owners bought it, revamped it and converted it from 35 mm film to digital in 2005, and you can now catch second-run movies for 10 times the original price ($3.50) seven days a week.

Loren Green

Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.