The renovation of the NorShor Theatre is catalyzing a renaissance in downtown Duluth, Minnesota. Hess Roise helped the project get historic tax credits, a key part of the funding for the theater’s transformation.
The theater has been a landmark in the commercial district since opening in 1910. Its first act was as the Orpheum, a vaudeville theater with an imposing Neoclassical Revival facade on North Second Avenue East. After an Art Moderne makeover by prominent architects Liebenberg and Kaplan in 1941, it became the NorShor, a movie palace. The project reoriented the auditorium 180 degrees and created a new lobby and entrance on busy East Superior Street.
Like other movie theaters around the country, the NorShor suffered in the late twentieth century with competition from home videos and other entertainment options. Owners walled off the balcony to make a second theater and tried to attract niche audiences, all to no avail. The building was taken over by a strip club, much to the disappointment of community boosters and the City of Duluth, which eventually bought the property.
Finding a developer to return the theater to life was not easy, but Sherman Associates took on the challenge in partnership with the Duluth Playhouse, which wanted to expand its successful operation from a smaller venue. We worked closely with the project team on plans for new seating, an expanded stage, and improved backstage facilities to bring the theater up to modern standards. The balcony was reopened and the slope of the main floor was increased to improve sight lines. New seating was also installed on the main floor and new concession stands, including a bar under the balcony were constructed. Specialists restored decorative murals and plaster work. Outside, masons repaired terra-cotta ornamentation and repointed long-neglected brickwork.
The renovated NorShor reopened with an exuberant performance of Mamma Mia! in February 2018. In addition to the playhouse, the venue hosts concerts, movies, and other events, drawing audiences that bring renewed vitality to businesses on Superior Street.