‘Once in a lifetime project’: NorShor comes to life for grand opening

By Adelle Whitefoot

Nearly eight years in the making, the NorShor Theatre held its grand opening gala Thursday night with people packed into the theater and music playing in every room on every floor.

In April 2010 the city of Duluth announced an agreement for the Duluth Economic Development Authority to buy the NorShor and the adjacent Temple Opera building for $2.6 million, with plans to hand the theater over to the Duluth Playhouse. Since then money was raised and renovations were completed to bring the theater back to its former glory.

Attendees Thursday night enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while taking in the sight of the restored theater, which many called “beautiful.” Some of those attendees were friends Sandy Poppenberg of Hermantown, Kathy Kregness of Superior, Kathy Patterson of Fountain Hills, Ariz., and Linda Minne of Hibbing. In the 1960s all four attended Denfeld High School and worked at the NorShor as cashiers and candy girls.

“We got jobs here because there was a group before us that all got fired for partying too much,” Patterson said. “So we all applied and got hired and then we started partying.”

The friends reminisced about their time at the theater and how much fun it was.”I quit my job at the hospital making $1.25 an hour to work here for 85 cents an hour because I knew it was going to be fun,” Patterson said.

Patterson said when she found out the NorShor was reopening she told her friends that she was going to fly in from Arizona for opening night. She said it was worth leaving the 85-degree weather to be here because it’s “just amazing.”

“This building is so beautiful and it’s for the city,” Patterson said. “This whole art district is beautiful. When I usually come in I stay at the Sheraton and there’s just so many things that you can go see and do now, (NorShor) included.”

The NorShor isn’t exactly the same as it was in the 60s according to the women. One of the differences they noticed right away was that the aisle in the theater no longer goes straight back. That feature stood out because of something they had to do during the showing of “Mary Poppins” back then.

“They use to have an intermission during it where we had to carry around this wooden tray around our neck with little plastic oranges with straws in them,” Minne said. “We had to walk up and down the aisle and sell them during matinees to little kids. Then the kids would get so hyped up they’d be bouncing off out of their seats.”

The memory that stands out the most from working at the NorShor for Poppenberg is meeting kids from other parts of the city.

“We were able to meet kids from schools all around the city that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do otherwise,” Poppenberg said. “The schools didn’t intermingle like they do now.”

A legacy project

Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness was just one of the people instrumental in making the renovation of NorShor a possibility, and it’s the accomplishment closest to his heart, he said. Though the project did have its difficult moments.

“Sometimes I would have these feelings of frustration and even despair and during those moments I would close my eyes, take a deep breath and then imagine this very moment,” he said. “I would feel this overwhelming sense of relief, pride, excitement and appreciation. But now here we are and it’s exactly as I dreamed about it, only it’s more beautiful, more exciting and more meaningful than I could of possibly imagined.”

Duluth Playhouse Board Chair Herb Minke said though it’s great to have a newly restored building on Superior Street in downtown, that wasn’t the reason they decided to move forward with the project. The reason was for the arts, he said.

“We did it for the people who are going to be on the stage tonight. We did it for all the organizations that will come into this building and use this facility. This is a community arts theater,” Minke said. “This is your theater, this is our theater and that is why we really did this project. This is a legacy project. This is a once in a lifetime project and we are happy to be apart of it. As a community we should be really proud of ourselves.”

And pride is what Ness said the city should feel moving forward.

“From this day forward, when you drive down Superior Street and see this bright beautiful marquee lit up in celebration of arts in our downtown, let it serve as vibrant proof that we are a city that believes in itself,” he said. “That we are a city that is willing to take on great challenges. And most importantly of all, that we are a city where our boldest and most ambitious projects can come to life, and the NorShor is proof of that.”