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New life comes to the Harbor Theater

Murals of oar boats once graced the inside walls of the Harbor Theater on Second Avenue in Two Harbors. The floors in the theater are being restored to expose original lighted aisles. Photo courtesy of Janice Holisky Briski, daughter of the Harbor Theater's original owner.1 / 3
Each Christmas, the Jolly Old Elf made an appearance at the old Harbor Theater. By holiday time this year, the theater's new owner, Wade Kimball, hopes to re-open the Two Harbors landmark. Photo courtesy of Janice Holisky Briski2 / 3
The Harbor Theater operated in Two Harbors from the late 30s until the mid 80s. It is slated to be re-opened around Christmas time by new owner, Wade Kimball. Photo courtesy of Janice Holisky Briski3 / 3

For three months renovations have been quietly underway in the former Harbor Theater in Two Harbors. Plaster has been repaired, fresh coats of paint have been applied and a variety of antique and vintage items, such as an old Greyhound ticket booth, have been artfully arranged inside. There is still much to be done, but it's clear that the building's owner and Two Harbors native Wade Kimball has a vision.

Originally purchased to house and display his car collection, Kimball said he changed his plan as people dropped by and shared their memories of afternoons spent watching movies on the big screen, some recalling the days when a few pennies bought a ticket and popcorn.

"There are always people telling stories," said Tammy Fitzpatrick, who has been helping Kimball with some of the restoration projects. She said she remembers hanging out with friends in the "cry baby" room when she was a teenager in the 80s. The upstairs space has a window overlooking the 27x 15 foot screen, allowing parents with fussy children to watch the movie without disturbing the rest of the theater's patrons. She said she's happy to volunteer her time to Kimball's project because she wants local kids to have a place to go and a reason to stay in town like she did.

"I love the fact that it's bringing something back for the kids to do," she said. Kimball agreed and said he also sees the venture as a contribution to the revitalization of the downtown area.

"I want this to be a nice gathering place for people to socialize. We need to have a beautiful downtown again and we can do it, it's just going to take some work," he said adding that he's encouraged by some of the new projects he's seeing near the theater--the new Architectural Antiques store in the former mercantile building and the recent purchase of the old city hall.

Inside the theater, the flooring is slated for removal which will reveal the original inclined surface with light strips along the aisles. Red velvet upholstered seats, reminiscent of movie houses from yesteryear are stacked and awaiting installation and the restrooms and doorways will be updated to ensure wheelchair access.

The theater's grand opening is expected to be sometime around Christmas, although Kimball and Fitzpatrick hosted a Halloween open house so the community could catch a glimpse of what's in store. Candy was distributed to trick-or-treaters as a family-friendly movie played. A new chandelier glowed overhead in the lobby and soda fountain stools invited guests to sit and chat or look at the window display, which Kimball said will feature a new theme each month.

"It's just to make it fun for people, even if they don't come in for a movie. If it gives them a smile, then I've done what I've wanted," he said.

Once officially open for business, the theater, which has yet to be re-named, will offer shows on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a Sunday matinee. Kimball said he's thought carefully about the kinds of movies he'll show.

"We just don't want anyone to be left out," Kimball said. "I want feel good movies here. I want to try to have something that everybody likes -mostly family friendly movies." But he's also considering other uses for the theater's space.

"I do want to do some specialty things down the road, like movies for seniors," he said. He's also been approached by people who have suggested particular films and genres, so he's considering the possibility of renting the theater to community members who have specific cinematic interests, as long as their films meet a basic decency standard. In the future,

after the stage is rebuilt, live music or other kinds of entertainment may also be a possibility, not unlike the theater's early years when Tex Ritter and his horse made an appearance. But before equine escapades or a Tarzan movie marathon are booked, there are more pressing tasks.

"We've still got lots of work to be done, but I think we're in the home stretch. In two months you won't recognize it."

Kimball is currently seeking information about the murals that once decorated the upper walls of the theater. He said people have mentioned them, but don't have any idea what may have happened to them or who painted them. If you know, stop over at the theater and share your memories.

As Kimball and Fitzpatrick stood in the lobby, a pick-up rolled slowly down Second Avenue. The driver stopped and Fitzpatrick stepped outside to say hello. She returned with a smile.

"We got two thumbs up and a 'way to go,'" she said.