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Plans move ahead for West Theatre

The West in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Helen Kaake)1 / 4
West Theatre today. (Photo by Richard Thomas)2 / 4
Front page of the West Duluth Budgeter (now the Budgeteer) Dec. 22, 1937.3 / 4
West Theatre advertisement in the Budgeter.4 / 4

The closed building at 317-319 N. Central Avenue is slated to become the movie theater it hasn't been for 50 years. And it's expected to become more than a theater.

Robert Boone, publisher of the Duluth Reader and operating as Paladin Properties LLC, purchased the building last October for $140,000. He hopes to open it in late 2017 or early 2018 as a venue for mainstream and foreign films, music, plays, an art gallery, meetings, weddings, fundraisers and church services.

The West Theatre first opened on Christmas Day, 1937, with the swing musical "Turn Off the Moon," a Popeye cartoon, a newsreel and other shorts. It was just a few blocks away from the larger Doric Theatre on Grand Avenue.

"I used to come down to that theater every Saturday afternoon,'' Budgeteer founder Herb Palmer told the Duluth News Tribune in 1997. "It was a very, very busy theater. It was a major form of entertainment in those days.''

The West changed hands over the years and was later renamed The Duluth.

"That theater was a wonderful thing for the neighborhood," Jake Musich, theater owner 1959-66, to the Tribune. "But then they had a big steel strike in West Duluth. And later, the interstate came through, ripping out houses and dividing everyone. The theater really died along with the rest of West Duluth.''

Ferris Alexander ran it as one of a string of pornographic movie houses until 1978. The Duluth Economic Development Authority took ownership of the closed and deteriorating theater in 1991 and sold it to Kim and Terry Wells, who remodeled and reopened the building as a quilt shop called Creations Unlimited. The chimney still says "Quilters."

Dave Orman operated Raven and Associates Screen Printers in the building 2012-2014, then sold it to Boone, who once ran the Palace Theater in Superior in the 1970s.