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A coming attraction

Ely’s Historic State Theater renovation nears completion

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/20/19

ELY –The new doors are in, the old gum is scraped off the floor, and the historic State Theater in downtown Ely is near the end of a four-and-a-half-year renovation project by Alley A Realty. …

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A coming attraction

Ely’s Historic State Theater renovation nears completion


ELY –The new doors are in, the old gum is scraped off the floor, and the historic State Theater in downtown Ely is near the end of a four-and-a-half-year renovation project by Alley A Realty. Tanner Ott said he is striving to open the landmark to the public by the holidays.
During a recent tour of the project, Ott said the acoustic wall fabric is being installed this week, and as many as 234 historically-accurate seats will be mounted to the floor in early September. That leaves just sanding and staining of the extended stage floor yet to complete.
The State Theater, built by the Swanson family in 1936, was designed by noted architectural firm Liebenberg & Kaplan, who had designed many theaters in Minnesota and other northern states. Generations of Elyites have fond memories of the theater in its hey day. In 2008, the recession caused the State Theater to close its doors to the public, but apparently not for the last time.
By 2014, when Ott’s Alley A Realty purchased the historic building, it had fallen into significant disrepair.
The company has since been working with the state of Minnesota and the U.S. Department of Interior as they’ve worked to restore the exterior and interior to its original condition. “All of the finishes and surfaces of the theater components, from floor to ceiling, have to meet the guidelines of the Interior Secretary’s office, because the building is on the National Historic Register,” Ott explained.
He noted that the renovation process authorization starts with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). After they give their approval, it goes to federal oversight.
“The new doors look just like the old ones including the three submarine circle windows,” he said during a brief update he provided this week to the Tuesday Group. The original handles were re-plated and re-installed. The functional ticket booth will soon be completed.
The new theater seats retain the original cast iron end standards. The other seat components are made of all new materials, provided by the Irwin Seating Co., of Grand Rapids, Mich. That same company manufactured the seats for the U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings, and seats for as many as 33 Broadway theaters in New York City, according to Ott. “So they’re the real deal. They are comfortable, quality chairs,” he said. Matching carpet runners will cover the aisles of the original 83-year-old concrete floor that is newly polished.
“The wall fabric is required to be in kind with the feeling and the look of the theater back in 1936,” he said. “Behind the fabric, acoustic panels were installed to reduce background noise and echoes.”
Ott spends a large amount of his time at the work site overseeing the renovation project as a small army of contractors ascend and descend scaffolding, cut wood trim, paint, and install electrical components.
Ryan Mackie, of Ely’s Burntside Electric, has been at the State Theatre job site for four years. “This has been a long, but good process,” he said. “It is nice to see everything coming together. Every light that turns on is one step closer to being done. I was here when we put the service in. It is nice to see it all come to fruition.”
“We are really close to being ready to open,” Ott said.
New renovations include an extended stage floor for live events, color-changing light fixtures, additional ceiling house lights, sound absorption material on the back wall, concrete ramps near the back to accommodate wheel chairs and/or VIP seating, enlarged projection room windows now allow theatrical spotlights, and a modernized heating and cooling system.
A group of Ely-area supporters, under the name “Ely’s Historic Theatre,” has stepped forward to plan fundraising efforts and to operate the theater as a not-for-profit organization to provide for cinematic and performing arts, according to Ott.
The group’s first fundraiser is an opportunity for community members to make a donation and have an engraved silver nameplate added to a theater seat for a $400 donation. “In 36 characters, you can have your favorite movie, or your name, or a loved one’s name, or just about anything you want,” Ott said. “There are just 234 seats available, so don’t delay.”
Ely’s Historic Theater group includes Cindy Beans, Karen McManus, Brett Ross, Carol Orban, Alana Dore, Denis Miller, Chuck Zeugner, Nancy Tubbs, Patsy Mogush, Steve Schon and Steve Voiles.
“Our goal is to have construction work on the State Theater completed by the end of October,” Ott said. “Work will continue on the Salerno building complex, with another smaller screening theater, and a restaurant or café, over the winter. We want the theater portion to be open in November. We will be pushing to get the concessions area open as soon as possible.”
For more information on the seat nameplate program, email info@elystatetheater,com.


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