Effort underway to bring historic theater back to life
Cindy and Craig LaBrie stand next to interior architectural plans for the restoration of the historic Redwood Theatre building. Photo by Steve Palmer
The old Redwood Theatre building on Mill Street in Redwood Falls has a chance to return to its glory days if a group of preservationists who purchased the structure and are passionate about movies and the arts become successful with plans to refurbish the historic property into a modern day movie theater.
The Redwood Theatre Group LLC is the brainchild of Redwood Falls natives Craig and Cindy LaBrie. The LaBries are joined by Paul Warshauer of New Ulm and Shon and Tina Giernet, also of Redwood Falls. Warshauer is the executive director of the State Street Theater in New Ulm and is also a historic real estate developer. The Giernets are the previous owners of the Redwood Theatre building.
Together they are counting on community support to help a vision come true for the 84-year-old building to once again be the pride of downtown. The goal is to have the restored theater become an example for revitalizing other buildings and encourage business development.
Originally built in 1931 by D.W. Buckley, the Redwood Theatre was one of the earliest venues in Minnesota equipped with sound. “The theater was very stylish, a state-of-the-art facility and a real jewel of its time,” said Craig LaBrie.
According to Craig, Buckley also built and owned a second theater, The Falls, a couple of blocks away in 1937 and also erected the 71 Drive-In Theater on the east edge of town. The Falls Theater showed movies during the weekdays while the Redwood Theatre showed movies only on the weekend. During the summer, the Redwood Theater was closed while the 71 Drive-In was in operation.
“The Buckleys were known as the movie family in town, and he also once owned theaters in Fairfax and Olivia as well,” Craig said.
The original Redwood Theatre provided a seating capacity of nearly 800. The theater was decorated using orchid and green damask wall draperies under a rolling plaster ceiling. The theater also had overstuffed furniture and decorative lighting in addition to having air-conditioning and heat for the patrons. The marquee had more than 1,000 lights which flickered on and off in a traveling pattern.
After the Redwood Theatre closed in the late ‘60s, it sat empty for nearly 10 years before it was sold and became a racquetball club and health fitness venue for nearly 20 more years before it became vacant again.
“The great thing about this building is that when it was converted into a racquetball club with two courts in the late 70’s, almost everything except for the silver screen and seats remained intact and was just covered up,” Craig explained. “We’re excited to see what original details can be included in the new design.”
The plan is to restore the theater at an estimated cost of $1.2 million and be open to the public by Memorial Day weekend of 2017.
Currently the theater group is putting plans in motion to establish a nonprofit Friends of the Redwood network of volunteers and donors. The projected schedule calls for one-year of fundraising to have a budget in place for the following nine months of construction.
Once completed, the primary vision is to use the theater as a multi-function venue for first run digital motion pictures and special themed classic or holiday movie experiences.
The secondary use would be to utilize the theater as a live performance venue.
Cindy LaBrie, who is also an officer of the corporation, said that when she and Craig moved back to town a couple of years ago they wanted to do something to help the downtown business district.
“We bought the former Wilson Clothing building and started working on that, but getting the theater has been pretty exciting,” she stated. “We didn’t think it would come up for sale, and we thought if we didn’t try to do something to restore this property it might have ended up being used for storage or some other kind of occupancy rather than becoming a nostalgic, restored theater,” she added.
The group is looking for individuals who love the movies or historic properties and are excited about revitalizing the downtown. “We’d like to have them serve on the board and help operate the theater and become more involved,” Craig stated.