NorShor Theatre

The tower of the NorShor Theatre looking out over Lake Superior, year unknown. (Image: Zenith City Press)
207-213 East Superior Street | Architect: Giliuson, Ellingsen and Erickson (1926); Liebenberg and Kaplan (1941)
Built: 1926, | Extant

This is a large, three-story theater building with a rectangular plan on a deep lot. The primary façade of variegated brown brick and off-white terra cotta faces onto Superior Street with side walls composed of common brick. The building was constructed in 1926 as a service and office building for the Orpheum Theatre, but significant interior and exterior renovations in 1941 converted the building to the Art Deco NorShor Theater, moving the stage of the Orpheum into the NorShor. The south façade is divided into four bays by flat, projecting full-height piers. The first floor level is composed of three storefronts in the first, second and fourth bays, while the third bay is filled by the entrance to the theater and its large projecting marquee.

Flat, off-white terra cotta blocks laid in a running bond pattern are used at the first floor level and frame the storefronts, enlivened by decorative shields at the top of each first floor pier. Of the remaining storefronts, only the second bay retains the original materials and fenestration, with two large bronze frame plate glass windows framing a recessed entry with a wood frame single-light door and hexagonal mosaic pavement. The transom strip is formed from multiple fixed lights with a linear design in metal foil. The other storefronts have been altered through the integration of new aluminum storefront windows and entry doors, black Cararra glass bulkheads, and plywood signage over the transom lights. The theater entrance was altered along with the entire third bay in 1941 as a result of a major remodeling by Liebenberg and Kaplan. Five new wood frame entry doors with decorative glazing covered in etched curviform designs are framed by black and white panels in a diamond or harlequin pattern.

The transom level is devoted to full-width changeable display signage below a projecting half round-lighted marquee topped by lighted freestanding metal letters spelling “NOR SHOR.” The bays of the second and third floor are virtually identical, with the exception of the remodeled third bay. Each bay is subdivided into three smaller bays by a thin brick pier that runs from the second floor to the parapet. Each small bays is filled by a pair of 1/1 wood frame double hung windows with a off-white terra cotta sill and brick head formed from a course of brick soldiers. The third floor is separated from the tall brick parapet by a simply angled terra cotta string course that contains small projecting angled caps for the brick piers below. The parapet is divided into four bays by terra cotta piers that continue the line of the brick piers on the floors below. A small cast keyhole form decorates the top of each pier below a projecting angled cap that is enlivened with two, thin vertically-oriented fins. Each bay is visually subdivided into three bays by five vertical stacks of brick headers that continue the line of the projecting brick piers below. A row of headers terminated the parapet below a terra cotta coping.

The entire third bay that forms the entrance to the theater was modified by a remodeling in 1941 which consisted primarily of cream enameled metal panels covering the entire façade at the third bay. A small V-shaped projecting “spine” extends the length of the second to the third floors in the center of the bay, with ribbed glass panels used as infill on both sides of the projection. The bay was topped by a massive decorative tower composed of enameled metal panels arranged in spaced vertical strips to form a roughly cylindrical shape bisected by a vertical rectangular plane. The tower was capped with a small cylindrical glass cupola, which perched above large neon letters that read “NOR SHOR” on both the east and west faces of the tower. The tower was removed in its entirety in 1961. The interior was also remodeled in 1941 to imbue it with a more contemporary flavor that incorporates references to Art Deco, Art Moderne, and the works of the WPA.

The entrance vestibule was reworked to incorporate new terrazzo flooring with polished marble and granite panels applied to the walls. The main lobby was modified through the insertion of two large, freestanding spiral staircases leading to a lounge on the second floor. Four small, inset cast plaster panels depicting “the Arts” personified decorate the lobby walls, and the double entry doors to the theater auditorium are covered in red leather and brass tacks applied to create stylized floriform patterns both on the doors and the surrounds. The main level of the auditorium was repainted with two large murals of classical nude females each set into a circular stepped frame, while angled exit walls flanking the proscenium are covered with overscaled, abstracted, floriform plaster appliqués.

At the second floor level the remodeled lounge area is composed of two levels that lead up to the balcony. The northernmost wall of the lower level curves gently to accommodate one of the spiral staircases, and is covered with a series of highly stylized cast plaster figures presenting the icons and industries that defined Duluth, including shipping, fishing, and mining, as well as the Aerial Lift Bridge. The interior has been further altered through renovations in 1998 which divided the large single theater with a balcony into two smaller and separate performance venues, and converted the lounge into a bar and performance space.

Sources:

  • Koop, Michael. “National Register of Historic Places Registration for the Duluth Commercial Historic District.” Minnesota State Office of Historic Preservation, St. Paul: 2005.
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