Alhambra, Doric, and West Theaters

The Alhambra Theater photographed ca. 1913 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

Alhambra: 321 Central Ave. | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1913 | Extant

Carl Beier opened the Alhambra Theater along Central Avenue in West Duluth in 1913, initially billing the theater as a vaudeville house but also showing movies by Universal Pictures and Mutual Features in its small but highly decorative auditorium. The building itself was a simple brick box, its front façade adorned with a large arched opening adorned with terra-cotta ornamentation—not very grand, but the first dedicated theater building to grace West Duluth. Beier had previously managed similar theaters, including the Sunbeam in downtown Duluth and the West End’s Star.

The Alhambra’s auditorium photographed ca. 1913 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

Under Beier’s management, the Alhambra often offered home-grown entertainment, including tenor Frank S. Novak and plays produced by the Young People’s Society of Hazelwood Presbyterian Church. When brothers Sidney and Ernest Blackmoor purchased the Alhambra in 1921, they installed a house orchestra with Sidney’s wife Ivy, as its organist. The Blackmore brothers also owned the Diamond Theater, a downtown movie house at Twenty-Eight East Superior Street. In 1925 they changed the Alhambra’s name to the State Theater, only to close the facility three years later. By 1930 the building had become the offices of jeweler William Skogg and later his brother, optometrist Albin Skogg. During World War II the building changed hands, becoming home to the Burnett Fur Co. It spent some time vacant and later served as the office of a weekly newspaper before it became Duluth’s St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store and later a quilt store, consignment shop, and sewing center. It is currently vacant.

The Alhambra certainly wasn’t the only movie house to serve West Duluth over the years. The Doric opened at 5713 Grand Avenue in 1925 with seating for eight hundred; in 1955 the theater closed and the building was remodeled as an office complex.

The Doric Theaterphotographed ca. 1919 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

The West opened in 1937 at 317 North Central Avenue, right next to the Alhambra. After a 1966 remodeling it was renamed the Duluth and primarily showed popular second-run movies that stayed in the theater for months, including The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago. Later the theater showed a variety of films, including some considered pornographic, and was sometimes called the “Duluth Spirit Valley Theatre” before closing in the 1970s. In 2019 Duluthian Bob Boone, longtime publisher of the Northland Reader weekly newspaper, completed a two-year renovation of the theater, reopening it as a movie house and live performance space that contains a great deal of old-school charm.

The West Theater ca. 1940, photographer unknown. [Image: Cinema Treasures]