The Grand (aka Lyric) Theatre

Left to Right: The New Grand photographed in 1914 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]; the New Lyric in 1929, photographer unknown. [Image: Jim Heffernan]; the Lyric photographed in 1940 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

213 West Superior Street | Architects: Wangenstein & Giliuson | b. 1914 | Lost: 1976

Operated by brothers Arthur and Oscar Lillidale, Duluth’s first Grand Theater opened in November 1912 at 5505 Grand Avenue in West Duluth, initially offering motion pictures as well as live performances by the Sherman Kelly Stock Company. The Grand survived for just two years, but its name forced Mose and Barney Cook—who owned the Palace Theater across the bay in Superior—to name their 1914 Duluth theater at 213 West Superior Street the New Grand.

When the theater opened in August 1914, the Duluth Herald praised the facility as “one of the finest in the state in point of arrangement, architecture, and interior decorations.” John J. Wangenstein and Ephraim Giliuson drew up a French Renaissance building faced in brick and terra-cotta with Neoclassical details including semi-fluted columns. A canopy of steel and glass covered the arched mahogany doors fitted with glass panels bound in brass, while the entry vestibule featured arched ceilings and carved marble panels.

Inside, the auditorium sat 1,200 patrons and its owners boasted that the seats were “of unusual comfort” and perfectly arranged to ensure there was not a bad view in the house. Its stage—forty feet wide and thirty-five deep—was equipped with seven sets of scenery, and a fireproof asbestos curtain that weighed 1,500 pounds. The curtain featured a reproduction of Jean-Baptiste Corot’s “Dance of the Nymphs” while a painting of Apollo riding Pegasus adorned the proscenium arch. Fifteen private boxes ringed the theater above the house seats and below the balcony.

Patrons were promised three vaudeville shows a day, a matinee and two evening performances, as well as “‘Movies’ of the most approved manner.” Since children under four were not permitted to attend performances, the facility included a nursery and playroom overseen by a matron; parents could drop off their kids at the “children’s playground” and enjoy the show.

Bookings were first arranged by the Sullivan-Considine vaudeville circuit and then by the Western Vaudeville Association, but the theater struggled to compete with the Lyceum and Orpheum as far as drawing top-notch national acts. In 1919 the Cook brothers merged their enterprise with the Twin City Amusement Company, new owners of the Garrick and Lyric Theaters, to form the Duluth Amusement Company. The company renamed the Lyric the New Lyric, the Garrick the New Garrick, and the Palace the New Palace. Three years later it closed the New Lyric, remodeled the New Grand, and reopened it as the New Lyric, a dedicated motion-picture house. The building’s exterior was refitted with a new entryway and a vertical sign that spelled out its name in lights.

The Duluth News Tribune warned former patrons they would not recognize the place, as it had been “entirely recarpeted, redecorated from pit to dome, new tapestries, hangings—everything associated with a first-class exclusive first-run photoplay house has been done to make the New Lyric Duluth’s finest photoplay theatre.” It reopened screening I am the Law, “unquestionably the greatest picture of the North ever made,” and a performance by the Kilties, a group of bagpipers. In 1932 the theater’s name was simplified to the Lyric. Eight years later the Minnesota Amusement Company, which had acquired the Lyric along with the Garrick, gave the theater a makeover. Its exterior brickwork was covered with white paint and a new awning and marquee were placed over the entrance.

Long-time Duluth News Tribune & Herald entertainment reporter Jim Heffernan recalled that by the 1950s the theater was showing “second- or third-run double features” that set adults back a quarter while kids under twelve paid twelve cents; popcorn cost a dime—prices nearly identical to those charged when the theater first opened in 1914. It closed in 1959 and thereafter sat vacant. In 1965 the Duluth Herald called the theater’s marquee “an eyesore [serving] no purpose other than a roosting place for pigeons”; it was removed and hauled to a landfill that same year.

The building itself came down in March of 1976, along with eight others. They were replaced by the Normandy Mall, hotel, and parking ramp. Those buildings are now the Holiday Center and Holiday Inn. The hotel’s restaurant is named the Lyric.