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When a Twin Cimovie theater adsties movie theater vanishes it takes neighborhood history with it

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When a Twin Cities movie theater vanishes, it takes neighborhood history with it

The Westgate, like all the other small neighborhood theaters, told thousands of stories to thousands of people. The day the doors were locked was the day the neighborhood lost a piece of its identity.

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In the March of , with high hopes, Hal Ashbys Harold and Maudewas booked after a disastrous first run at the World Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was also a disaster nationwide, pulled from theaters after only a couple of weeks and left to be forgotten and it would have been except for the Westgate.

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But it wasnt enough. The Westgate killed the lights in . The cade was stripped of its theatrical ornamentation and it was remade into a dry cleaning shop.

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The story behind Westgate Theater, a movie house for what was once the streetcar suburb of Morningside.

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Owner Carl Fust, whod been an insurance agent, and before that a violinist for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, called the theater his retirement project. On its debut, he hired a small orchestra, which he conducted.

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With its seats, the theater was half the of the Edina Theater, just six blocks away. The larger theater got the big pictures everyone wanted to see; the Westgate got the leftovers.

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Watch out, Guthrie These suburban theaters are breaking into the big leagues

FileIn later years, Westgate ran overlooked films, but the neighborhood protested after two years of Harold and Maude, top. After it closed, the theater was stripped of its marquee, middle. Actress Tippi Hedren, who grew up in Morningside, visited the theater.

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Movies changed weekly and the theater just survived. This changed in , when an overlooked comedy by Mel Brooks, TheTwelve Chairs, opened and played for an incredible weeks. Then in another overlooked comedy, Wheres Poppa?, played for an unheardof weeks. The Westgate was getting a reputation for saving small overlooked films.

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Not every movie theater deserves an elegy. But small neighborhood theaters do. They played a role that no other community business could perform They were embassies of the world beyond, a place where you could immerse yourself in the jokes and tropes of the day, where youd see News of the World! and worry about Hitler, then laugh your way through a comic short before settling in for the feature film.

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It looks like it used to be something other than a dry cleaners shop.

Now the block is slated for demolition and redevelopment; a residential project has been announced for the site. Cant say when the old building will disappear, but if youre in the mood to say rewell, dont wait.

By the end of , Fust was in iling heath. He died the next year and his retirement project was purchased by the owners of the Edina.

In later years, Westgate ran overlooked films, but the neighborhood protested after two years of Harold and Maude.

By the time the movie went into its third year, indignant Minnesotans had had enough, and they picketed the theater. The marquee finally changed in , and the new hits played Silver Streak, Annie Hall.

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It did. It was the Westgate Theater, a movie house for what was then the streetcar suburb of Morningside.

At least it had a good pedigree It was designed by the firm of Liebenberg and Kaplan, a Minneapolis architectural firm considered the masters of s .

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If you were to find yourself at the intersection of Sunnyside Road and France Avenue S. to grab a burger at the Convention Grill or pick up a slice at Hello Pizza you might wonder about the building across the street. A structure, painted white, with no particular distinguishing except for the big square cade.

Youre thinking OK, great, nostalgia, history, community, all that, but come on. Rockerback seats reserved online, Dolby sound, digital projection. Its better now.

When it opened in , the modest Westgate merited just a few lines in the Minneapolis Star. The theater embodies the latest in design, including such features as exterior and interior indistinct lighting as well as the latest in cooling and air conditioning.


For example Morningside had one police officer, according to the Edina Historical Societys history of the Westgate. He patrolled the neighborhood until his retirement at age . If duties were light, hed head over to the theater for a break. His wife took the police calls at their home, so if he was needed, shed know what to do Call the manager, ask him to go tap George on the shoulder.

In the s and s, neighborhood theaters were fell one by one. They couldnt compete with the theaters in the suburbs, which had larger screens and more parking. To survive, the Westgate came up with a gimmick It played one movie the same movie. Every day. For years.

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For years, the Westgate was just one of many small neighborhood theaters, but it served a role in the community. The Edina Historical Society the suburb absorbed Morningside in collected some memories of the theater, and its the stuff of small towns.

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