History of The Sheldon Theatre
The public/private partnership that created
the Sheldon Theatre began at the start of the twentieth century when
Theodore B. Sheldon, a successful businessman and Red Wing City Council
member, bestowed $83,000 in trust to the City of Red Wing. Along with
the funds, he stipulated that the money was to be used to develop a
public institution for "some public benefit but nonsectarian purpose in
the said City of Red Wing."
The trust directors, including Sheldon's second wife
Annie, decided upon a theater — the first municipally owned theater in
the United States. In 1904, four years after Sheldon's passing,
construction was complete on the T. B. Sheldon Memorial Auditorium.
When the theatre first opened, the interior was such a
celebration of arches, delicate plaster sculpture, decorative painting
and many other rich detail elements that it caused The Sheldon to be
described as a "jewel box." This grand venue played host to large
traveling shows, which were prevalent in those days.
But the 1929 stock market crash and the advent of
films led to the demise of such entertainment. In 1936, the theater
underwent a major renovation to make it an appropriate venue for
moviegoers. The interior layout was redone and seating was increased. As
time progressed, additional alterations were made, including the
addition of a snack bar in the foyer. Unfortunately, little thought was
given to preserving the fine architectural details of the original
theatre during this series of changes.
In the 1970s, as competition from multi-screen movie
houses and television increased and The Sheldon's operating revenues
decreased, the city began to consider alternative uses for the theater.
A special task force in 1984 began to study the idea
of restoring the theater to its original elegance and using it as a home
for live performing arts. In 1986, the citizens of Red Wing passed, by
an 85% majority of the vote, a $1.5 million bond issue to help fund the
restoration of the theater. An additional $2 million was raised through
private contributions, In all $3.5 million was generated for the
restoration of the theater and the endowment of its future. The theater
was closed to the public and restoration began in 1986.
The totally-restored Sheldon Theatre again opened its
doors to the public, this time as a showcase for the best local,
regional and national arts and entertainment. Because the original
second and third floor gallery area were converted to a multi-image
screening facility and technical area, theater seating has been reduced
to 466 seats. But in every other aspect, the theater has returned to its
original 1904 design.