Main Street Theatre History
1939-1976 | Parson Era
Freeman & Helen Parson
Freeman and Helen Parson opened the Main Street Theatre on March 30, 1939, on the site of what had been an old feed store. Freeman and Helen owned the theater for 37 years, until June 28, 1976, when they sold it to Robert (Bob) and Mary Douvier.
The opening movie in 1939 was The Young In Heart, starring Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Beverly Gray, Ticket Seller
One of the Main Street Theatre’s first ticket sellers was Beverly Gray, who started working at the theater at the age of 18. Her first night at work was in 1941, during the showing of Buck Privates, starring Abbott and Costello, who were the number one box office draw in those years. At that time tickets for $0.18 and pennies were part of every transaction. Beverly said the line of customers was around the block. She made the theater her career and went on to work and even manage the theater for more than 40 years.
Original seating capacity was 512 in the single auditorium, and in the theater’s infancy, many shows played to packed houses. The theater hosted two shows nightly and changed movies three-times-a-week. After the advent of TV, the theater audience began to dwindle. The original single-screen auditorium remained the only screen for almost 50 years.
Events & Features
In the 1950s and 1960s there was a stage in front of the screen which was used for several events including the announcing of the Dairy Princess for “Pride of Main Street Butter Day”, now known as “Sinclair Lewis Days”.
On July 7, 1960 the world premiere of Elmer Gantry, a movie based on the book by Nobel Prize-winning author and Sauk Centre-native Sinclair Lewis, took place at the theater. Attending was Dorothy Thompson, famous journalist and Lewis’ second wife, divorced in 1942 after fourteen years of marriage.
The Main Street Theatre was one of the first to introduce air conditioning to the public in the early 1960s, and also one of the first theaters to offer a crying room for young parents’ toddlers and infants.
1976-Present | Douvier Era
In 1979, Bob and Mary Douvier decided the original 38-inches in between rows of seats was not very comfortable and installed new seats with 42-inches between rows, bringing the capacity of the auditorium to 288. In 1988 a second screen was added when a space opened up next door. This 90-seat auditorium allowed the theater to play more variety and hold over blockbusters for extra nights.
Additional theaters and screens were added, one in 1993 and another in 1997. Two upstairs auditoriums were added in 2004, bringing the total number of screens to six.
In the 1980s Dolby Stereo Surround Sound was introduced to the industry and the Main Street Theatre followed suit. Now sound could come at you from five different directions making the movies more realistic.
In 2005 the theater installed its first digital projector, and by 2013 more than 90% of all movies were released digitally, making 35mm film obsolete.
While one of Bob and Mary’s sons, Jesse, had been working at the theater since he was a child, he took over the Main Street Theatre business fully in 2016. In 2017, Jesse retrofitted the auditoriums once more with rockers, bringing today’s capacity to 220 for the original auditorium.
In 2013, the Main Street Theatre hosted an advance showing of an independent film, Walking with the Enemy, starring Ben Kingsly, Jonas Armstrong, and Hannah Tointon. The then-unreleased film was brought to the Main Street Theatre in Sauk Centre to gauge the opinions of a small Midwestern town audience.
Building Style | Art Deco
Art Deco style was first introduced to the world at the 1925 International Art Exhibit in Paris. This style played heavily into the buildings that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed in the United States during the Great Depression, 1929-1939.
With the structure of the Main Street Theatre being designed in the late 1930s, Art Deco played a key role in its style.
Art Deco architecture is characterized by hard-edged, often richly embellished designs, accentuated by gleaming metal accents. Many Art Deco buildings have a vertical emphasis intended to draw the eye upward. Rectangular, often blocky forms are arranged geometrically, with the addition of rooftop spires and/or curved ornamental elements to provide a streamlined effect.
These features can be seen in the brick face of the Main Street Theatre, as well as the neon marquee which reaches up to the sky with a rainbow shooting star. The underside of the marquee is lined with hundreds of single lights.
The unique marquee is meant to represent an open book of Main Street to capitalize on Sauk Centre’s favorite son, the world-famous author and Nobel Prize-winning Sinclair Lewis.
A recent grant from the State of Minnesota has allowed the face of the building to be restored in the Art Deco style.