117-year-old Red Wing’s Sheldon theater persists


Red Wing is an idyllic Hallmark movie. This is largely due to the fact that the hamlet, as famous for its boots as it is for its pottery, has retained most of its historic places. Case in point: the 117-year-old Sheldon Theater of Performing Arts. The 468-seat jewelry box has been a vaudeville theater and movie theater, and today is a center for concerts and the performing arts. Oh, and it persisted – surviving two world wars, the 1918 flu, the Great Depression and COVID-19. Not to mention disasters. “The Sheldon burned twice and exploded once,” said the theater’s new executive director, Jeff Larson. But, to the delight of the residents of Red Wing, he still stands and continues to play.

The theater was built in the early part of the 20th century, after Red Wing City Council member Theodore B. Sheldon left the city $ 83,000, claiming he had to create something to benefit Red Wing and of his community. Trusted directors have landed in a theater. The Sheldon, completed in 1904, became the country’s first municipal theater west of the Mississippi – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The theater, still in its original location, has undergone a series of renovations, the last completed in 2018. “A lot of tragic things have been done to the space over the years,” Larson says. “They covered much of the classic vaudeville architecture.” Now the restored proscenium murals and paintings, renovated masonry details, and new (but historically accurate) flooring can survive.

The fall program begins with the History Theater Glensheen, followed by concerts by The New Standards and The Okee Dokee Brothers. Other highlights? Minnesota comedians, musicians, and film screenings, to name a few. “A lot of shows are carried over from the 2020-21 season, as well as favorite shows to welcome people back,” Larson said.

Larson says many Red Wing residents have a close personal relationship with the theater. “I’m trying to get the idea that this is the Red Wing lounge, it’s where people come together and hang out,” he says. “A lot of people come here because that’s what you do here. It’s a beautiful room, it’s a great place to see your neighbors, and what you see on stage is a bonus.

Planning a fall trip to Red Wing? The theater is open daily for guided and self-guided tours so guests can learn more about its historic past. (We won’t ruin the whole tour, but you’ll want to hear about this blast.)

To purchase tickets for a show, visit sheldontheatre.org.

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