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James Fraser sold the Chief to Rogers Cinema of Marshfield, WI in 1985—Rogers did the multiplexing. Rogers sold it to Essaness in 1987. A year later it was bought by Excellence. Carmike bought the Excellence chain in 1994. My information is that Carmike closed the Chief in 1995 when the small multiplex opened at the Burnside mall. I believe that Carmike itself was in the midst of a bankruptcy reorganization at the time. I do not know who the current owner is.
The Chief closed in June, 1960 and was purchased from Jack Wright by Mr. and Mrs. Willis Menge, who had operated theaters in North Dakota, in 1965. The Menges did a lot of work—new seats, carpet, concession stand. They renamed the theater the “Red Wing.” They couldn’t reach a film-sharing agreement with Jim Fraser ,who leased the Auditorium and already owned the Drive-In, so they found themselves in a destructive bidding war with him for ever-decreasing film product. (That, BTW, was Wright’s issue all along). The Menges couldn’t compete and sold out to Fraser, who promptly renamed it the Chief, in 1967. In my research I located only one early photo of the Chief—from opening week in 1939. Its a scan from a nighttime newspaper photo. It’s not great. I’d love to see a good 1940’s photo and especially photos of the interior with its “Indian blanket” carpeting and murals. I’d hoped that publication of my book might elicit something—but nothing yet.
The Chief was built by Walter E. Koehler and partners in 1938 and opened in January 1939. Its initial purpose was to absorb the Sheldon Auditorium’s block-booked B films and show them bargain rates (15 cents). In 1946 John Wright, the Auditorium’s former manager, purchased the Chief and entered into a partnership with Eddie Ruben of Welworth Theaters to jointly operate the Chief and another Red Wing theater, The Metro. Under that arrangement the Chief began showing A features while the Metro became primarily a B and western house. Wright closed the Chief in 1960 amid a long and bitter lawsuit with the city. See my recent book, Thomas Olson, “Sheldon’s Gift: Music, Movies and Melodrama in the Desirable City,” North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2009.
The theater’s architect was Lowell A. Lamoreau. Construction was by J. and W.A. Elliot & Co. It was not the nation’s first municipal theater. The Academy of Music Theater in Northampton, MA. preceded it by 14 years.
The manager who wrote “Boxoffice” reviews was most likely Eddie Swanson who received an award from Boxoffice near the time of his death in late 1955. He was succeeded by James Fraser who may have continued the tradition.
See my recent book,Thomas Olson, “Sheldon’s Gift: Music, Movies and Melodrama in the Desirable City,” NorthStar Press of St. Cloud, 2009.