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A Look Back at Wayzata’s Movie Theater

The theater on Lake Street provided a lifetime of memories over its 53 year run.

On July 23, 1932, the Wayzata Theater opened its doors with a screening of The Tenderfoot. The family-run theater owned by Lyle Carisch and Raymond Lee was a mainstay of Lake Street in Wayzata until it closed in 1985.

“Lyle and Ray were very clear about the standards that they wanted to always live by with regards to the pictures that they showed,” said Joanie Holst, vice president of the Wayzata Historical Society. “They wanted families to be able to come to the theater and enjoy a family time together.”

A November 4, 1931 article in the Minnetonka Herald reported that Wayzata may get a talking movie house. After much anticipation, and a very interesting story of how it came to be, the theater opened in 1932.

A theater committee was created and 3,000 residents were surveyed to see if they would support the theater. After a reported 93% replied with “yes,” the theater project moved forward.

Two parties were interested in building a movie theater in Wayzata. Sites were chosen, plans were drawn and licenses and permits were issued by the city. In January 1932, The Minnetonka Herald reported that both parties were moving forward.

Partners Lee and Carisch eventually won out. They hired an architecture and engineering firm that was considered theater experts and used local contractors to build the theater.

Lee and Carisch had grown up in the theater business. Their fathers, O.A. Lee and George Carisch Sr., were friends. O.A. Lee owned The Leola Theater in Minneapolis.

The $30,000 Wayzata Theater was financed with a donation of $2,000 from each of their fathers. The remaining $26,000 was raised by selling gold certificates.

The Wayzata Theater offered 500 plush seats, earphones for the hard of hearing and a crying room. The admission price was 35 cents for adults, 10 cents for children.

When it first opened, the theater didn’t sell concessions. However, movie goers on opening night were offered a free scoop of ice cream at the neighboring Carlton Ice Cream Shop.

The longest running film at the Wayzata Theater was Gone with the Wind in 1939.

At a presentation last Thursday sponsored by Wayzata Historical Society (WHS), the theater’s heating and cooling systems and projectors were discussed. Some of the children of the theater’s partners were present to share information and stories as well.

“The cooling system was made up of a series of vents at the back of the building which could be opened or closed to bring in fresh air from outside,” said Lyle Carisch’s son, George Carisch.

According to Carisch, despite efforts to cool the air with a 360 degree spray from a tank of water, “It was still a very humid affair.”

A large boiler behind the building heated the theater with steam in the winter.

According to Holst, moving from silent movies to talking movies involved more advanced technology. Sound was embedded onto the film, which looked like a wave pattern. Another part of the projector read the sound waves.

“In the projection booth, there were actually two projectors,” said Holst.

At that time, movies were provided on 5-6 reels, which needed to be transitioned between the projectors.

In 1975, the last remodel was done at the Wayzata Theater. The number of seats was decreased from 500 to 400 to increase the comfort level. However, attendance was starting to drop due to the opening of nearby multi-screen theaters and home video rentals.

The last movie shown at the theater was National Lampoon’s European Vacation. The ticket price was $2.

The final event at the Wayzata Theater was the showing of A Day in the Life of Wayzata during James J. Hill Days on September 28, 1985. The theater was demolished on October 7, 1985.

The Carisch family remained in the theater business. According to Holst, by the early 1980s, they owned several theaters in several states. Carisch’s sons, George Jr. and Jerry, ran the theaters after their father retired.

Lee’s daughter Nancy Holter shared stories of ushering people to their seats with flashlights and of her father picking up movies in Minneapolis, making popcorn and running the movie projector.

When George Carisch asked his dad about the Depression and how it affected the theater, he replied, “What Depression?”

“They did very well during that time,” said Carisch. “One theater supported two families very well.”

Carisch also shared stories about the telephone system at the movie theater. The Wayzata Theater’s phone number was Wayzata 1.

When the new building was finished, the Carisch brothers wanted to put the theater marquee back up for their dad. However, it was too damaged to use and they ended up using a replica.

The next WHS program will take place on Wednesday, August 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Meridian Manor in Wayzata. Local author Tom Rockvam will discuss his involvement with the BBC production about The Andrews Sisters. The movie will be shown at the event.

The non-profit WHS was founded in 1982. Its archives, located in the lower level of the Wayzata Library, are open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit www.wayzatahistoricalsociety.org.

Stacie Kvam Carlson September 06, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Sure wish I'd been home to attend this event. I worked at the theater starting in 1973, first selling concessions and tickets and then running the projectors. Lyle Carisch was a wonderful employer, he knew that I was interested in running the projectors and so....he taught me how to build those six small reels onto two large reels, and how to thread the film through those big machines. What a fabulous first job! Evelyn Burke did an article in the Minnetonka Herald around 1975 or so. All of us neighbor kids had a job with Lyle at one time or another! What great memories! Stacie Kvam Carlson

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