Oak Park Theater in Minot has been vacant almost as long as I can remember. I was born and raised in Minot, and I attended quite a few movies in this theater as a kid. I saw Jaws here (through my fingers, because my hands were clasped over my face every time that music started…. duuuuuuh duh), the forgettable ensemble movie Earthquake, Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and most notably, Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in 1977. By the time The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters in 1980, Oak Park Theater had fallen out of favor and Cine 5 at Dakota Square Mall was the new place to see a movie. For most of my young adult life, I remember this theater, and the strip mall in the same parking lot, as a vacant, derelict facility in somewhat sad condition.
The building has been used off and on over the years since then (as a church, a pool hall, and a discount theater), but has stood largely unused of late with only the memories of locals to color the tale — remembrances of the sparkling, lighted star atop the pole out front, and lines of people stretching across the parking lot, waiting to get in. After a showing, moviegoers in the balcony could exit out the door on the south side of the building, and it was always a shock to push open the door and emerge on the metal staircase into the cool night air.
The era of the multiplex called an end to Oak Park Theater, but unlike the Empire Theater in downtown Minot (which was a paradise paved to put up a parking lot), the Oak Park Theater has managed to avoid the wrecking ball all these years, and now, nearly four decades later, this old lady might be poised for a comeback.
According to the Minot Daily News, a Minot businessman has plans to re-open the Oak Park Theater in June of 2016 after a sizeable renovation and expansion. Plans include adding a second screen, and the renovated Oak Park Theater will become a theater for discount movies, indie features, film festivals, and onscreen gaming.
Do you have memories of Oak Park Theater? Please leave a comment below.
These photos were taken in November of 2014.
Photos by Troy Larson, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy