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Park Theatre owners hope to restore fire-damaged marquee

The sign reads "Open Friday" indicating plans to reopen Park Theatre for showings this weekend. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Scott and Pam Wilson are pushing to reopen Park Theatre for showings this weekend following Monday's fire that damaged the historic marquee.

A crew arrived Tuesday to clean the lobby carpets and walls, along with other areas to the theater due to smoke damage. The basement lobby and restroom area was also cleaned in preparation for Friday's reopening. Other areas of the building not affected by the theater operations will be cleaned early next week.

An estimated 15-20 people were in the theater on Monday, July 24 and were evacuated safely by staff when the fire started in the marquee shortly before 7 p.m. and the Park Rapids Fire Department responded to put the fire out before it reached inside the theater or adjoining buildings.

With plans to reopen this Friday, Scott said there are some things on the marquee they've got to fix and secure for safety purposes as people walk underneath the structure.

As far as repairing, restoring or replacing the marquee, Scott and Pam said they are looking at various options but will first need to wait until their insurance company assesses the claim. They've sent photos to two companies for estimates to repair the structure and expect to hear back from them soon.

"We're still waiting for the companies to give us some ideas of replacements of the marquee," Scott said. "They're looking at giving us some estimates. We are looking at possibly reconstruction of the marquee from the standpoint of the wiring to the metal, and the interior structure of it."

Scott explained there are structural beams coming out of the building and extending directly into the marquee itself providing sound support. The Baehr Building was constructed in 1932 as a movie theater on Main and Scott is optimistic with the sound structural support from the beams they can keep the marquee in place.

"We've got a couple companies looking at it so we're hoping we'll get some ideas and some estimates," he said. "I'm pretty optimistic that we will hopefully get the marquee back up and operating. The biggest thing is the deductibles and things that aren't covered to get there. That's the concern. We've had a lot of support from the community asking what they can do, so we're toying with some ideas there as well."

Community members have reached out to the Wilsons since Monday's fire offering to help with possible fundraising efforts to support the marquee restoration.

The fire started within the marquee, most likely an electrical issue, and did not spread to the inside of the theater or adjacent buildings.

Scott said there is currently no power running to the marquee.

Pam's family has owned the theater since 1984 and she said over the years various repairs have been done and with such an old, delicate structure repairs aren't cheap.

"We've redone the marquee at least three times since I've been here and I've been here over 30 years already. It just takes such a beating from the weather, the sun and the pigeons and all that stuff in the elements."

Damage caused during the fire will require all the electrical work inside the marquee to be replaced and it's unknown at this time the state of the neon elements running throughout the sign.