NEGAUNEE - The Vista Theater now stands alone as an entertainment venue in downtown Negaunee, but it wasn't always that way.
In fact, the building was constructed because its owner wanted to outdo the six other movie houses in Negaunee at the time.
"Jafet Rytkonen wanted to bring the biggest, grandest theater here," said Al Keefer, director of the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council, the organization which now owns the Vista. "He wanted to build a theater bigger than anyone else's."
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Rytkonen even sponsored a special contest to get the public excited.
"He offered $25 in gold for the naming of the theater," Keefer said.
Negaunee already had theaters named Electric, Bijou, Grand, Wonderland, Star and Royal. Miss Mae Duchane of Negaunee was the winner with her suggestion, The Vista.
Since 1926, the Vista has stood on Iron Street. For many years, it was more than movie house showing the theatrical releases.
"It was THE theater, not just for movies, but for vaudeville acts," Keefer said. "We have costume rooms under the stage because of that. That's something other theaters don't have."
The Vista continued to be a movie house through about 1972, then closed. In stepped PAAC, formed by people who didn't want the final theater to vanish. PAAC acquired the property in 1973. Since then, the efforts have been to restore the building, which needed quite a bit of work.
But the emphasis was to keep the original flavor whenever possible. The Vista acquired historical status in 2005.
Keefer is enamored with the building.
"When you look at the Vista, you see a mix of styles," Keefer said. "There is pre-art deco and art deco styles mixed. It's beautiful."
Bit by bit, the restoration effort has continued through the years.
"Next year's project will be the front facade area," Keefer said. "Right now, we're doing more work on the foundations and to upgrading the lights. We're now getting to the aesthetics.
"Engineers have said it's in good condition, this building, so that was great to hear," he said. 'There was some damage when the building was abandoned but we're working on that."
Phase one of the Vista restoration included a new insulated roof being installed with a rubberized covering. The back doors to the theater were replaced with new doors and have new hardware on them. The windows and doors on the front of the building were done, taken out and repaired back to their original condition, except with new hardware for closing. If the window was meant to open, it does. There are storm windows on the inside, to preserve the historical look of the theater. Any glass that was replaced recently will be replaced with restoration glass.
As the work continues, little features throughout the building highlight the Vista's unique qualities.
"The tapestries on the walls. Those are special," Keefer said. "We have kept those and accented those."
One thing especially appealing about the Vista - and which enhances the live theater performances that take place there in nearly all but the winter months - is the acoustics.
"This is my favorite theater to work in. The acoustics are so great," Keefer said. "Vocalists will tell you this is the best venue for them."
PAAC continues to raise funds toward restoration, operating a Thrift Store in what was known for years as the Vista Annex, right next door to the theater.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.