By John Lauritsen

RED WING, Minn. (WCCO) — It has survived fires and explosions, and now, the stage is set for the return of the Sheldon Theatre.

The 114-year-old theater is the second-oldest, city-owned theater in the country.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Red Wing to show us why the Sheldon is primed for another century of live entertainment.

Red Wing, Minnesota is a scenic town situated along the Mississippi River.

There’s no shortage of history there, but it’s one building in particular that’s brought generations together.

“Our downtown is really anchored by the Sheldon Theatre. Without it we’d be a totally different downtown,” said Downtown Main Street executive director Megan Tsui.

When Theodore B. Sheldon passed away, he left an $83,000 estate gift to the city to be used for public good.

His widow Annie, suggested a theater. So in 1904, the Sheldon took center stage.

“It would have been light operas and touring companies that were coming through by train. Between Chicago and Minneapolis–we were right on that route,” said Sheldon’s executive director, Bonnie Schock.

The theater featured opera and vaudeville, and for decades, it also played movies.

There have been several “the show must go on” moments throughout the theater’s history. In 1918, a fire started by a cigarette destroyed much of the inside, and at a ceremony launching a renovation project in 1988, the unthinkable happened.

“At that exact moment, a welder’s torch ignited and there was a massive explosion that witnesses say blew the front doors open and the roof off several feet into the air,” said Schock.

Each time a tragedy has struck, however, the people of Red Wing have approved funding to rebuild. Now, the latest round of renovations are almost complete– and they’re ready to draw back the curtains once again.

“What we are doing is prepping for our grand re-opening,” said Marybess Goeppinger.

Goeppinger is one of hundreds of volunteers who’ve kept the Sheldon going over the years. And every volunteer has a good reason for giving back.

“We have had all of our children in plays on the Sheldon stage. From the time our little one was in second grade all the way through high school,” said Goeppinger.

There are new studios, carpeting and even new restrooms. There’s touch-ups to the paintings and seats. The lobby also got a makeover, but remains a tribute to Annie Sheldon’s favorite composers and artists. Even if Rembrandt’s name is spelled wrong, it’s still beautifully imperfect.

“With this re-opening season we have season tickets to nine events. It’s that good,” said Tsui.

With performers like The Revolution, Louie Anderson and Shawn Colvin on the way, fans know the Sheldon’s next act is important. Living in a time when technology plays a leading role, they want the theater to be an escape.

“My hope for the future is that we set the stage for the next generation of Red Wing and regional residents. Kids all the way up to seniors to enjoy the wonder that is the collective experience of live performance,” said Schock.

The Sheldon has been closed since May and will re-open on Saturday, Sept. 29th.

Master of Ceremonies will be former WCCO anchor Don Shelby.

John Lauritsen