By Erin Beene
The year was 1964. Those that were around could share some stories about The Beatles, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other major historical events that changed life and culture. But in one small town in North Dakota there was a tiny, yet significant, event that took place. The Oak Park Theater, located at 1500 4th Avenue NW, opened on March 18 and premiered Elvis Presley’s movie, Kissin’ Cousins.
Since that date almost 60 years ago, the Oak Park Theater has shown thousands of movies and been through some pretty extensive changes and renovations. A quick look back into the history of the building itself will explain that in the 1960s & 70s the theater showed matinee showings for only $.75 per ticket! They showed classic films like The Hindenburg, starring George C Scott and Anne Bancroft, and the animated The Phantom Tollbooth, directed by the venerable Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame.
Current Oak Park Theater owner, Al Schon, described the theater back then, saying, “Back in the late 60s, the Oak Park Theater would have all-night shows on Saturday nights in the summer. The all-night shows tended to get a bit rowdy causing the theater to stop having them.”
By 1980 the theater was shut down and converted into a pool hall. “In 2000, it was then remodeled back into a theater seating 500 showing sub-run movies. It showed two features a day with separate admissions for each film. There was also a party room for birthdays and special occasions,” explained Schon.
Since 2000, Schon has managed and operated the Oak Park Theater with success due to his vast experience in the theater business. Unfortunately, that took a rough turn when the theater flooded out during the devastating Minot flood of 2011. The flood caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the community and the Oak Park Theater was among the many businesses that were rendered useless after.
With much dedication, the Oak Park Theater reopened its doors in 2017 when Schon bought the place. The theater had a new smaller seating design but offered a new atmosphere. Since then, the theater has shown sub-run movies, which Schon explained to be movies that are, “lower cost by waiting until the terms (percentage per ticket) of the movie come down in price making it affordable to run at a reduced ticket price usually 45-60 [days] later than a first run picture.”
Schon said business was great for the first few years, but in 2020 and the pandemic onset, things again took a turn. He said, “Since then it has become a slow recovery because of the studio releases not being what they used to be and the new screening platforms that arrived during the Covid years.”
Today the Oak Park Theater shows movies weekly and posts movie titles and show times on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/OakParkTheaterMinot. They are also available for groups to rent out the entire theater and are often flexible on what movies can be shown for a very affordable price. According to Schon, the theater is also considered an art house venue, which means they present some other performances other than movies like Blues concerts, festivals, church rentals, etc.
The Oak Park Theater is also a proud supporter of MAFB and its organizations by donating to many squadron Holiday parties, and base events. For the Month of the Military Child in April, Schon plans to work with the Northern Sentry and offer military kids a free movie event.
Schon has decades of experience operating movie theaters and has inquired on what it would take to acquire the use of the shut-down movie theater on MAFB to offer movies to the base population. Talks are still in the works, but only time will tell what next great project Al Schon at the Oak Park Theater will accomplish.
Experience a little bit of Minot history and head over to the Oak Park Theater where you can take the whole family, get affordable movie snacks and maybe see Al Schon at the ticket counter smiling and saying hello.