Theater’s history continues to unfold

The Marion Ross Performing Arts Center in downtown Albert Lea continues a rich and compelling history with plays, concerts and other events throughout the year. In fact, Albert Lea Community Theatre (ACT) sold nearly 7,000 tickets to events during the 2022-’23 season.

The City of Albert Lea owns this historic building and contracts ACT to manage it.

The Masons (Western Star Lodge 26) and the Albert Lea’s Firemen’s Relief Association built the structure at 147 N. Broadway Ave. in 1908. In 1919, the Firemen’s Association sold its interest in the building to the Masons, who continue to meet upstairs.

The lower level has served in varying capacities over the years, including sleeping quarters for firefighters, a venue for vaudeville shows, a temporary hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic, and a teen center.

In the late 1970s, the Masons sold the building for $1 to the city, which was working with ACT to find a theater space. The local theater group started in 1965 and performed at the Southwest School Little Theater. With more events being scheduled at the school, ACT sought help from the city in finding a more permanent home.

After considering other locations, the city decided the downtown building was the best option and made a deal with the Masons. The city and ACT partnered to remodel the building, which opened as a community theater in 1981. The building was named the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center in 2008 after Albert Lea native and actress Marion Ross of the hit TV show “Happy Days.”

“The Albert Lea Community Theatre manages the Marion Ross for the City of Albert Lea, and it is a partnership that we highly value,” Kristan Dye, ACT vice president, said at a recent open house on the referendum to fund projects at the theater and other rec facilities.

“With its passage, the referendum will allow us to make our front entry ADA compliant, update our HVAC system, replace the front windows, and update to LED lighting,” she added.

ACT had pledged $25,000 toward the $360,000 in projects proposed for the theater. Albert Lea voters will decide April 9 on $9.8 million to improve the theater, Splash Pad, Aquatic Center and City Arena.

The Masons built the structure at 147 N. Broadway Ave. in 1908. They continue to meet upstairs while Albert Lea Community Theatre offers a variety of events downstairs.

The downtown theater, which seats 255 people for events, is named after Marion Ross, an actress who grew up in Albert Lea and gained fame in the hit TV show “Happy Days.”