In the early 1910’s, Jafet Rytkonen was a partner in the Star Theater and Liberty Theaters in Negaunee, but he had a desire for a larger, grander theater. Jafet and his associates traveled to theaters all over the world, taking note of each theater’s best features. He then hired architect David E. Anderson to design “the grandest vaudeville and movie theater north of Milwaukee and east of Minneapolis.” Ground for the theater was broken in 1925. A naming contest was held, and Negaunee resident Mae Duchane provided the winning name. She was awarded $25 in gold. The fifth, and final standing theater to be built in Negaunee, the Vista Theater opened on September 20, 1926.
“A good theater is more than a well-built playhouse. It is a place where good people go to have a good time together, enjoying good entertainment.
Good motion pictures, combined with good music in good surroundings, make the best entertainment in the world. Good business enables them to build better theaters to house
the entertainment, which in turn, is the sure regard of appreciative patrons. Theater is an indispensable factor in the social and business life of the modern community, providing
inspiration, incentive and stimulus to the people. A good theater is a good neighbor for any kind of business institution. It brings people out in the crowds from far and near, and
sends them away from it’s doors pleased. The shops and business houses in the neighborhood of a good theater are invariably well patronized and become the best shops of their
respective kinds. Thus, the best theater in a community is always found to be the hub of the shopping district.” – Jafet Rytkonnen, September 20, 1926
On April 17, 1938, the Vista Theater gained the distinction of being the first theater in the nation to screen a Finnish language film by showing “Kuin Uni Ja Varjo” (As Dream and Shadow). Jafet Rytkonen ran the Vista until his retirement in 1950, after which his son, William, and son-in-law, Peter Ghiardi took over operations. Rytkonnen & Sons eventually expanded their operations to include not only the Vista, but both the Ishpeming Theater and Butler Theater in neighboring Ishpeming.
In 1959, the Butler Theater hosted the “unofficial,” (but actual) world premiere of Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder.” However, Rytkonnen and sons were able to take full advantage, simultaneously screening the eventual Academy Awards’ “Best Picture” nominee at the Ishpeming and Vista Theaters, having theater staff run the reels from theater to theater as each one finished. The Vista Theater remained open until 1972, when William Rytkonen died.
In 1973, a group of local citizens formed the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council (PAAC). They took over the running of the Vista, updated some features and in 1975 began using it as a venue for multiple artistic forms, including amateur theater productions, musical programs, concerts, films, puppet shows, art exhibits, and arts workshops. On July 22, 2005, the structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. PAAC continues to operate the theater and in 2014, thanks to a grant from the Cliffs/Eagle Foundation, installed a new digital projector and screen, making it one of the few facilities left in the United States that acts as both a playhouse and movie theater.
Ninety years later, our legacy remains the same; to enrich those in the Upper Peninsula through means of story telling and performance arts of all kinds. The Historic Vista Theater takes great pride in continuing to be involved in the Marquette County community and we hope to continue to play our part in the sustainability of our region for decades to come. As we look to ensure the future of our theater, we welcome everyone to come and experience the Historic Vista Theater, one of the remaining historical theaters the U.P. has to offer.