A public library inside a movie theater seems an unlikely partnership, but Morningside residents found both types of entertainment at the Westgate Theater on Sunnyside Avenue from 1937 to 1973.
Instead of hushed tones and silent reading, owner Carl Fust originally envisioned the library space as a club and bridge room filled with the kind of lively parties that he and his wife liked to host. He offered the room for rental with full catering service.
Months after opening in 1935, however, the party room struggled for business. Area residents could barely afford to throw a party—it was the midst of the Depression, after all—much less rent a party room.
When Fust died in 1937, Edina Theater owners took over and rented out the space for Edina’s first free-standing library. Its bright storefront offered more public access than the first community library housed inside the village’s only school, which was closed to adults during the school day.
Elvira Vinson, who opened the school library in 1921, brought her experience and her no-nonsense attitude to the Morningside Library. She reportedly ran a “tight ship,” recalled librarian Phyllis Wenell in 2004 interview for the city newsletter. Vinson made sure children had clean hands and confirmed their resident status in the phone directory before letting them check out books.
Still, the draw of free books was irresistible and the library often served more people in a day than the movie theater did. In the end, the movie theater closed in 1973 and the Morningside library merged with the bigger Edina library. “Morningsiders loved that little library. They were not happy when ‘their library’ closed,” Wenell said.
Edina’s 125 years of history will be told in a series of short and entertaining readings at the city’s Founders’ Day program at Edina City Hall on Dec. 12. For more about this and other quasquicentennial events, visit Edinahistoricalsociety.org/125th or call 612.928.4577.