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JEM Theatre, Harmony

Harmony Area Historical Society
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JEM Theatre

The JEM Theatre at its second location: 14 Main Avenue North, Harmony, Minnesota. Its original location was 20 Main Avenue North. Photograph by Amy Jo Hahn, 2018.

The JEM, the only remaining movie theater in Fillmore County, first opened its doors at the end of 1935. Although the JEM has had many owners—it even operated for a short time as a bowling alley—for generations it has been a centerpiece of Harmony’s Main Avenue and a community gathering place for entertainment and cultural events.

The building at 20 Main North Avenue in Harmony was first called The Orient Theatre. J. M. Rostvold bought it in December 1935 from Elmer and Millie Hanson, then renamed it the JEM. He created the name by placing the first initial of his wife’s name (Emma) between his first and middle initials. During July 1936, the JEM showed The Bride Walks Out, starring Barbara Stanwyck; Mary of Scotland, starring Katharine Hepburn and Fredric March; and the Great Buck Jones western serial The Phantom Rider.

On April 25, 1940, a fire broke out inside the theater that seriously damaged the building. Afterward, Rostvold built a larger and improved JEM, complete with comfortable seating and the most modern film equipment available. Steel, tile, and concrete products were used in its construction to make it more resilient to fire. Located on the lot directly next to the original building at 14 Main Avenue, the new JEM was completed in September 1940. Due to its up-to-date film technology, modern conveniences, and use of fireproof materials, its cost soared from an initial estimated $18,000 to $30,000.

Rostvold sold the theater to A. J. Treamann in 1943. Treamann, in turn, converted it into a bowling alley, which closed in 1947. For the next fourteen years, the building sat unused until Bob and Hazel Johnson purchased it in 1961.

The Johnsons removed wood bowling lanes and installed new theater seats. They also purchased a new screen and projection equipment. The name on the marquee, however, remained the JEM. The Johnsons owned and operated the theater for the next twenty-five years, showing a mixture of new releases and classic films. Afternoon matinees were offered during the weeklong Christmas school break.

The JEM changed hands several times after 1986. Local residents bought and maintained the theater, keeping its doors open. During the nineties, it became a center for cultural activities.

The biggest threat to the JEM’s existence was technological advancement. In the early 2000s, Hollywood studios began to announce plans to stop making movies with 35mm film. An upgrade to a digital projection system was required, and by 2011, the JEM needed $75,000—an overwhelming amount for a small-town, single-screen theater. Owners Paul and Michelle Haugerud were able to save it after a local fundraising effort, acquiring a loan and receiving private donations. The first movie shown with the new projection system was Dolphin Tale.

In 2017, Dana and Amber Coaty became the JEM’s owners. Together, they continued its longstanding legacy as a cinema house and community event center.

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“Harmony, Minnesota, Salutes New JEM Theatre, S.E. Minnesota’s Finest Showplace!” Harmony News, September 12, 1940.

Jeffers, Barb. “JEM Theatre Under New Ownership.” Fillmore County Journal, February 20, 2017.

Johnson, Milicent Yates. Let’s Have Harmony: A Centennial History. Harmony Centennial Committee. Rochester, MN: Davies Printing, 1996.

Vander Plas, Melissa. “Family Sponsoring ‘Free Popcorn Weekend’ at Theater in Harmony.” Mabel News-Record, 2003.

Related Images

JEM Theatre
JEM Theatre
JEM Theatre
JEM Theatre

Turning Point

The JEM faces extinction in the early 2000s as Hollywood movie studios decide to stop using 35mm film, requiring all theaters to use digital projection systems. A local fundraising effort, in combination with a loan and several private donations, generates enough money for the theater to purchase the necessary equipment in 2011.



Joseph Milford Rostvold purchases the Orient Theatre and reopens it as the JEM.


After a fire seriously damages the JEM on March 25, Rostvold constructs a new and improved theater on the town lot directly next to the original building.


Rostvold sells the JEM to A. J. Treamann, who reinvents the building as a bowling alley.


The bowling alley closes and the building sits vacant.


Bob and Hazel Johnson purchase the building, transforming it back into a movie theater and once again calling it the JEM.


Franz and Diana Sattler take over ownership and management.


Dale Wright owns the theater.


Murrell and Joyce Jacobson are the theater’s new owners.


Dale and Linda Twite purchase the theater.


Roxanne and Bill Johnson buy the theater.


A fundraising campaign raises money to purchase digital projection equipment. The first digital movie shown is Dolphin Tale.


Michelle Haugerud sells the JEM to Dana and Amber Coaty.