Planned Theater Renovation Targets Nostalgia

An upcoming renovation of the Suburban World Theater in Minneapolis is right in sync with what’s happening across the country. Savvy investors and developers are capitalizing on a growing trend to capture the bygone elegance and traditional appeal of the silver screen era in a high-tech age.

There’s a twist, however. Rather than trying to resurrect the glory days of film, the new owners hope to recapture the grandeur of the architecture to wow audiences at a new event venue. The new theater will also allow live performances at the period movie house which debuted in the 1920s as The Granada, and operated as a theater until 1999, when the last film was shown.

Since then it has seen a variety of incarnations, including a stint as The Cinema Grill, which ended in 2002. Over the years, it has staged live performances, seen use as a restaurant, reverted at one point to the lender, and gone dark several times. It was once targeted for a renovation that would flatten its sloping floor and alter the character described by the original architect as “Moorish on the outside and Venetian within.” The plan was nixed by the Heritage Preservation Commission, which is one of many challenges presented to groups and individuals who wish to renovate historic buildings. The 6,935-square-foot building, located at 3022 Hennepin Ave. S, was designated a local historic site in 1991.

Striving to Keep the Old Character

Current plans call for renovations, including a way to level its sloping floor, that “are totally reversible,” according to Dean Dovolis, CEO of the project’s architectural firm, Minneapolis-based DJR. Other alterations will include demolishing an existing commercial kitchen installed in what was once the lobby area, and locating a new kitchen in what was once the projection booth. The revamped theater will include an intimate “front-of-house” bar to accommodate only 30-35 people. However, the expansive renovation will allow an audience of 500 for live performances, and seat approximately 220 for banquets and special events.

Aesthetically, the team plans to redo the color scheme in period-appropriate tones, restore the lobby’s terrazzo flooring, touch up old terra cotta work, and modernize the electrical, plumbing and mechanical infrastructure of the building.

The building is one of only four still-existing theaters across the state from the “over-the-top” era of grand movie houses, and the only one to be run as a for-profit business. The city of Rochester owns one, and old theaters in Faribault and Austin house non-profit arts enterprises. Nationwide, there are some 1,500 restored theaters that reflect the iconic age of film popularity. Most were built between 1900 and 1950.

The Suburban World building, now in the midst up upscale modern development in Minneapolis, was purchased by it present owners for a cost of $1.5 million. No figures are available for the planned renovation, but project completion is scheduled for the spring of 2019, following what was expected to be final approval at the end of September. The building has sat empty since 2011.

Throughout the nation, many examples testify to the public’s thirst for a return to grander times, exemplified by ornate concert stages, iconic movie palaces and ornate architecture put to new use for modern entertainment. However, as popular as some are, only a few remain from the era of the Italianate palazzo style that Suburban World Theater exemplifies. Although its Mediterranean ambience may be a bit incongruous in its Uptown location, it embodies an “original grandeur” that its development team believes will be a draw for local Hennepin citizens.

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