NEW LIFE FOR A PAIR OF SAINT PAUL THEATRES?

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 02/17/10 at: driftlessmusic.blogspot.com

I’ve been following the stories of two vacant Saint Paul theatres for a while now and they both seem to be catching my attention more and more lately…

One is the Victoria Theatre located at 825 University Ave, between Victoria and Avon, in Frogtown. As THIS article in the Star Tribune explains, it used to hopping place back in during the prohibition era and an amateur historian recently discovered that one of the 84 songs from the 1952 “Anthology of American Folk Music”–a collection cited as a major influence of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the whole folk music revival of the late 50’s and early 60’s– was recorded there. The song is actually called “Moonshiner’s Dance” and was recorded by the house band as an”audio flier” Needless to say, the tactic garnered the unwanted  attention of authorities and the speakeasy was eventually raided.

This new found history has been successful in moving forward the efforts of a Save the Victoria Theatre group seeking historical designation from the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Committee for the space. With the Central Corridor line traveling down University by 2014, their goal is to renovate and re-open it as a community-driven nonprofit performing arts center. Keith Johnson, a leader of  the New Victoria Theatre Project Trust, gave me a tour last summer. There is a lot of potential as the core architecture is in intact and structurally sound (there is even a mural on the second floor), but it needs A LOT of work.

Read all about the theatre’s history and the push to re-open it in an unbelievably comprehensive MPR piece by Madeleine Baran HERE. (There are even pictures of the mural.) (The photo used above is by Glen Stubbe – Star Tribune.)

The other theatre is one I see nearly every day, as it is located adjacent in the 7th Place pedestrian mall in downtown Saint Paul. The Palace Theatre is immensely huge  (the elegant, but neglected marquee in the mall only houses the lobby) and the actual theatre spans a large portion of the block it sits on.  I’ve missed several opportunities to take a tour, but am told there is plenty of potential here too. The location alone makes it compelling enough. But alas it has been vacant since at least 2005 and the renovation costs run into the millions. In 2007, DEMO artistic director Steve McClellan was part of a group that unsuccessfully tried to secure funding to re-opening the Palace as a rock club. Read more about his effort in THIS very brief City Pages piece.

Mr. McClellan, along with company M3 Productions, recently began booking weekend shows at the Wild Tymes bar and grill, a restaurant & bar in the same building as the Palace. And who knows — if things go well — there’s always a chance music could move back into the “mainroom” (Contact Steve at steve.mcclellan@gmail.com for booking inquires).

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