Photo by Matt Schmitt

Photo by Matt Schmitt

Hollywood Theater set for long-awaited reboot

Updated: January 7, 2016 - 11:26 am

The 80-year-old theater is being primed for a new tenant.

Though you may not know from walking by it, the Hollywood Theater was the place to catch a flick in Northeast Minneapolis for more than half a century. Now, three decades after it screened its last movie, the 80-year-old landmark is being redeveloped.

Andrew Volna, a local, part-time developer, has taken on the rehabilitation project despite more than 30 years of vacancy. He’s now looking for a creative office user to fill the 10,400-square-foot theater with the promise that it will be one of the most unique office spaces in the Twin Cities.

“The building has been stuck for decades. It’s been written off,” he told The Journal. “If it was a slam dunk, easy project there would have been someone in 30 years that would have taken it on. It’s a bit of a labor of love.”

Volna and his Apiary development company began a roughly yearlong rehabilitation of the building at 2815 Johnston St. NE in mid-October. Over the past two years Volna has been working with the city, which owned the theater since 1993, and Minneapolis-based Preservation Design Works to prepare it for redevelopment. Last fall, Volna bought it for just $1.

“It’s been a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

The building’s interior and exterior are both historically designated thanks to its classic Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style designed by architectural firm Liebenberg and Kaplan, which designed hundreds of notable theaters in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. The theater is listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Great American Movie Theaters.”

Beyond its famous architecture, Meghan Elliot, founder of Preservation Design Works, recently told a neighborhood group that the Hollywood is also an important part of Minneapolis’ history because it represents the rise and fall of the local streetcar system. The streetcar’s demise in the 1930s and 1940s also brought the theater down with it, she said. 

Following its closure in 1987, the Hollywood fell deeper and deeper into disrepair and has struggled with water damage and its crumbling limestone masonry, Miles Mercer of the city’s Community Planning & Economic Development department told residents. Over the years, the city has been “banking on serendipity,” Mercer said, with efforts to bring people into the building.

Apiary will complete a basic makeover of the Hollywood — everything from restoring the chimney’s green tiles to fixing the partially collapsed roof — by next April. The project is receiving funds from the state and a $262,000 grant from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

If Volna finds a tenant, he hopes to outfit the Hollywood by next fall. The city acquired the neighboring plot at 2819 Johnson St. NE as an added incentive for a future user who could use it for parking.

Volna envisions the new Hollywood as a home for an advertising, architecture or interactive firm, similar to Clockwork Active Media. The Northeast Minneapolis-based web application company calls the old Rayvic and Day buildings home, which Apiary redeveloped.

While many residents wanted a working movie theater in the neighborhood, Volna isn’t sure it’s economically feasible.

“I’d love to have a theater on Johnson Street, but I don’t know how to run a theater,” he said.

Egan Haugesag, president of the Audubon Neighborhood Association, would have liked it to remain a theater, but said the neighborhood is just glad it’s being redeveloped, not to mention by someone like Volna.

“Everybody is super glad it’s someone local, someone who has passion for the building,” he said. “He’s a savvy developer, which is the only way it was going to work.”

“I don’t think there’s one person who is disappointed,” Haugesag added.

Part of the reason Volna wanted to save the Hollywood was his own history. Volna’s appreciation for the building started as a boy growing up in Northeast Minneapolis just blocks away from the theater (he’s still only four blocks away these days). His family would escape the realities of Pearl Harbor via the theater’s silver screen. A movie lover, Volna said he saw one of the Hollywood’s last movies, Woody Allen’s 1986 film “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Volna hasn’t been aggressively marketing the space yet, but will do so in 2016. That’s when he’ll know if the time, money and effort was all worth the risk, but he’s optimistic.

 “I used to vacillate between euphoria and despair with this project. Now I’m in the euphoric zone,” he said. “I’m confident it’s going to be a great building,”

Now Volna is prepared to bring the Hollywood to the 21st century.

“We’ve been at the end of the runway just throttling our engines for two years. At least now we’ve left the runway and we’re airborne, and now it’s exciting and the adventure really begins.”

 

Photos by Matt Schmitt