The Lunchtime Tourist

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May 26, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Historic State Theater
Historic State Theater

805 Hennepin Ave.

  • The showplace of Hennepin Avenue

    In the glory days of entertainment, way back before digital effects dazzled us, real life vaudeville entertainers packed dozens of stages along Hennepin Avenue and 7th Street South. Singers, dancers, cowboys, minstrel groups and trained animals traveled from town to town in the late 1800s performing a raucous mixture of entertainment -- sometimes several times a day. Jack Benny, Carol Channing, Fanny Brice and the Marx Brothers all performed here. The allure of motion pictures crept onto the scene in the 1920s, and the vaudeville theaters converted their stages for movies. On screen were Al Jolson, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne and Greta Garbo.

    Designed by Chicago architect J.E.O. Pridmore and opened in 1921, the State Theater was considered the most technologically advanced theater in the country. It had the largest screen west of the Mississippi River and was the first theater in Minneapolis to show movies with sound.

    Between motion picture runs, traveling Broadway shows were performed on a glass stage that allowed lights to shine from below. The auditorium was "air-conditioned" by an elaborate series of pipes and vents that distributed cold water from a well 840 feet underground. Since it was built primarily as a movie house there are no box seats, and all patrons got a clear view of the screen. Construction costs were $1 million. An astounding 70,000 tickets were sold during the first week.

    Movies continued to be the main entertainment, and in 1970 the theater ran "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" for 34 weeks. It was the film's longest run in the country! Five years later the State closed, as theaters migrated to the suburbs. Many Downtown were razed, but the State Theater was bought by a church that covered over the murals and statuary and called the building home for nearly ten years.

    It almost met its demise in 1983 when the City Council approved demolition plans to make way for LaSalle Plaza. Eventually they designated both the interior and exterior historic and allocated city funds for restoration. In 1991, and $8.8 million dollars later, the State Theater had its grand reopening celebration and continues today to be the grande dame of Hennepin Avenue's reinvigorated theater district.

    LUNCH TIP: Walk through the theater's lobby and into The Capital Grill for a Maine lobster salad.

    Comments welcome at thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com