A NEW ERA FOR DANCE:
The Goodale Theater, part of The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, began its long and storied history more than 100 years ago as the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. It was one of more than 60 theaters built between 1900 and 1920 by the Shubert Theatrical Company of New York. Architect William A. Swasey designed a 1,500-seat house with two shallow balconies and a handsome Classical Revival façade made of glazed terra cotta.
Built at a cost of $250,000, the Shubert Theatre opened on August 28, 1910. Although it had been intended as a venue for touring Broadway shows, the Shuberts authorized manager Alexander G. “Buzz” Bainbridge to form a resident acting ensemble to keep the box office busy. So he did, and for the next two decades the Bainbridge Players were the Twin Cities’ leading professional theater company.
In 1935 the Shuberts sold the theater to William Steffes, who renamed it the Alvin (his middle name) and hired Minneapolis architects Liebenberg and Kaplan to give it a major facelift. Among the features they added were a huge Art Deco marquee and a film projection booth. Drama and movies coexisted for several years, but revenues declined and in December 1940 the theater closed its doors. Two months later the Alvin reopened as a house of burlesque. Over the next two decades, the Alvin played host to some of the best-known striptease artists of the day. Not surprisingly, it became a lightning rod for protests by conservative religious groups and occasional raids by the Minneapolis Police Department’s vice squad. Burlesque held the stage until 1953, when the Rev. Russell H. Olson leased the building and transformed it into a church called the Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium. Religion didn’t fare as well as striptease, however, and within three years the church moved out.
In 1957 the theater was bought by movie theater mogul Ted Mann, who wanted a downtown Minneapolis venue capable of showing the new widescreen films. Converting the theater required substantial alterations. The projection booth was expanded to accommodate the extra equipment required by the widescreen format. The elegant side boxes were sliced off to make room for a new 45-foot curved screen. The second balcony was closed, reducing the theater’s capacity to 830. Renamed the Academy, the theater reopened on July 12, 1957, with Michael Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days, a three-hour epic that had won the 1956 Academy Award for Best Picture. Todd, a Minneapolis native who had worked at the theater as a boy, attended the opening.
By the early 1980s, however, Hennepin Avenue was in decline, and nowhere was the decay more obvious than on the Academy’s block – Block E, as it was called – a dismal cluster of bars and flophouses that included Moby Dick’s, one of the city’s worst trouble spots. Something had to be done. In 1985, the Minneapolis City Council decided to acquire and raze all the buildings on the block – including the Academy.
The prospect of losing the theater to the wrecking ball alarmed many preservationists. The ensuing battle lasted a decade and generated a remarkable groundswell of emotion. An ad hoc group, Save Our Shubert, galvanized public opinion, and the battle heated up in 1996, when the Shubert was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The conflict was resolved when the City Council accepted an Artspace Projects proposal to move the theater to a new location next to Hennepin Center for the Arts. The trip from Block E to Hennepin Avenue took place over 12 memorable days in February 1999. At 5.8 million pounds, it was the heaviest building ever moved on rubber tires.
Artspace spent the next decade raising the funds to remodel the theater as a home for dance and to connect it to Hennepin Center for the Arts. The second balcony was removed to create an intimate 505-seat playhouse with ideal sightlines for dance and superlative acoustics for music. In 2010, the historic theater was renamed to honor Katherine and Robert Goodale, whose generous gifts and leadership helped make the transformation possible. The Goodale Theater opens on Sept. 9, 2011, ushering in a new era for dance in Minnesota.