Two of the Twin Cities’ oldest and most hallowed theatre halls are celebrating big birthdays this week.
Both the Orpheum and State theatres, located in downtown Minneapolis, are turning 90-years-old this year and are celebrating with a free family event on Saturday.
Their birthdays are yet another reason that the arts on Hennepin Avenue appear to be experiencing a renaissance moment (the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Artsopened last month after moving and renovating the old Shubert Theater to its new location on Hennepin Ave. and 5th St., and several new restaurants, including Rosa Mexicano and Wondrous Thom’s Asian Kitchen, have opened in the same area in recent months).
“There were once more than 40 theatres lining Hennepin Avenue,” says Sarah Johnson, the public relations manger for the Hennepin Theatre Trust. “Of these, only four still exist and are fully functioning - the State, Orpheum, Pantages and Shubert (now part of the Cowles Center), so it’s important that the Twin Cities actively values and preserves its cultural heritage.”
Both the State and the Orpheum opened in 1921 and have led diverse lives since, hosting events ranging from vaudeville to film, live dance to theatre. They are now known as Broadway’s theatres of choice when traveling shows come to Minneapolis.
The Orpheum, which opened on October 16, 1921, hosted more than 70,000 patrons in its first week. Among the performances patrons saw at the then-named ‘Hennepin Theatre’ were vignettes by the Marx Brothers. The Hennepin was also billed at the time as the nation’s largest vaudeville house.
The State Theatre opened on February 5, 1921 featuring silent films such as Mama’s Affair, and was described in a newspaper column at the time as “a gilded pleasure palace, dedicated to the Hollywood dreams that captured America’s heart in the roaring ‘20s.”
Les Kasten, a former employee of both theaters, has many stories about his time backstage in the theaters. “The basement was the coolest part,” he said. “Not many people know that there was a tunnel that connected the State to the Orpheum under Hennepin.” Unfortunately, the tunnel no longer exists.
Both theatre's experienced a twilight stage for a few decades, until they were extensively renovated and remodeled to their original splendor and reopened as hosts-of-many-colors for anything in the arts.
As old as these theaters are, there is still a lot of life in them.
Hennepin Theatre Trust was recently awarded an ‘Our Town’ grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to lead partners in the planning of a “cultural corridor” that will run from the Walker Art Center to the Mississippi River.
“The theatres are among the ‘dots’ that will be connected to offer residents and visitors alike a cultural experience that could range from a progressive arts event up and down the Avenue to lighting designed by artists and attractive, environmentally beneficial greenery,” Johnson says.
For their eventful birthday this year, a free open house is being held at each venue from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1. Historical photos and programs, treasure hunts, live music from the Stompin’ Dixie Band, strolling vaudeville acts, and 1920’s style refreshments are planned.
For more information and to RSVP to the event visit the Hennepin Theatre Trust websitehere.