Preservationists and neighbors reflect, rave, and rant about the demolished Historic Terrace Theatre

Inside Terrace Theatre.

Inside Terrace Theatre.

Last weekend neighbors, history buffs, and preservationists stopped by the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale to say goodbye to the historic building before it was demolished on Saturday.

The theater, built by architects Jacob J. Liebenberg and Seeman Kaplan -- who also designed the Uptown Theater, the Edina, the Hollywood, and the Varsity Theaters, among other noteworthy buidlings -- has sat empty for nearly 20 years. Demolition of the theater began on September 24, halted, and then began again last weekend.

Friends of the Terrace forged a legal battle to save the theater, and were unable to get the $6,375,000 in bonds that Hennepin County Judge Michael Browne required to save the building. They also lost an appeal to reduce the bonds required.

Torin Gustafson, who has an interest in preserving great architecture, stopped by to pay his respects on Friday at the partially demolished building. "Honestly I'm feeling pretty sad," he says. "We mounted a pretty good fight to save the Terrace."

The Terrace is a mid-century modern design quite unlike any other. "You can really see -- even in its state of decay -- the limestone columns, the very dramatic angles, and from downhill looking up you see the tower with the bright terrace sign," Gustafson says. "Even today, it's very bright and flashy. The inside was also splendid, with the sloping ceiling in the lobby, the Sputnik-style starburst chandeliers, and a very dramatic auditorium with the curved walls and all the squares. The color red on the inside was very prolific. I just absolutely love everything about the design of it."

Kurt Lawrason, another member of Friends of the Terrace, wrote to the city of Robbinsdale two years ago to ask what they were going to do with the building. After receiving a form letter, he got involved with the group trying to save the theater.

"I'm sick and tired of everybody just tearing down historical buildings for something new and better," he says.

Sherry Goodwin, another advocate for preservation, says she remembers attending the theater when she was a child and teenager. "It was so glamorous," she says. "It had a massive auditorium with red velvet seats and red carpeted walls. There were these gorgeous, two-story windows that were slanted out."

Not everybody was sad to see the building go, however. Debbie Vinge, who lives about seven blocks from the theater, says that she's looking forward to the next era. "It's been empty for close to 20 years," she says. "Vandals have been in there. Rumors are that they have found a dead person in there. It's just ugly."

Vinge says she'd like to see a grocery store back on her side of town. There once was a Rainbow in the shopping center at the bottom of the hill from the theater, but that closed several years ago. The grocery chain Hy-Vee was slated to open a new store in the location, but that decision was delayed due to the push to save the theater.

Vinge says the neighbors she knows are about 50/50 in terms of how they feel about the building. "Some are glad to see it go," she says, "and if Hy-Vee does come back that will be super exciting."

(Photo by Sheila Regan)

"It's time to go," Vinge continues. "This is the forest fire that needs to come down and the new life will spring up from the ashes -- or in this case, concrete."

Kate Richardson, another neighbor, remembers watching The Lion King at the Terrace when she was about 10 years old. "Then it turned into a dollar theater and it was a little sketch," she says. "My parents didn't want me to go there by myself because there were a lot of unattended teenagers."

What Richardson remembers is the luxurious feeling of the place. "You felt like a movie star in there. There were these cool light fixtures and you'd walk down this ramp. It had a really regal feel, like a casino."

"Fifty years from now, people will see pictures of the Terrace and say, 'Why on Earth did we demolish that?'" says Gustafson.

The Friends of the Terrace will be hosting one last celebration on November 5 to celebrate and remember the theater, and to raise funds to cover some of the outstanding legal bills from the fight. Details on the event will be announced soon.