Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, 528 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts

Cowles Center
Address: 528 Hennepin Avenue
Neighborhood/s: Downtown Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 2011
Current Function: Theater/concert hall

Downtown Minneapolis Minneapolis Hennepin


  Designed by Miller Dunwiddie Architects in Collaboration with Artspace Projects, the Cowles Center was completed in 2011. Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue, this building sets the stage for many performing arts buildings along this street. On its own block between 5th and 6th Street, it’s a focal point of accessibility for circulations, welcoming in a diversity of people to experience the newest performing arts center in the last quarter century in Minneapolis. The building is unique in that it is the culmination of several buildings throughout time: The Hennepin Center for the Arts (HCA) and the Shubert (Goodale) Theatre. Both are conjoined through the addition, which is a modern entryway that delineates performance and practice of the arts through an architectural narrative.  

Hennepin Center for the Arts

  This Richardsonian Romanesque style building was first completed in 1888 for the Masonic Temple Association. Located what is now the intersection of Sixth Street and Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, this eight story building was designed by Long and Kees, a notable firm that has also designed many other historic buildings in the area, including: City Hall, the Lumber Exchange, and Flour Exchange (all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places). HCA provides affordable office, studio, rehearsal, and performance space for some two-dozen Twin Cities arts organizations. Now linked to the historic Shubert Theatre as part of the new Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, HCA has a distinguished history of its own.


The building in its context back in the late 19th century stood tall above the rest, and has powerful, ornate facades. Back then, it had multiple onion domes atop the corner turrets on the Sixth Street side, with five large two-story assembly rooms and ballroom on the eighth floor. It was sold to the Merchandise Building Corporation in 1947, changing its program from lodging and workspace for professionals at Masonic Temple Association to more open office layouts, distributed to promote efficiency of space for the rise in industry of the growing downtown Minneapolis area. The program soon changed again, as in 1975 the Minnesota Dance Theatre came in as a tenant, buying out the spaces to make a shoe store, liquor store, and church on the lower levels, while upper levels having a beauty parlor with several offices. At this point in time, the Masons still had offices in the building, having the entire timeline of business all under one roof. This changed in 1977 when the building was purchased by a group of prominent business, professional, political, and arts leaders combined into one independent non-profit, purchasing the building for $500,000. The building was in disrepair, where costs of 10 times the purchase price were used to get a new roof, windows, and chemical wash of years of discoloration of the facade. Inside, the lodge halls were converted into theatres and dance studios. After the non-profit was stagnant in the mid-1990s, Artspace adopted HCA into its portfolio, continuing repairs and restoration. HCA continued until Artspaces’ collaboration with Miller Dunwiddie Architects on its eventual merging of the building into The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, completed in 2011. Since then it has thrived, becoming an important part of the Twin Cities’ first major new performing arts complex in more than a quarter-century with its centralized location and cultural significance.

Shubert Theatre

Beginning as a Beaux-Arts masterpiece for the city of Minneapolis, the Shubert Theatre (Goodale Theatre) was built in 1910 by architect William A. Swasey. This 1,500 seat houst had 2 shallow balconies with a Classical Revival facade made of glazed terra cotta. Historically located on 22 7th Street North, was moved to 516 Hennepin Avenue in 12 memorable days in February 1999. At 5.8 million pounds, it was the heaviest building ever moved on rubber tires, costing about $4 million dollars by Artspace, a local non-profit for the arts. The building itself reached the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, prior to the move, and joined The Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts in its completion in 2011.


The Sam S. Shubert Theatre, as it was formerly named, was constructed in 1910 during the era of more than 60 theatres being built by the Shubert Theatrical Company of New York. Through its successes the theater was sold to William Steffes in 1935, changing the name to the Alvin (his middle name). Steffes hired local architects Liebenberg and Kaplan to make changes to facilitate the new needs of the time, which included additions of a huge Art Deco marquee and film projection booth. The years progressed and revenues declined, and by 1940 the theater closed for drama and movies and reopened as a house of burlesque. This did not fend well with the public, and the building was later leased out to be the Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium in 1953. This extreme did not work out either, as in 1957, Ted Mann, a notable movie theater mongul, purchased the building. The building underwent significant change, losing its side box seats for a wider projector screen and closing the second floor balcony, reducing the capacity to 830. Although many award winning films would be shown, and revenue would continue into the 1980s, this was not a sustainable method, which showed through the decline of Block E of Hennepin Avenue. Block E on Hennepin was one of the city’s worst trouble spots, with a dismal cluster of bars and flophouses. The Shubert Theatre was to get the wrecking ball. However, through much backlash by a hoc group called Save Our Shubert, the theatre was put on the National Register of Historic Places. The City had no choice, and found resolution by accepting the proposal put on by Artspace Projects to move the building from its location next to the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Over the next decade, Artspace raised funds and removed the second balcony to create an intimate 505-seat playhouse. In 2011 it became a part of the Cowles Center, being renamed the Goodale Theatre in honor of the donations of Katherine and Robert Goodale, who helped make the additions possible for the final auditorium space.  

Outstanding Universal Values

  Historic - The building combines many histories into one building, each with a well preserved style from its given time period   Artistic - The Shubert is a performing arts venue, and the HCA adapted into one. It’s was the first performing arts center in Minneapolis in over a quarter century.   Age - Many time periods have influence on this building, especially the change of program over time of the HCA. Their morphologies still keep authenticity and function over time. Use- They evolved over time, adapting to culture in a way that was significant for whichever time period they existed in.

Restoration and Adaptation

  HCA has changed programs many times, and has had many roof and elevator repairs to fulfill needs of the time. The domed eighth floor changed use, but structure stayed. The onion tops of the building were unable to be repaired, therefore lost. There are more restorations coming in the near future with recent donations.

The Shubert Theatre got an Art Deco facelift from Liebenberg and Kaplan in 1935, but time still deteriorated the front facade. After being added to the National Register of Historic Places, it was moved and damages from the move caused the third rise of the theatre space to become unusable, therefore making the space smaller.

Crime and the Cowles Center

  A large factor in affecting the cultural heritage of this site would be the rise in crime in the area. The crime may not be as dangerous, but it is significant enough to be mentioned by the staff at Artspace Projects. Damages on the buildings are difficult to monitor, which can stunt the interest of tenants renting their space on the first level of the HCA. This may end up leading to a reprogramming of the space all together, as to fully use the space to its potential with the new demands of the location. Potential reasonings for damages can be found due to the bus stops close proximity, where many wait under the canopy of the Shubert overhang, making the building more vulnerable at unsupervised hours.    


  A building is not always defined by its place - The former location of the Shubert was in line for demolition, and the quarter-mile move, although not far, refaced the building onto Hennepin. With new context, the building’s artistic, age, and use values adapted, and its merging with The Cowles Center heightened its Outstanding Universal Value.

Age Value vs Use Value - Just because a building is old, does not make it significant. HCA and Shubert Theatre have adapted to their new culture of a modern Minneapolis, and their morphologies through restoration have only added to their OUV.

A significant place does not always need a buffer - Since the culture of downtown Minneapolis is a dense urban region in close proximation to other events, the Cowles Center dominates the north side of the block between 5th and 6th. This is good enough. Its central location is what draws people to it and interact with it, which has its pros and cons.

This is the work of Nicholas Hoffman


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