Terrace Theater, 3508 France Avenue N, Robbinsdale, MN

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The Terrace Theater

Night Image of The Terrace Theater
Address: 3508 France Avenue N
Robbinsdale, Minnesota
Hennipen County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1929
Primary Style: Modern
Major Alterations: Intact
Historic Function: Theater/concert hall
Current Function: Other
Current Function: vacant
Other Current Function: vacant
Architect or source of design: Liebenberg and Kaplan
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
First Owner: Sydney and William Volk
Notes: Liebenberg and Kaplan

Robbinsdale Hennipen County

The Terrace Theater located at 3508 France Avenue North, Minnepaolis, MN was the premier theater constructed in the International Style in 1949. The owners Sydney and William Volk created a dramatic and elegant theater for the Twin Cities for around $600,000. The Volks Hired the architectural firm Liebenberg and Kaplan to realize their vision. It became the first and most luxurious theater constructed since World War II. In 1987 Midcontinent Theater Co of Minneapolis turned the theater into a four-plex that specialized in second-run movies for $1.00 a viewing. The early modern theater is an important piece of our physical history, and may very well be the last standing example of this architectural genre in the Twin Cities.



The architectural firm in charge of the design was Liebenberg and Kaplan. The pair completed a wide variety of building designs including: homes, hospitals, commercial buildings, and churches. Before World War II the pair had a fruitful practice designing movie theaters. After the war the majority of their theater work was done working on remodels. Liebenberg and Kaplan designed over 200 theaters in the Midwest over the course of their careers. They were responsible for a number of influential theater houses in the Twin Cities, including the Varsity (1938), which resides near the University of Minnesota campus in Dinkytown, and still stands as a musical venue hosting live performances. According to Robert Roscoe,

“(The) Terrace Theater may be Liebenberg and Kaplans’s only early modern theater structure, and it may very well be the only midcentury in the Twin Cities suburban area still standing since the demolition of the Cooper Theater in St. Louis Park and the Southern Theater in Bloomington. Like the Cooper and the Southtown the Terrace is a physical reminder of what helps define us: our architectural history.” (Roscoe)

The owners and operators were Sidney and William Volk who also operated the Riverview, The Nile and the Camden Theaters in Minneapolis. The Volks spared no expense in creating this palace of theaters at a cost of over $600,000. The rectangular volumes of the building originally housed a large auditorium with a single screen that could seat 1300 viewers at full capacity. The materials were lavish with red velvet seats and velvet curtains framing the screen.

The international style was evident as one arrived via car and parked in the expansive lot designed to house 1,000 vehicles at this post World War II era legacy, the mall. The Terrace acted as the obelisk on a hill above the shopping center below. Upon entering the sweeping foyers one could enter one of two snack bars or the sunken garden style lounge with a large copper fireplace. The view from the lounge was out the delicate floor to ceiling fenestration overlooking a rolling lawn.

One very unique feature of this elegant theater, also a characteristic of the times, was the television room. “It was common for husbands and fathers to watch a ball game here while their wives watched a romantic tear-jerker or their children the latest Disney offering.” (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4002).

The theater was a premier piece of work when it was constructed but over the years there were some necessary improvements. The equipment was upgraded in the 1970’s to 70mm projectors. The Terrace created a niche for the new action packed movies of the 70’s. In 1987 the terrace was divided into a four-plex, which is thought to be what doomed the theater. The Midcontinental Theater Company purchased the theater and divided the auditorium in half, and the two small balcony areas that overlooked the auditorium were separated and turned into individual intimate screening rooms with about 300 seats per screening room. They debuted the four-plex under the name Midco Terrace with a showing of “Roxanne” for price of only $1.00. The reason for the change in type of theater was because the owner of Midcontinental believed he had found a Niche between first run theaters and the then prevailing vhs market. According to the Star Tribune Kirschenmann, the owner, believed that people still wanted to see movies on the big screen without paying the first run admissions. (Star Tribune, 8 Nov 1987) In 1999 the last movie was played and the windows boarded up. It has sat completely unoccupied since. There is rumored to be an extended lease that ends in or around 2020. The lease creates a safe buffer zone in time for the Terrace for the time being, yet it continues to fall into disrepair.

The Terrace Theater is a shell of what it once was. The mall that was once a partner in its land occupation has begun to encroach on the Terraces hilltop location. The mall has continually through small expansions crept towards the main entry of the theater, it now resides within 15 feet of the front door overcoming what was once a drive up lane. The mall too has faded from its once important stance in the community. It has transitioned into medical office buildings, and the owners of the Terrace Theater are hoping to turn the Terrace into the same. The large projection screens have been torn out, the carpet has been removed, and most of the fixtures are now gone. The paint is peeling and the ceiling is beginning to fall. Every piece of glass has been broken by children with rocks, or removed by maintenance people, and replaced with now weathered and curled plywood. The feeling of luxury has diminished but the cavernous space of the auditorium still invokes a feeling of grandeur.

The Terrace was a very impressive piece of architecture aimed at entertaining a community in a rough time in history after World War II. The Designers Liebenberg and Kaplan could not have foreseen their lavish structure standing as one of the last examples of midcentury early modern architecture. William and Volk, who invested so heavily into this work of art could not have envisioned its current state either. Even in its currents state of neglect it stands as a physical example of architectural history to Minneapolis, the Midwest and to the International Style.

Memories and stories

Site Plan

Hand Drawn Gallery

Images are courtesy of The University of Minnesota Architectural Archives.

Current Images

Images are courtesy of Urban Exploration Resource: Forum - http://www.uer.ca/forum_showthread_archive.asp?threadid=78681>.. Thanks guys!

1949 Photos

Images are courtesy of The University of Minnesota Architectural Archives.

Citations & Related Links

Google Maps. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://maps.google.com>.

"History and Information on Terrace Theater Robbinsdale MN." Birdtown Minnesota | Robbinsdale Community News and Events | MN. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://www.birdtownrobbinsdale.com/dear-terrace-theater-robbinsdale-residents-miss-you>.

Strickler, Jeff. "Terrace to Show Second-runs on 4 Screens." Editorial. Star Tribune [Minneapolis] 8 Nov. 1987, Metro sec.: 4. Startribune.com. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

"The Terrace Theater in Robbinsdale, Minnesota (Take Two)." BRIANORNDORF.COM. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://www.brianorndorf.com/2011/01/the-terrace-theater-in-robbinsdale-minnesota-take-two.html>.

"Terrace Theater in Robbinsdale, MN." Cinema Treasures. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4002>.

"Liebenberg & Kaplan Architects." University of Minnesota, Northwest Architectural Archives, 28 Oct. 2011.

"Urban Exploration Resource: Forum - View Thread." Urban Exploration Resource: Welcome to the Urban Exploration Resource! Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <http://www.uer.ca/forum_showthread_archive.asp?threadid=78681>.



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