Pantages Theater, 710 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Pantages Theater

Address: 710 Hennepin Avenue
Neighborhood/s: Downtown Minneaolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1916
Primary Style: Beaux Arts
Secondary Style: Art Deco/Art Moderne
Historic Function: Theater/concert hall
Current Function: Theater/concert hall
Architect or source of design: Kees & Colburn, Marcus Priteca, HGA (renovation)
First Owner: Alexander Pantages

Downtown Minneaolis Minneapolis Hennepin




Now an integral piece of a major theater district, the Pantages Theater has played an integral role in performance and entertainment culture since its beginnings. The building is 60,000 sqft and 2 stories tall with a high auditorium ceiling and mezzanine looking onto the lobby. It was originally designed by a local Minneapolis architecture firm, Kees & Colburn, to be a fully Beaux-Arts style theater, but was simplified for budget reasons. Opening in 1916, it served as a Vaudeville house, but after many changes in ownership and renovations, it has also served the function as a movie theater and live, off-broadway performance space. The building is now owned by the Hennepin Theater Trust and operated by the Historic Theater Group.


The original owner of the Pantages Theater was a Greek immigrant and impresario named Alexander Pantages. By the time the Minneapolis Pantages Theater was built (1916), he owned close to 70 similar venues across western US and Canada. He played a major role in shifting the theater culture to a social event and pioneered his idea of the social mezzanine in this theater. For Pantages, Minneapolis was a meeting place for East coast theater owners and West coast theater owners. The Orpheum theater us evidence of this competition. Because his theater circuit started in Winnipeg, Manitoba, all of the Pantages tours began in Winnipeg. Pantages entered the motion picture distribution market around the 1920s. This shift aligns with the major focus of entertainment turning toward the movie screen. His influential role in this industry has been erased due to rape allegations that were later proved false. In 1929 RKO (Radio Keith Orpheum) bought the theater and decide to discontinue the live performance in favor of the ‘talking picture’. RKO’s origin’s start with David Sarnoff, the principal of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which held a number of patents in film/sound technology. Joseph P. Kennedy, who held a managing interest in RCA, moved to acquire control of New York-based Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) who were known for having blocked Pantage’s expansion east. In 1927, Kennedy and Sarnoff were successful in gaining control of KAO and changed the name to Radio, Keith, Orpheum in 1928. RKO acquired the entire Pantages theater chain for a third of original value after Pantage’s financial and social ruin post-rape allegations. In 1945 Edmond Ruben purchased and renovates the Pantages and renames it to the RKO-PAN. Sixteen years later (1961) Ruben sold the then movie theater to Ted Mann who would embark on the most extreme renovation of the theater. Mann owned the Orpheum theater at the same time along with three other downtown Minneapolis theaters. This era of ownership is remembered by the ‘good luck’ it brought to the films previewed at ‘The Mann Theatre’. After West Side Story previewed at this movie house, it went on to win ten Academy Awards. Naturally, Robert Wise (director of West Side Story) went on to preview his next movie, The Sound of Music at The Mann which would become the longest-running film in Twin Cities history. The Mann’s last Twin Cities premiere was Annie in 1982. Two years later the Mann Theatre closed its doors and remained so until 1996. Leaders of the Hennepin Theater Trust and Historic Theatre Group initiated a five-year effort to save and restore the Pantages to its original 1922 glory. The renovation cost 9.5 million dollars. On November 7, 2002, the Pantages re-opened as a live performance venue for music, theatre, and dance.


The Pantages was first designed by the local Minneapolis firm, Kees & Colburn. Their design originally conceived a twelve-story building in the Beaux-Arts style. The tall height intended to house a hotel above the theatre. When cost became an issue, the design was scaled down to a two-story structure with a mix of Beaux-Arts and Art Moderne style and seated 1600. The Beaux Arts was extremely popular in the United States from 1880-1920. The Pantages has a Beaux Arts auditorium and an Art Moderne style lobby. The design also included an innovation of Alexander Pantages- a social mezzanine- a carpeted lobby on the balcony level with telephones and restrooms. This element sparked the saying “meet me at the mezzanine”. His idea was to shift theater experience to become social experiences. The original design also boasted the first air-conditioned theater in Minneapolis. The final cost of the building was around $15,000 which is about $360,000 today.

Shortly after The Pantages opening, the renowned theatre architect, B. Marcus Priteca, was commissioned to remodel the theater with the main difference being the addition of the large stained glass dome to the auditorium ceiling. In 1926 the facade of the lobby was fitted with red granite.

Though some changes in ownership occurred during the next twenty years, it was not until Edmond Ruben purchased the theater in 1945 that a major renovation occurred. Ruben changed the name of the theatre to RKO PAN and destroyed much of the original design, decreasing seating capacity and covering many areas in bird’s eye maple in attempts to feel more modern.

Ted Mann purchased the theater in 1961 and put the building through another major renovation. Aligning with the typical 1960’s attitude of total disinterest in restoration to old and classy, Mann’s goal was to create a completely modernized signature movie theater. He further decreased the seating capacity to 1,100 red padded metal rocker seats, destroyed the signature mezzanine level, gutted the lobby, and changed the color scheme to blue and gold. The stained glass skylight was also covered up by layers of paint. While these changes may seem devastating, Ted Mann’s plans saved the Pantages from being razed.


After The Mann Theatre closed in 1984, the Pantages was not touched until 1996 when the Hennepin Theater Trust and the Historic Theatre Company embarked on a five-year plan to bring the Pantages back to its original 1916/1922 architecture. The team found the original architectural drawings and used remaining plaster to make new molds to repair the decorative molding.


Historic - The building combines many histories into one building, each speaking to a different moment in entertainment history. The current building speaks to the 1920s version of the theater when live performances were not competing against the film industry.

  • Artistic - The Pantages is a performing arts venue for theatre, music, and dance. It was the stage for a

demonstration of theater culture shift.

  • Age - Many time periods have had a turn with this building, especially the change of program as

technology advanced and the 1960’s trend of complete modernization. While the true original design did not withstand the test of time, a replication of the original demonstrates the city’s value for authenticity. Use- They evolved over time, adapting to culture in a way that was significant for whichever time period they existed in.


A building can communicate a community’s values through renovation and restoration Through the Pantages history, it is evident that the interior and exterior shifted based on the community’s interests. Not only did the program change, but the owners felt the need to change the interior and exterior to communicate an attitude that they felt aligned with their program. Age Value vs Use Value - Just because a building is old, does not make it significant. The Pantages serves what seems to be a timeless function- live performance. By restoring the building to its original design of 1916 and 1922, one is able to enjoy modern performances while being in a style of building that came about during a time of great appreciation and boom for theatre.

SOURCES ages_theatre -pantages-and-orpheum-theaters-and-effects-of-cinema/

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