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ANA’s delegation to the current Hollywood Theater Task Force (HTF2) is working toward a viable reuse for our neighborhood’s most notable historic asset. The HTF2’s main goal is to bring the building alive and make it a positive contributor to our Johnson Street commercial node. Any solution considered must not compromise the building’s potential for an eventual ultimate use as an entertainment venue. When community and economic conditions will support it, we want the Theater to become a theater again.
One active participant in HTF2’s efforts is Hillcrest Development, a Northeast-based business. Any interim or ultimate use of the Hollywood must honor the historic value in the building’s architecture. As part of its contribution to the community, Hillcrest commissioned a top historic preservation consultant to assess the historic elements and current conditions of the structure. This assessment, attached below, will be a primary guide as various redevelopment scenarios are advanced.
The report begins:
The Hollywood Theater opened at 2815 Johnson Avenue Northeast in 1935. Designed by architects Liebenberg and Kaplan, the movie theater is a noteworthy example of the Streamline Moderne style. Aesthetic, functional, and other considerations have resulted in alterations to the building, both before and after the theater closed in 1987. Despite numerous proposals to renovate the structure since that time, it remains vacant today. A chronology of the property’s history is appended to this report.
The Hollywood Theater as a Local Landmark
In his recent book Twin Cities Picture Show: A Century of Moviegoing, Dave Kenney described the Hollywood as “a stunning package of streamlined art deco architecture—a built-from-scratch showcase of Jack Liebenberg’s talent…It was stuffed with the kinds of deco accoutrements that came to define Liebenberg’s work: a soaring vertical sign; a patterned terrazzo floor; recessed lighting; simplified, gilded pillars; and acoustical tiles arranged in geometric patterns. From the street, a mass of smooth, unadorned Kasota stone seemed to hold in check the curvilinear shapes that clustered around the main entrance.”
Kenney noted, however, that “by the turn of the millennium, the Hollywood was a deteriorating historic structure facing shrinking odds of survival.” He added: “The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) designated the Hollywood a historic landmark, and though that designation helped protect the building from demolition, it also created renovation restrictions that spooked potential developers.”
Perhaps the most potentially-charged part of the report is found on page 6:
For the Hollywood Theater, preservation is not an appropriate treatment. The building will require more than basic maintenance to enable it to serve a useful purpose. The current mothballing is, essentially, the preservation treatment, which is not sustainable in the long run.
Reconstruction of the property as a whole is not required since the shell, primary interior spaces, and some interior details survive. The restoration treatment would require some reconstruction, though, to replace key elements that are no longer extant, such as the ceiling structure and wall surfaces in the auditorium. It might not be possible or desirable to exactly duplicate some of the lost features—the wall tiles, for example, probably contained asbestos. Other materials, however, could be substituted to create the same effect. It is not necessary, however, to develop a detailed scope of work to consider the feasibility of adopting the restoration treatment. Past efforts to resuscitate the theater as a theater have failed, and it seems unlikely that economic and other changes would justify this approach today.
The report includes photos and extensive footnotes. All are encouraged to download and read the whole thing.