History of the Hollywood Part 3: Historic Designation to City Acquisition

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Original Post

By Ryan Salmon, Project Associate

Preservation Design Works has recently been working with Andrew Volna, a prospective developer interested in the Hollywood Theater*, located at 2815 Johnson St. NE in Minneapolis. Several attempts to redevelop the building have been made in the past 25 years; thus far all have been unsuccessful. To help learn where things have gone wrong in the past, and to avoid problems encountered by previous redevelopment efforts, I have been researching both the history of the theater and of the redevelopment efforts. This post is the third of a multi-part series about the history of the Hollywood Theater and efforts to re-open its doors. My first post in this series covered the history of the theater from its grand opening to the closing of its doors in 1987. My second post covered an effort to convert the theater into fourteen apartment units, which drummed up strong opposition and ultimately fell through after the exterior and interior of the building were designated as historic. In this post, I outline redevelopment efforts following the historic designation, up to the acquisition of the building by the City of Minneapolis in 1993.

In June, 1991, a new group of prospective buyers had emerged and were working to gather support for their plans. Hollywood Development Corporation, which included attorney Jon Hawks, architect Russell Drake, and restaurant owner Kristen Reiser, presented their plans at an ANIA meeting for a family-friendly dinner theater that would serve pizza or sandwiches and show second-run movies. The group had a purchase agreement with Hollywood Group Four (the group of developers who tried to convert the building to apartments), contingent upon preliminary approval of a 3.2% beer and wine liquor license. Hollywood Development Corporation planned to repair the roof, restore the lobby, add a small kitchen to the concession area, make the theater accessible, remove most of the original seats, install a tiered floor with dinner tables, and potentially restore the well on the site. They initially estimated renovation costs at $200,000. According to a July 24, 1991 Northeaster article, most neighbors at the meeting were receptive to the idea, with the exception of a man who expressed concern that if the group’s venture failed, a “less desirable type of bar” could open at the site. Catherine Vesley, by then the former ANIA chair, said that similar style ventures were popular in other parts of the country, but she expressed concern that obtaining a liquor license could present a problem: “booze in Northeast [Minneapolis] is not an easy concept.”

By November, 1991, Hollywood Development Corporation’s plan petered out. The group stated it gave up because it was tired of fighting “city bureaucracy,” largely due to council member Walter Dziedzic’s opposition to the 3.2% liquor license. In a November 27, 1991 Northeasterarticle, Jon Hawks explained the trouble they encountered: “We met all the requirements for obtaining the 3.2 beer license. But where it bogged down was when the investigative licensing department would not move our request into the next stage because the financing was not completed. We had a letter of commitment from the bank for $120,000. We were putting up $120,000 of our own money. Minneapolis Community Development Agency was willing to give us $30,000 in two-percent revolving loan funds. But we still need $95,000 in Community Economic Development Funds. MCDA told us those funds were not readily available. The city council would have to move our request up in priority, and that required the assistance of the city council person. But Walt Dziedzic said he didn’t think the project would work. That’s where things ended.” In the same article, Dziedic said that his opposition to the group obtaining a liquor license was quite clear, but he blamed the demise of the project on financing. Rob Blumenthal, who was to be the tenant of the building, disagreed: “It wasn’t the financing. We had the means to work that out, and the present owners were being very cooperative. It was Walt Dziedzic. He wasn’t interested in our project.” Carroll Peterson of Hollywood Group Four (which still owned the building) also voiced frustration with the city: “I’d hate to have the building lost. Structurally it’s all right, but the historic features on the inside are disappearing. All along the city’s been a pain in the butt. We’re not going to fight them. Now any financing we might have had for our original project has gone to hell.”

Over the next year and a half, little activity occurred at the Hollywood. Neighborhood residents continued to work on gathering support for re-opening the theater. In February, 1993, film historian and archivist Bob DeFlores presented rare films from the 1920s and 1930s, and conducted a question and answer session at a nearby school. Organizers of the event hoped that it would raise both money and interest for a re-opening of the theater.

In August, 1993, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA, which later merged into the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, or CPED), stepped in and directed the City of Minneapolis to purchase both the Hollywood Theater and the site of a former gas station across the street from the theater. The gas station site was purchased with the intention of it serving as a parking lot for the Hollywood. According to an August 11, 1993Northeaster article, the MCDA purchased the theater from Hollywood Group Four for $20,000 plus one-year’s back property taxes. MCDA Project Coordinator Jane Lerdall stated that city officials wanted to stabilize the theater before winter, indicating that the condition of the theater was deteriorating pretty rapidly: “we wish we could have gotten in and protected it from this summer’s rains.” Others noted that the moisture was taking its toll on interior finishes, such as the plaster work.

In my upcoming post on the history of the Hollywood Theater, I will cover attempts to reopen or redevelop the theater following its acquisition by the City of Minneapolis.

*Note regarding nomenclature: I have encountered “Hollywood Theater” and “Hollywood Theatre” used interchangeably in reference to the building. The original drawings and advertisements for the building called it the “Hollywood Theatre,” however the majority of the material I have found about the building called it the “Hollywood Theater.” For the sake of simplicity, and in accordance with the most conventional American English spelling, I will refer to the building as the “Hollywood Theater.”

Sources:

Gail Filmore, “Prospective buyers plan casual dinner theater for the Hollywood,” Northeaster, July 24, 1991.

Gail Filmore, “Hollywood proposal fizzles, ‘city bureaucracy’ blamed,” Northeaster, November 27, 1991.

Margo Ashmore, “Hoofers to help celebrate Hollywood Theatre’s history and – maybe – future,” Northeaster, February 24, 1993.

Kerry Ashmore, “City agrees to buy theater for $20,000 plus some back taxes,” Northeaster, August 11, 1993.

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