Robinnsdale’s Historic Terrace Theatre is featured in Classic Images (#504) June 2017 issue, pp. 44-45, with photos and other art work.
“Terrace Theatre, One of America’s Finest,” was written by David Zarkin, Bloomington, a former writer for United Press International, Idaho Daily Statesman and University of Minnesota.
To order this issue of the magazine, contact Classic Images, Carol Peterson, 563-262-0539 or firstname.lastname@example.org
AMERICA’S FINEST THEATER REMEMBERED by David Zarkin
Minnesotans for more than a year have been sharing movie-going memories and celebrating one of the nation’s outstanding mid century modern design movie theaters, the Terrace in suburban Robbinsdale.
“Few, if any, Twin Cities movie theaters ever attracted the kind of national attention that the Terrace received when it opened in 1951,” Dave Kenney wrote in his book, Twin Cities Picture Show. The theater was demolished in early October by the property owner to make way for a Hy-Vee grocery store.
The Terrace Theatre, which was vacated 16 years ago and changed ownership several times, was a beacon to the community with a high tower topped by lighted letters that spelled out Terrace. Looking more like a church than a movie house, the Terrace was a community gathering place where residents came together in this mid century modern building that set Robbinsdale apart from lager suburbs that were littered with dreary strip malls.
The Terrace Theatre was the vision of businessmen William and Sidney Volk, orphaned immigrant children who came to Minneapolis from Lithuania in the early 1920s. Sidney attended the University of Minnesota and wanted to go to medical school but couldn’t afford the tuition, said his niece Barbara Sidley.
By the 1930s the brothers were well established Twin Cities movie exhibitors looking to make a big splash by building the Riverview Theater in 1949 near the Mississippi River in a residential neighborhood. The Riverview was later remodeled to incorporate many of the modern design elements of the Terrace and remains a popular destination for Twin Cities moviegoers who want to enjoy the latest exhibition technology at bargain prices.
Architectural magazines raved about the Riverview, Will Hertz reported March 3, 1949 in the Minneapolis Tribune, while the brothers were building “the theater of tomorrow” in Robbinsdale. Realizing that television was taking a toll on movie attendance in the late 1940s, the Volks recruited imaginative architects Liebenberg and Kaplan to design a modern unique space age movie house that would give Minnesotans compelling reasons to leave their comfortable living rooms.
When the Terrace opened in 1951 showing Father’s Little Dividend, the theater’s newspaper ad boasted that this new theater has “two spacious well furnished nursery rooms, special loge sections for ultra comfort, staggered seating for better vision, 100 percent temperature conditioner and the largest theater in the great Northwest with 1,300 seats.”
Volk brothers’ great grandnephew David Sidley said as a child going to the Terrace he was surprised to find a TV lounge on the side of the foyer which seemed out of place in a movie theater. Boxoffice magazine on Aug. 4, 1951, reported that the TV lounge “gets a steady play from patrons who become perfect prospects for soft drinks and snacks served from the bar.” Barbara Sidley, the Volk brothers’ niece, said the Terrace was the first theater to sell hot dogs in addition to popcorn and other refreshments.
Going to the Terrace was like coming home. The theater featured a sunken lounge with a copper-hooded fireplace and a redwood smoking lounge was provided in the men’s room. “Unique features included three garage stalls in the basement, a system of dumbwaiters serving the candy counter and coke bar, spacious refreshment storage rooms and two large private offices. The theater tops a rise overlooking a surrounding portion of the countryside set with several of the sparkling lakes for which the region is famous,” Boxoffice reported.
Years before the theater closed in 1999, it was divided into three screens, but competition from nearby suburban multiplexes sealed the fate of the space age modern building. David Leonhardt of Robbinsdale worked at the theater where he met his future wife Alyssa and most recently headed a group that sought to preserve the building. He and others encouraged developers to incorporate the theater in their plans for the site.
“Everybody in Robbinsdale or from Robbinsdale has some kind of an emotional connection to the Terrace,” said Diane Jacobson, president of the Robbinsdale Historical Society. “It was the showplace of the town.”
Efforts were underway before the demolition to list the theater on the National Registry of Historic Places and May 23, 2016, was declared “Historic Terrace Theatre Day” honoring the 65th anniversary of America’s finest movie house.