St. Paul's newest theater is a century old

This weekend's opening of the Palace Theatre is actually a re-opening of a building with a long history.
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As Atmosphere christens St. Paul's newest music theater Friday night, they're performing on a stage where Charlie Chaplin once stood. And the Marx Brothers ... and a bunch of other people who were really famous 90 or 100 years ago.

That's because the opening of the Palace Theatre is really a re-opening of a building that started out as a showplace for vaudeville acts.

First the library burned down

The Minnesota Historical Society's Placeography page says St. Paul's public library occupied this downtown location until it was destroyed by a fire in 1915.

By the end of the next year it was replaced with the Palace.

In the 1920s it was equipped to show movies and was renamed the Orpheum. It hosted a mixture of vaudeville, movies, and big bands through the 1930s, the website Substreet says, and the adjacent hotel became known as a hangout for mobsters.

In 1946 it was renovated as a movies-only theater, which lasted until 1977 when the curtain came down on the Palace.

For one year in the '80s Garrison Keillor did A Prairie Home Companion there and more recently Brave New Workshop did some comedy shows in the lobby. But for the most part the ol' Palace has been sitting empty for the last 40 years.

Rebirth of a theater

When it was almost too beat up to fix up, the city of St. Paul decided to buy the Palace in 2015. The renovation wound up costing more than $15 million, the Pioneer Press reports.

Now that it's done, nearby businesses are psyched about the 100,000 people a year it's projected to attract, the newspaper says.

First Avenue and Jam Productions have teamed up to run the theater. It has room for about 2,500 people, their website says. Most of them will have general admission tickets to stand on the main floor, which has three tiers. But behind that and in the balcony are more than 700 theater seats – in fact they're the Palace's original seats (reupholstered, though).

The bars and bathrooms are all brand new but the city says the renovation work purposely let the Palace show its age in some places to give it a "frozen in time" aesthetic. There's a time lapse video of the renovation work here and scenes from a December sneak peek of the inside are here.

Opening weekend at the Palace continues with performances by the Jayhawks on Saturday and Phantogram on Sunday. There's a full list of upcoming shows here.

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