The Palace

Header image by McGheiver under Creative Commons Licence 3.0

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

I subscribe to my home town paper, The Rock County Star Herald, and I am constantly amazed by the positive tone and progressive activities the paper reports. For example, there is a $1,000,000 renovation to the library getting underway. The town just beautified the four corners of the major intersection in town to make it more appealing, and the community voted to extend some sort of special State financial assessment that benefits the public school system.  The town has three museums, a new hospital, and a beautiful Veteran’s Nursing Home. The Rock County Historical Society raised $150,000 from private funds to remodel its new building, and the newspaper recently referred to the director of the Historical Society (an elderly woman who taught with my mom) as “Rock County’s Sweetheart of History”.

I think one reason for all this good natured  progressiveness goes back 100 years to the building of The Palace Theater in 1915.  It is a grand structure in the Beaux arts style with 550 seats, built by Herman Jochims for traveling theater troupes, orchestras, and vaudeville acts. It has an orchestra pit and, after 1926, air conditioning and new decor in the Art Deco style.  Herman wanted the Palace to compete with any of the theaters in large cities , and spared no expense decorating it. The second story was used as a ballroom and eventually as Maude and Herman’s residence. In 1926 Herman installed a pipe organ which his wife, Maude, played during the silent films he showed. She was an elegant woman noted for her musicality and elegant dresses.  I watched movies at the Palace all through my childhood and adolescence. It was so posh inside. The first things I always noticed after walking in the foyer were the two large, round mirrors, hung directly opposite one another, so that they reflected the other in smaller and smaller images as though the images went on into infinity.

By 1977, the Palace had fallen on hard times and had been foreclosed by the bank down the block. My parents often talked about the travails of the theater at this time, and I got more details about the issues in a paper by Maianne Preble of the Minnesota Historical Society in 2009. Community members raised money and got grants, and volunteers helped with renovations, so that the theater opened again and was purchased by a local theater group. Some movies and live plays were presented, but there was trouble ahead when the theater group’s Board of Directors sold the building to one of its members in 2001.  There was a general uproar at this, and, eventually, a new and revised Board of Directors repurchased the building after it again went into foreclosure by the bank down the block. This bank gave the new Board of Directors a line of credit with which to buy the building back. More extensive renovations took place, and the building is now owned by the city, which partners with the theater group for its day to day management. Movies are shown, and live theater and musical groups perform regularly.

My hometown isn’t perfect by any means. There is the conflict and disagreement and hard feelings that you find in all communities. I think, though, that the live  performances  and movies gave people the opportunity to see beyond their current situation and dream of something better.  Many people have reported seeing the ghost of Herman up in the balcony, and the organ has been heard playing when it was turned off and even dismantled for renovation. (Maude, no doubt, wanting to play again.) I like to think that when there are hard decisions to be made in town, their spirits flit out of the Palace and start whispering in people’s ears “Do it right. Make it beautiful.”

What local landmark lifts your spirits? 

52 thoughts on “The Palace”

      1. THE highlight of all the events, movies and spectaculars ever held at the Fargo, was the live broadcast of a certain MPR morning show starring Jim Ed Poole. Another guy was there too but I forget his name.

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  1. I have perhaps an odd answer: my local grocery store. The building that currently houses a Kowalski’s was a Red Owl when I was a kid (if I was good and helpful while shopping I could either pick my own cereal for the week or get a circus-themed box of animal crackers). Long before it became a grocery store it was a bowling alley – my dad talked about going bowling with his pals when he was in high school. This part of town was kind of the edge of town then: the Bachmans had a farm, but were not yet the gardening empire they have since become; there was a little church where there is now an apartment building (and before that a bank); and decades before that there had been a small mill on the creek and Tangletown was known to be a preferred hunting ground for the Native Americans in the area (a book about the history of the area talks about a farmer who knew when he purchased his land from the prior farmer that part of the deal was leaving that side of the creek for hunting). That Kowalski’s building reminds me of the history of this little corner of Minneapolis and all that was here long before I was here – its history and repurposing a gentle reminder that things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes just different (and perhaps, in the case of Tangletown, maybe not in an equitable way).

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Yes. Minnehaha creek. While I can picture Tangletown as a lovely bit of woods, wrapping my head around Minnehaha having the umph to run a small mill is a bit harder to do.

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  2. I live near Anna, so remember the Red Owl that used to be on the corner. And the Boulevard Theatre just up the street from there. Sad but true, both buildings and businesses) were in sad shape when they were each sold. Interesting that folks are willing to plow a lot of money into new ventures but not shore up the old ones.

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  3. Thanks Renee… your bit reminds me of my years in Northfield, going to the Grand Theatre.

    I saw Blazing Saddles there – I laughed so hard I cried and actually fell out of my seat once. Also saw Network there with my boyfriend’s parents – long enough ago that sitting next to them, hearing the bad language and seeing the sex scenes embarrassed me.

    But what I remember most about the Grand was Star Wars. Kids these days don’t realized what a game changer the initial movie was when it came out. I sat in the theatre with my mouth in a permanent “wow” shape through the whole movie. I went back the next three nights!

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  4. I’ll try to answer the question in a moment. First, memories of the theater in Ames that was like the Palace.

    In my home town, Ames, Iowa, we had an inexpensive movie house (the Capitol) and an elegant one (the Collegian). When I was a child the Collegian was a fancy place. At a time when ten cents would buy you two movies and a serial at the Capitol, the Collegian charged a whole quarter for one feature film. It was one of the first buildings in Ames to have air conditioning in the early 1950s.

    As you entered the theater you were in a posh carpeted lobby with a grand confection counter and stand-up posters promoting films that were due to be shown. There were at least two ushers, each in a uniform like you might have seen in Phillip Morris cigarette ads. The ushers had flashlights to help you walk the carpeted aisles in the dark and claim an open seat. They’d shine the lights on unclaimed seats for you. The ushers had one other responsibility. If a couple took advantage of the darkness to engage in what was then called “making out,” an usher would light them up and shame them into stopping what they’d started.

    Before the movie ran the theater’s screen was hidden from view by massive velvet curtains. They swept aside dramatically to signal that the show was about to begin.

    People didn’t actually dress up to go see a movie, but going to the Collegian felt special.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Barb, they were not only both in Ames but both were on Main Street (although at opposite ends). The Capitol was on the eastern end of Main. The Collegian was on the western end. Both were owned by a character who was mysterious to me, a guy named Joe Gerbrach.

        Ames had another theater in Campustown. And of course there was also the Ranch Drive-In.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I just read another detail that supports my post about how attending the Collegian was an upscale experience. Joe Gerbrach, the owner, would dress in a tuxedo and greet filmgoers in the lobby.

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    1. The Palace had asbestos curtains that had wonderful designs painted on them. There is a way for historic preservationists to seal these types of curtains such that the designs are visible but the asbestos is contained, and that is what they did with the curtains in the Palace.

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  5. The Minnesota Paranormal Investigation Group got permission to conduct a tour of the Palace several years ago on Halloween. It’s reputed to be very haunted by several ghosts. Apparently, there is a 1920’s showgirl that goes giggling down the backstage stairs, presumably on her way to a show on stage. A person described as a ‘man that looks homeless’ is seen sitting in one of the balcony seats. I think they said that a former projectionist is still working in his projection room at the top of the balcony. And there is an upstairs backstage room, painted in bright red, that we were strictly instructed NOT to go into. “There’s something in there that doesn’t want us there,” was all the guide told us. In preparation, the MPIG spent the previous night there with a reporter from the Strib. The reporter said he had to leave by 3am because all of the weird sounds & noises were seriously freaking him out.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Betty, the Rock County Historical sweetheart is quoted as saying that she had to grab and remove an organ pipe once to make it stop playing when the organ was turned off.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lots of Duluth things apply, like lift bridge. In Two Harbors itself most all is gone: three old schools, every old church (but the nice stone Catholic church remains), city hall, movie theater, arched sign for Thomas Owens Park–Right by ore docks. The sign arched over sixth Avenue in downtown. Half of downtown is closed buildings or empty lots. Court House is same. Carnegie library is added onto but old building sits as it always did, nice job on that.
    But all the iron ore related landmarks remains. Lighthouse (now a B and B), ore docks, Edna G. tugboat, very old three-spot engine, huge mallet engine from 1950’s, and the breakwater, my favorite. First thing we do when we get back is walk the breakwater, which neither one of us may never be able to do again.
    Split Rock light house. Old stone buildings in Gooseberry Park.
    So I am rather flooded from that part of my life. I have so many connections to that park, including a few of the men who CCCed there. In the winter. We used to drive into one of the stone picnic shelters. The park always took the tables and benches out of the one open picnic shelter for the winter. We would go there with our small kids. We would build a fire in the big fireplace, the kids would ride there trikes around the building. We would bring an electric frying pan (Outlets were left on) and make pancakes and sausages for supper. Among our childrens’ favorite memories. Bit our kids memory banks are loaded with North Shore experiences.
    Have only been in Kato 17 years. Older residents miss many things of which I have no experience.
    (Turns out this building has in its “Library” no books but it does have a computer for building use. But I will have to somehow get a computer and get back online, switching to the other option here in town.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. nice recall of the th area. i love the ccc bldgs in the park. all that ccc stuff is wonderful . i love that they took such pride int he makining of the buildings

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  7. For one, an active preservationist group in Marshalltown, Iowa, managed in the 1980s to save the old Courthouse from being demolished, and instead refurbished. It stands today on the courthouse square, just as in any other good Midwestern town.

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    1. Rock County still uses its old courthouse, but they turned the old Jail next door into the Herreid Military museum and Jim Brandenburg Photography Gallery. The only things that haunts the courthouse are bats. All the office workers were armed with tennis rackets to wack the bats down. They finally got some guy who does bat mitigation work to clear the bats out and batproof the building.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have only lived in Minneapolis for just under two years so I don’t have a strong connection to any local landmarks. In Clarks Grove, where I lived for more than 30 years, there are places that are spirit lifting for me in certain ways. I would put the hardware store at the top of my list of favorite places in the Grove.

    Clarks Grove was founded by Danes who had a tradition of forming cooperatives. In it’s early days the hardware store was a cooperative. It had been privately own for many years when we moved to town. However, it did seem to still be a place that the community valued and supported.

    The owner, when we first moved there, was a business man from nearby Albert Lea who was well like in spite of his very tight fisted way with money. Although it was know that he had plenty of money, he would always try to get half priced meals of left over food at the local restaurant.

    The more recent owners were local, very well liked, community spirited people who somehow were able to get a good deal on buying the store from the very thrifty owner. Apparently he was not as tight fisted as was thought. Unfortunately, one of the two people who bought the store died and the other person no longer ownes a share of the store. The store is presently up for sales and I am afraid it may be closed if a buyer can’t be found.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. We are travelling to Bremen, Germany, this May. One of the landmarks I am eager to see is the very old (c. 1404) statue of Roland in the old town square. My ancestors lived in the area and were fairly well to do and active in the are in the middle ages, so I know that they looked at that statue. It is a very important landmark in Bremen, along with the modern statue of the Bremen Town Musicians close by.

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  10. Rise and Shine:

    The landmark I love is also a natural geographic feature: The Mississippi River. I cross this daily on the way to work. Sometimes I see Bald Eagles sitting on the branches of the trees which grow along the banks, or the eagles fly above.

    It makes me feel grounded in my day.

    Meanwhile, Renee, I have driven by the Palace many times on trip to Pipestone, just 20 miles north. Old Home Territory! What a great post. And I love the ghost stories!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. More about courthouse squares. I think that pattern originated in New England. One whole city block is devoted to a park that surrounds a handsome county courthouse, almost always with a big clock on it. Many have bell towers. The surrounding parkland will usually have wandering sidewalks, some towering trees, a few benches and an old field cannon from Civil War or WW I.

    The commercial district in towns set up this way will feature the businesses on the four streets that surround the square. They will usually be a mix of smaller retail operations, a theater and a restaurant or three.

    Throughout the country, small town business districts have fallen into decay when large box discount merchandisers build on cheap land on the edge of town. Suddenly retail dies in the downtown area, and in many small towns nothing replaces it. What I have noticed, though, is that courthouse square towns seem to do better than straight Main Street small towns. The natural charm of the square and the continued need for county government give courthouse square downtown regions more footing to compete with the big boxes.

    Small towns without courthouse squares sometimes save their business districts by embracing the arts. That often involves rehabilitating old movie theaters to convert them to general art centers with a gallery and a space for live performance.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m not sure, but I think I live in an historical structure that will undoubtedly be torn down in the next 15 years. This cottage built in 1865 according to my brother. It’s charm and character are beyond describing in words, but no cottage that’s ever existed more deserves to live 75′ from a lake.

    In about two weeks, there’s going to be a feature article with many pictures of this old place in the Strib. The story is about the teardown controversy in our city and the shame of removing very old homes in order to build McMansions.

    This phenomenon won’t be reversed by this feature or a thousand more, but it will be a snapshot in time for future generations ahead of me of that which once was.

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  13. Old things and old buildings do not survive unless they make it through a certain period of risk. As we grow up we feel annoyed by certain shortcomings in our homes, business buildings or objects. Things come along that seem newer and better. Seeking improvement, we demolish or throw away the old stuff. This is usually considered “progress.”

    Some old stuff survives long enough that a somewhat younger generation finds it appealing because it has a “charm” that new spaces or new objects lack.

    Not long ago the bungalows so ubiquitous in many cities were considered too small and badly organized to please modern families. Cities were proud when bungalows were demolished and replaces with houses far better designed for modern tastes. I think the turning point in Minneapolis came in the early 1980s when some people began discovering the unique charm of bungalows built 75 years earlier, and there arose a movement to preserve them.

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  14. The Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul is one of my favorite buildings in St. Paul.

    When I first moved to St. Paul in 1972, the building was slated for demolition, but a a group of concerned citizens rallied enough support and financial resources to reverse that decision. It originally served as a post office, court and customs house, and that’s how it was still used when I first discovered it. Husband and I were married there, in the Chief Justices Chambers, thirty-six years ago, shortly after the completion of the renovation.

    The exterior is pink granite ashlar with a hipped red tile roof, steeply pitched to shed snow and adorned by numerous turrets, gables and dormers with steeply peaked roofs; cylindrical corner towers with conical turrets occupy almost every change of projection. There are two massive towers, one of which houses a clock. The exterior is almost devoid of carved detail. The interior features a five-story courtyard with skylight and rooms with 20-foot ceilings, appointed with marble and carved mahogany and oak finishes.

    The Landmark Center faces Rice Park. Directly across the park is the James J. Hill Library. The Ordway Theater and The St. Paul Hotel are other neighbors overlooking the park. During the winter season, Rice Park is a winter wonderland of trees glittering with tiny lights. I love this place and am privileged to live within a five minute drive from it.

    Today the Landmark Center is the home of several arts and cultural organizations, and many, many celebrations, both public and private, take place there. It’s well worth a visit.

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  15. There is a beautiful old house in Luverne that was purchased by some people form Georgia, I believe, who never lived in the house but planned to, and then one of the owners got ill. They never got back to town but planned to. The roof leaked, the basement filled with water due to a water main leak, and then it was full of mold. The owners kept promising the city they would fix it up, but finally, the city commission decided to condemn the property and now are having it razed. I hate hearing about situations like that.

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      1. People in St Paul tried to block the demolition of my former home on Juliet. But by the time news of the planned destruction of it came out, the city had already signed off on permits. There wasn’t enough time to mount a good preservation campaign. I think that happens a lot. Some cities are now developing legislation to check the trend to demolishing homes with character and replacing them with huge modern homes.

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    1. An fine old home near Island Park in Fargo nearly suffered demolition. It was owned by a cat hoarder. After she died the new owners went all in on the place. They ripped out all the subfloors right down to the floor joists. It was still smelly when I went in to install new carpet and tile. They had to go into the basement and jackhammer out the concrete which turned out to be 12 inches thick in keeping with 1890 construction.

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  16. I remember the week they moved the Shubert Theater from its original location in downtown Minneapolis. Actually, I think it took more than a week. I worked in Butler Square at the time, and our conference room windows faced the block where the Shubert ended up. I was rather fascinated by it – this stately old structure creeping ever so slowly up Hennepin Avenue. I told our network manager that he should set up a camera and post a live webcam feature on our website, but he did not share my enthusiasm.

    If you can believe what you read on the Internet, it was the heaviest building ever moved on rubber tires, at about 5,800,000 pounds.

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  17. There is a lovely, quaint building here in Robbinsdale that was once the public library, and is now the R’dale Historical Society / Art Gallery. I wish I could have seen it when it was the library, but at least it’s still standing.

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  18. the orpheum theater was saved by bob dylan when the big old downtown theaters were places bums would drink and spend the day staying warm. the balcony was boarded up and the ceiling showed water leaks and had plaster falling down . both it and the state downt he raod were slated for demolition i believe and then the saviors came in. i like going into southdale and remembering how much i felt at home in the building as a kid. the sculptures that were always taken for granted still hold up in the courtyard today. minnehaha falls and the stevens house which was the first residence in minneapolis i think the sign says ( how can that be) going into the old daytons store, the big and beautiful are cool but als breakfast and mickeys diner surviving in this world of cookie cutter fast food and chain store mentality are a tribute to the human spirit.
    thanks renee
    get sick more often. this one is a gem

    Liked by 1 person

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