Starry skies have returned to Hennepin Avenue.
The Granada Theater, formerly known as Suburban World, has been restored to its former glory. The theater’s ornately appointed auditorium — featuring gilded statuary, elaborate colonnades and a vaulted ceiling painted to look like the twinkling night sky — is once again ready to host revelers, even if big shows are out of the picture for a while.
The theater opened its restaurant on Aug. 15 and is beginning to schedule smaller, socially distanced shows for its new stage. After years without occupants, a lengthy historical restoration and months of delay due to the pandemic, the 1920s structure is back.
“Just seeing the response from people felt really good,” said Amy Reher, a partner in the project.
People have been waiting for action in the theater for a long time.
The Hennepin Avenue venue opened as the Granada Theater in 1927 and was the first neighborhood theater to show talking pictures, according to a city report. In the 1950s it became Suburban World Theater, which flourished in the late 20th century.
The new millennium has not been as kind. It has had long bouts of unoccupancy, including from 2002 to 2005, and has changed hands multiple times. It has been closed since 2011 and, despite a concerted eff ort in 2013 toward restoration and reopening, has sat empty for nearly a decade. Reher and business partner Doug Hoskin bought the property in 2018 and worked diligently, following guidelines from the Heritage Preservation Commission, to restore the building.
While the city’s historical preservation staff had long requested the Suburban World letters be retained above the marquee, Reher and Hoskin opted to go further back and restore the original name to the building.
The old Spanish-revival style, with terra cotta roof tiling, was kept as well. All the balconies and statues lining the concert hall are original, but had suffered from wear, tear and neglect over the years. To restore those elements, the group needed to hire artisan plaster and paint crews.
“Really what we wanted to do was work within the existing structure,” Reher said.
The group worked to flatten out the main auditorium space, creating a floor-style area in front of the stage that maximizes room for a standing concert crowd or table seating for weddings and corporate events. Modernizing and improving the acoustics was a difficult task, Reher said.
To help boost the maximum capacity from 200 to 600, the group added modern fire sprinkler systems and more restrooms, creating space by removing the original orchestra pit and an ancient boiler room. The old film projection room was removed to make way for a commercial kitchen.
The pandemic was particularly derailing to the Granada. The theater was set to reopen in March and had a year’s worth of shows and events booked before COVID-19 hit. Because it hadn’t been in business long, and because the group’s few early employees were contractors, the theater has been ineligible for relief measures approved by Congress like Paycheck Protection Program loans.
“We’re still struggling through,” Reher said.
It could be a while before the newly restored theater gets to take full advantage of its 600-person live event capacity. The buzz in the industry is that it could be until late 2021 or early 2022 that concerts return to normal, and even that’s just a guess, Reher said. The truth is no one can say when the pandemic will ease enough to allow large, indoor gatherings. (For more on the challenges facing local theaters, see page A10.)
“The conversations can be a bit much at times,” Reher said.
But the theater is making do with what it can right now. Small, socially distanced dinner-and-a-show events with musical performers are scheduled for Sept. 24, 25 and 27, Reher said. They are also booking for small weddings and corporate events, something the group expects to be a large part of its business going forward.
For now, the group is letting chef Ron Koch serve guests Spanish-inspired cuisine in its large bar area, adorned with shining chandeliers and lined with the original brick walls. There’s room for about 40 guests in the Hennepin Avenue patio space and large doors enable lots of open air to flow to the bar.
Residents in South Uptown and ECCO have been tracking the development with great interest, Reher said, and as soon as the restaurant opened, people were coming in to see the space.
“The local community has been wonderful and very supportive,” Reher said.
3022 Hennepin Ave.
Photographer Isaiah Rustad visited the theater on Sept. 14: