Riviera Theatre

449 Wabasha Street North,
St. Paul, MN 55102

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Riviera in the 1920s

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened in 1920 as the Astor, by Finkelstein & Ruben, the theater was said to have cost close to $100,000 to construct. It originally sat around 1400, and presented both live stage shows and motion pictures. It also had its own house orchestra. However, just seven years later, F & R had the theater shuttered.

It was entirely rebuilt, by architect Thomas Farr Ellerbee, and renamed the Riviera. It was opened in late 1928, done in a Moorish-Oriental style, with live palm trees in the lobby, ultra-plush women’s lounges and Middle Eastern decor in the auditorium.

Its vertical marquee, which soared above Wabasha Street, was the first neon-lit sign in the Northwest.

The Governor of Minnesota as well as over 3000 visitors attended the opening-night festivities which included fireworks and a parade.

By the end of the 30s, the Riviera had began a program of double features, but by the mid-40s, it had returned to first-run films. In 1945, Minnesota Amusement Company, which ran the theater from the early 30s onwards, gave the Riviera a complete remodeling, which, despite the chain’s best-intentions, removed a great deal of its exotic original decor. The 1928 marquees were taken down and replaced with a far more simpler one.

Starting in the early 50s, the Riviera became known as the place to see event films. Even as late as the early 70s, films like “Patton” and “Papillon” drew large crowds, the latter film being the Riviera’s highest-grossing presentation in its history.

However, the theater was showing its age, and as in so many other big-city downtowns, the Riviera began to play to smaller and smaller audiences. In 1976, the theater was closed, despite promises that it would reopen after a remodeling—which never came. Not long afterward, it was torn down.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Broan on May 30, 2006 at 1:45 am

The original architects were Buechner & Orth

kencmcintyre on August 27, 2006 at 12:58 am

Here is a photo, sans marquee, from 1920, as well as two 1968 photos:

Tinseltoes on August 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Pictured in 1924 at bottom of this page: archive

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