449 Wabasha Street N.,
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Opened May 15 1920 as the Astor Theatre, by Finkelstein & Ruben, the theatre was said to have cost close to $100,000 to construct. It was designed by architects Buechner & Orth and originally seated 1,100, 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 in August 1927.
It was entirely rebuilt, by architect Thomas Farr Ellerbee Snr., and renamed the Riviera Theatre. It was opened November 10, 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. The opening movie was “State Street Sadie” starring Conrad Nagel & Myna Loy.
Its vertical marquee, which soared above Wabasha Street N., was the first neon-lit sign in the Northwest.
The Governor of Minnesota as well as over 3,000 visitors attended the opening-night festivities which included fireworks and a parade.
By the end of the 1930’s, the Riviera Theatre had began a program of double features, but by the mid-1940’s, it had returned to first-run films. In 1945, Minnesota Amusement Company, which ran the theatre from the early-1930’s onwards, gave the Riviera Theatre 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-1950’s, the Riviera Theatre became known as the place to see event films. Even as late as the early-1970’s, films like “Patton” and “Papillon” drew large crowds, the latter film being the Riviera Theatre’s highest-grossing presentation in its history.
However, the theatre was showing its age, and as in so many other big-city downtowns, the Riviera Theatre began to play to smaller and smaller audiences. On November 25, 1976, the theatre was closed, despite promises that it would reopen after a remodeling—which never came. Not long afterward, it was torn down.
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