Varsity Theater

1308 Fourth Street SE,
Minneapolis, MN 55414

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Varsity Theater

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The theater is located in Dinkytown, the neighborhood commercial district surrounding the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. It opened in 1915 as the University Theater. In 1939, it was remodeled by Liebenberg & Kaplan in Art Moderne style and renamed the Varsity Theater. It operated until sometime in the 1980s.

After it closed, a fierce battle raged over whether to turn it into a club or music venue. Those plans didn’t go through and the Varsity Theater housed a photo studio for some time. The auditorium was gutted to make way for lighting, backdrops, props, etc. The lobby and exterior elements such as the marquee and vertical were completely restored.

The theater reopened in January 2005 as a concert hall.

Contributed by Sean Ryan

Recent comments (view all 27 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 15, 2006 at 8:44 am

This is another recent photo of the Varsity Theater. Still open.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 5, 2007 at 6:29 am

As mentioned in a comment above, this theater opened in 1915 as the University Theater. The architect for the remodel was Jack Liebenberg.

This is a 9/23/2004 article about the Varsity Theater.

“Plans take shape for Dinkytown’s Varsity Theater.

Source: Finance and Commerce Daily Newspaper, MN
Byline: Burl Gilyard

Restaurateur and impresario Jason McLean has found his niche in Dinkytown, recently launching his third project in the University of Minnesota business district. In his latest deal, he signed a lease at the iconic Varsity Theater, a onetime cinema at 1308 4th St. S.E. that he plans to convert into a cafe and performance space.

“We want to return it to being a theater, and as such I want it to be a multi-purpose space,” said McLean. “I see it as bringing people into the neighborhood.”

McLean said that he is planning to open a small cafe with soups, sandwiches and a full bar in the space that once served as the lobby to the theater. In the old theater space, McLean envisions an eclectic combination of theater, dance, film and music, with seating for about 180 to 200 people.

McLean wants to have the cafe open by late October and plans to have the performance space ready to go by November. The building offers approximately 9,000 square feet of space on the main floor and balcony.

McLean is inviting local producers and promoters to a meeting at the theater this Saturday to introduce them to the space.

McLean currently operates the Loring Pasta Bar, 327 14th Ave. S.E., and the Kitty Cat Klub, 315 14th Ave. S.E., on the same block.

The Varsity dates to 1915, when it began life as the University Theater. It was overhauled into its modern incarnation in 1939 by noted regional theater architect Jack Liebenberg. The building hit the market in January after a commercial photography studio moved out.

But it’s been more than a decade since the space was open to the public.

Michael Finkelstein of St. Paul-based Suntide Commercial Realty handled the property, which is owned by his parents.

“He’s got a very cool concept, very unique,” said Finkelstein. “It’s the right fit. He’s a very talented guy.”

McLean will be leasing the building, with an option to buy the property.

Previously, McLean ran the popular Loring Cafe near Loring Park in Minneapolis. That restaurant closed in 2002 amid a highly publicized falling out between McLean and his landlord. The original Loring Cafe served drinks and food, but it was perhaps best known as a local scene.

Although McLean was frustrated with his exodus from Loring Park, he is clearly trying to re-create the same vibe in Dinkytown.

“Before I was in the restaurant business, I was a theater actor, director, producer. It’s a natural,” said McLean of the Varsity space. “This facility is just magnificent, and I just get goose bumps when I go in there. It just fits perfectly”.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 9, 2007 at 7:16 am

Here is a 2007 night view of the Varsity Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 17, 2007 at 8:40 am

This is a more recent photo of the Varsity Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 18, 2007 at 8:12 am

Here is another 2007 view.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 1, 2007 at 8:59 am

A more recent photo can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 9, 2008 at 7:17 pm

This is an August 2008 photo.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 16, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Here is the Varsity at night.

dmmaasch on May 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I was manager of the Varsity and the Campus theatres during the 1970’s, a great time to work in that area. I still have the original blueprints from 1915 and the remodeling prints from 1939. In the early 1970’s, General Cinema remodeled it to their company style

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