Empire Arts Center
415 DeMers Avenue,
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Empire Arts Center (Official)
Previously operated by: ABC Theatres, Finkelstein & Ruben, Paramount-Publix, Plitt Theatres
Architects: Charles Buechner, Henry Orth
Firms: Buechner & Orth
Functions: Movies (Classic), Performing Arts
Styles: Italian Renaissance
Previous Names: New Grand Theatre, Grand Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Empire Theatre
The New Grand Theatre, designed by Buechner & Orth in an Italian Revival style, opened on November 10, 1919 with 948 seats as the first structure in town constructed specifically for showing movies rather than live performances. By 1926 it was operated by the Finkelstein & Rubin chain. It was the first theatre in town to add sound in 1928, was heavily remodeled in 1930 after becoming a Paramount-Publix Theatre. It was remodeled again in 1954 when it was the first theatre in town to add CinemaScope and stereo sound, changing its name to the Empire Theatre in January 1955.
It remained essentially the same until it closed in 1994 and was donated by Midcontinent Theatres to the local arts council in 1995. It was renovated to preserve the flavor of all three of its incarnations (especially its original Baroque and 1930s Deco touches), while reducing the seating to accommodate a newly expanded stage and new orchestra pit.
Currently, it hosts a variety of live stage events, meetings, and some movies (usually presented on 16mm or via video projection, as the theatre has not yet been able to afford to acquire 35mm film equipment to replace what was removed when it closed as a first-run movie house).
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Recent comments (view all 7 comments)
My earliest memory of this place was seeing “Mary Poppins”, probably around ‘65 or '66. It was one of the few theaters in Grand Forks, and although as a kid it seemed old and musty, when I think back, it was a pretty cool theater – great architecture with interesting ornamentation. Also, I had an accident at this theater in the early 70s, when I walked through a plate glass window in the lobby, after a showwing of the “HR Puffinstuff” movie. Must have been some movie.
Here is an event that took place at the theater in May 2007. I think the name should be changed to Empire Arts Center.
According to the finding aid for the Buechner & Orth papers at the University of Minnesota, the firm designed over a dozen theaters. So far, Cinema Treasures attributes only three of these, with separate listings for Charles Buechner and Henry Orth.
The list is on-line, but the UM web site is oddly set up so I can’t find the page the full list is on, only the introductory page. I’ve only seen the actual list in the Google cache of the page, which is a bunch of dismantled text, difficult to decipher. I’m not sure which theaters are already listed at Cinema Treasures, perhaps under later names, and which are missing. Four theaters on the list don’t even have names given. I’m still trying to puzzle it all out. Maybe somebody else will have more luck with it.
A July 11, 2016 article from the Grand Forks Herald:
“Big Screen Debut at the Empire Arts Center”
Motion Picture World, June 21, 1919, page 1808
A. J. KAVANAGH IS ONE GRAND HUSTLER / Dakota Man Takes Over a Minneapolis Theatre While His New Grand Forks House Is Building
A J. KAVANAGH, exhibitor of Grand Forks and Jamestown, N. D., has taken over the lease of the Southern Theatre, at Seven Corners, in Minneapolis, and will begin the operation of this house July 1. Mr. Kavanagh plans to renovate the theatre and place it in first class condition. He stopped over in Minneapolis recently while en route to North Dakota from Chicago, where he purchased a new $8,000 pipe organ for the new picture house he is building at Grand Forks to replace his old Grand Theatre, which was burned to the ground. Construction of the new theatre is now under way at Grand Forks, and it is to be completed by October 1. The house, which will cost at least $80,000, will have a fifty-five foot front and a depth of one hundred and twenty-five feet. It will be a fireproof, concrete, brick and tile structure, larger than any present picture theatre in the state.
website Function should include classic movies and performing arts.