Built into the side of a hill overlooking the marshlands on the west end of Crystal Lake, the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale opened its doors on May 25th, 1951. Folks came from far and wide to see "Fathers Little Dividend" starring Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. Designed by the architectural firm of Liebenberg & Kaplan, for movie house owners, Sydney and William Volk, the Terrace was advertised as “America’s finest theatre at your very door”. In the decades before the Terrace opened, Liebenberg & Kaplan designed more than 200 theaters in America's Midwest. Most of their movie houses were Art Deco, but the firm's last two projects, the Riverview in Minneapolis and the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale, were designed in a the modern style.
The Volk brothers made their way from Lithuania to Minneapolis at the beginning of the Roaring 20's. They worked smart and got lucky. After a couple years the brothers bought a couple movie houses. Business boomed during the depression years and by 1938, the Volks owned and operated the Camden, Nile, Falls, New Ray and Robin theaters. Federal prohibitions on nonessential construction during the Second World War forced the Volks to shelve plans for two new theaters. In 1946, in spite of protests by Twin City theater managers, the Volks received a permit from the city council to build the first new theater in Minneapolis in twelve years. They hired their old pals, Liebenberg & Kaplan to design the Streamline Moderne, Riverview Theatre at the intersection of 38th street and 42nd Avenue South. The architects used the sort stadium seating arrangement that would become so popular with multiplex theaters in the 1970's. On December 30, 1948, the Riverview opened its doors with June Bride, starring Bette Davis. 3 years later, in 1951, the Volk brothers called on Liebenberg & Kaplan again. This time they wanted something really special for their new, flagship in Robbinsdale. The Volks were ready to take a leap of faith. Sidney Volk wanted this one to go down in history. The brothers were thrilled with Liebenberg & Kaplan unprecedented modern design and they quickly approved the construction of one of the first ultramodern theaters in America.
The mighty Terrace Theater was acclaimed in newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and industry publications. The August 4th, 1951 issue of Box Office put the Terrace on the cover and featured a five page, illustrated article that praised the Terrace as “The Gem of the Lakes”. The Volk brothers explored every avenue of promotion and hyped the theater’s novelty. A full page advertisement in the Minneapolis Tribune claimed, “The Terrace Theatre tower…soaring into the heavens…symbolizes the most modern achievement in the world of entertainment. Majestically situated on 10 beautifully landscaped acres at West Broadway and 36th Avenue North, the TERRACE is an ARCHITECTURAL WONDER you must SEE to fully appreciate! Every novel detail is designed to heighten your pleasure as you enjoy an extraordinary adventure in the finest entertainment. See it! You’ll say ‘Out of this world’.” The press proved successful and the Terrace’s giant parking lot, with room for 1000 cars, filled up fast.
No expense was spared in construction. News sources from the early 1950’s put building costs between $750,00 and $1,000,000. The theater’s massive 1299 seat auditorium was filled with deep cushioned seats facing a 26 foot screen. Soundproof rooms on either side of the projection booth could be used for parties or crying babies. Outside the auditorium, the air conditioned Terrace featured a variety of brick, stone, wood, copper finishes and Turkish loomed rugs. The multi-level lobby area contained a sunken den and fireplace framed by a low stone wall, a television lounge, enormous, slanted, colored glass windows, snack bars with walnut clad popcorn machines, and a copper, wishing well drinking fountain. Background music was played throughout the theater. Restrooms were appointed with fine materials and finishes. The ladies powder room had marble counters. The men’s restroom featured a redwood smoking lounge. Considered a masterpiece of International-Style, The Terrace was one of the first ultramodern theaters in America. The Volks claimed all roads led to the Terrace and the theater attracted patrons from every corner of the Twin Cities area. A guest register from 1952 contained signatures from 25,000 people in every state of the union, Mexico, Canada and Europe.
Over the years necessary improvements were made. The interior was remodeled in 1963. About 10 years later, the Terrace was retrofitted with 70mm equipment and the theater created a niche for itself by featuring action packed movies. In the late 1970's Sidney Volk sold the Terrace to Plitt Theaters. He kept the Camden, Nile and Riverview and remained active in the movie theater business until his death in 1982. In April 1984 the Terrace hosted David Byrne and director Jonathan Demmethe for a special showing of the Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense at the Terrace. Leonard Maltin called the movie featuring the Talking Heads live on stage, “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.”
In 1987 the theater purchased by the Midcontinental Theater Company. The upper auditorium was divided in half, and two small balconies were separated and turned into 300 seat screening rooms. Midcontinental debuted the new 3 screen dollar theater under the name Midco Terrace with a showing of “Roxanne” starring Steve Martin. The last movie played in 1999. The windows were boarded up and an out of state property management company with no interest in the neighborhood, or the historic significance of the building, let the Terrace Theater rot the hillside for over 15 years.
In February of 2012, local rocker, Adam Fesenmaier started a facebook group called, “Save the Terrace”. In the summer of 2014, Alison Nguyen attracted attention to the cause at Robbinsdale’s annual Whiz Bang Days. Her Terrace 2.0 Float brought in local media and reminded Whiz Bang crowds that it was time to do something with this amazing historic building. In January 2015, “Save the Terrace” took a few steps off the little screen and into the real world. a group of concerned citizens, working with the Robbinsdale Historical Society, organized themselves as "Save the Historic Terrace Theatre." They met often, drawing on local talents and resources to explore ways to reopen the historic building as a multi-use facility. On social media, Save the Historic Terrace Theatre gained support and grew into a movement. On May 15th, 2016, they presented the Robbinsdale City Council with a petition signed by 2161 people, requesting the denial of any permit to demolish the building. The City of Robbinsdale supported their efforts to bring about redevelopment and attract attention to the historic building. Sixty-five years after the theater’s opening, the City of Robbinsdale proclaimed May 23, 2016, as Historic Terrace Theatre Day, and recognized the Historic Terrace Terrace cultural and architectural importance. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton also signed a proclamation noting that, “it is vital to bring attention to historic buildings in order to show support for historic projects.”
A couple months later, at an open house held by Inland Development Group and the City of Robbinsdale, Terrace enthusiasts discovered the the theater would be demolished to make way for a 91,000 foot Hy-Vee grocery store, coffee shop, convenience store. A day after the event, David Leonhardt, board chair of The Historic Terrace Theatre, began an internet petition that called for a nation wide boycott of Iowa based, Hy-Vee. The document was signed by over 1000 supporters. Robbinsdale City Council and Planning meetings were packed with people speaking for and against the issue. Somebody in Des Moines sat up and took notice. On August 19th, 2016 Hy-Vee announced that they were putting the project on hold. In a prepared statement a Hy-Vee spokeswoman, said, "Over the past several weeks, it’s been difficult to witness the friction our proposed project has caused among Robbinsdale residents. When we enter a community, we want to be respectful of our neighbors’ history, culture and all the things that matter to them. We will continue to assess the situation and keep communication lines open with city officials.” The mayor of Robbinsdale appealed to supporters of the project on social media and asked residents to voice their opinions via an internet survey site. Meanwhile a new group of citizens , Friends of the Terrace, formed to fight for the historic theater.
On August 23, 2016 the Robbinsdale City Council reiterated their support of the project by approving demolition and Tax Increment Financing to reimburse the developer for costs incurred to make the property ready for construction. The Friends of the Terrace immediately filed a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. A hearing was scheduled for October 10 and the Friends prepared to present their case. The judge was expected to rule on the theater's historic status. Friends of the Terrace requested the court delay demolition until the hearing, but the judge denied the request and cleared the way for the theater to be demolished. On Thursday, September 22, the Friends asked the court for an emergency injunction to prohibit demolition and grant an expedited hearing, but on Saturday, September 24, before the court could rule, a crew arrived intent on demolishing the building. The Friends attorney contacted the chief justice of the Hennepin County Court. She rushed to the scene, but as she arrived, the construction crew began punching holes in the front of the building. After the judge issued the order to stop, the crew filled the lobby with parking lot debris. The judge's order put the building's demolition on hold until September 26th.
The Friend's attorney requested more time, but the request went back to the same judge who had denied the original request. He extended the stay on demolition until September 30th, and ordered the Friends to come up with $6.3 million in bonds to indemnify Inland Development Group and the Robbinsdale Economic Development Authority. This amount was forty times more than ever required in a case like this. Preservationist raised concerns that the judge was setting a precedent for future cases. The Terrace never got its day in court and demolition began in earnest on October 1st, 2016