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December 6, 2011

Lost Twin Cities III

Filed under: Arts, History, MHS Author in the News, Videos — Alison Aten @ 2:55 pm

Today’s blog post is by Dave Kenney, author of several books, including Twin Cities Picture Show. Find out more about his current obsession at MN70s.

Cooper TheaterEarlier this year, I got a call from Emily Goldberg, a producer at TPT (Twin Cities Public Television). She was putting together a new edition of the network’s popular “Lost Twin Cities” documentary series (based on the book by Larry Millett) and was wondering whether I’d like to be one of the show’s talking heads. She wanted me to talk about two movie theaters—the Cooper in St. Louis Park and the Terrace in Robbinsdale—that I described in Twin Cities Picture Show. She knew perfectly well that authors almost always jump at the chance to drone on about the subjects of their books. I magnanimously agreed to help her out.

Emily had chosen two of my favorite theaters.

The Cooper was one of the first showhouses built specifically to screen Cinerama movies. Located near what is now the intersection of I-394 and Highway 100, it looked from the outside like a huge, orange oil storage tank. Inside, it was all 1960s swank with walnut paneling, black brick, burnt orange furnishings, and blue acoustic ceiling tiles. It was demolished in 1992.

The Terrace was a true gem, one of the finest examples of what became known as ultra-modern theater design. Opened in 1951, it featured a sunken “country club” lounge, a refreshment bar, a television room, and a soundproof nursery where baby boom parents could hide with their crying children. It remained one of the Twin Cities’ classiest movie theaters until the 1980s, when its big auditorium was carved up into three smaller theaters. It showed its last movie in 1999.

We did the shoot for the Terrace segment outside the theater itself—which survives today in depressingly boarded-up fashion. Since the Cooper no longer exists, we needed a stand-in location that somehow evoked its midcentury aura. Emily settled on the Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis, an inspired choice.

Emily encouraged me to talk in personal terms about the two theaters, but there was only so much I could say. I remember going to only one movie, the original This is Cinerama, at the Cooper, and my memory of that experience has faded considerably over time. I’m sure I saw at least one film at the Terrace (I remember a theater with tons of big picture windows, and the Terrace is the only one in the Twin Cities that matches my recollection), but beyond that my mind is a blank. Most of my “memories” of the Cooper and Terrace are bits and pieces of the past that I’ve gleaned from the surviving historical record. I guess they will have to do.

I haven’t seen “Lost Twin Cities III” yet. I’ll be watching with everyone else when it debuts Wednesday (December 7) at 7 p.m. One thing I do know, though: the likelihood that I’ll look stupid on the air is now considerably less than I thought it would be. Emily had to excise the Terrace segment due to time constraints. Only the Cooper segment made the final cut. I apparently will have to wait for “Lost Twin Cities IV” to find out what I said about that old boarded-up theater in Robbinsdale.

Dave Kenney is the author of several books including Twin Cities Album, Minnesota Goes to War, and Honor Bright: A Century of Scouting in Northern Star Council. He is currently working on a book on the history of 1970s Minnesota with Thomas Saylor. Follow him @MN70s, on Facebook, and on tumblr.

Photograph, showing a promotional prop for the local premiere of Airport in 1970, from the Star Tribune collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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  1. I remember seeing “This Is Cinerama” and Windjammer (in “Cinemiracle”) at a theater in downtown Minneapolis. I don’t recall a big surround screen but they did use the three projector technique.
    I also remember when they built the Cooper Theater in St Louis Park. When I saw a fiilm there the screen seemed gigantic, the surroundings were “space age”, and the audio was fantastic. I think there was also a “smoking platform” towards the rear of the theater where people could lite up durring the intermissions. My dad enjoyeed movies so we had the “luxury” of attending almost every feature shown at the Cooper over the years. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How The West Was Won were true Cinerama productions (3 projector technique and 7 track audio). The size of the screen made you feel like you were part of the movie and the audio was great compared to most mono theaters at that time. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Grand Prix, 2001-A space Oddessy, Ice Station Zebra, Airport,and Paint Your Wagon were all 70mm films with 6 track sound. It was a great venue! In the later years of the theater it was starting to show it’s age. They carved it up to make it the Cooper Cameo where it now had 3 screens. I saw one movie there and did not like what they had done to the theater. I recall the demolition of the theater in 1992. When you see the same buildings torn down that you saw being built a person starts feeling a little older.


    Alison Aten Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your recollections, Jay!


    Comment by Jay Goldsmith — March 13, 2012 @ 8:14 am

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