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Continued: After renovation, Northrop Auditorium is ready to dance again

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 29, 2014 - 10:48 PM

Adaptive reuse

Northrop regulars will recognize a few key salvaged elements. The six colossal urns that once flanked the stage were removed, restored and reinstalled outside the hall, greeting patrons as they climb the stairs to the first balcony.

Five enormous plaster medallions from the top of the proscenium arch, each depicting a different college, were restored and installed in the new lobby. Their acoustic-friendly replicas, made with a durable resin, are indistinguishable from the arch’s remaining original panels.

Center of attention

Once a campus dead zone used an average of 51 days per year, Northrop will now see significant daytime foot traffic. More than 13,000 square feet have been repurposed for student lounges and three academic programs. A cafe (operated by Surdyk’s) will open later this year.

Tucked beneath the uppermost balcony is the 168-seat Best Buy Theater, a new venue for film, recitals and lectures.

The building’s Ionic-columned facade wasn’t touched, but an addition in the rear of the building added 15 much-needed feet to the stage’s depth.

The expansion also created room for a posh events space, a seminar room and a large rehearsal studio. Tall windows let passersby actually see into the big brick barn, while those inside are treated to postcard-worthy views of historic Pillsbury, Folwell and Nicholson halls.

“I’m proud of the way the addition blends with the original building,” said Carl. “The details are contemporary, but it fits.”

Packed away

Design considerations doomed one of the auditorium’s most memorable fixtures, its massive chandelier, which was meticulously dismantled, documented and placed in storage. “We concluded that it would block the views of at least a third of the third balcony’s seats,” said HGA project manager Jim Moore.

Gone but not forgotten is the state’s second-largest pipe organ, its 6,975 pipes sitting in carefully catalogued storage. They await reinstallation, but that project requires an estimated $3 million fundraising campaign.

Another musical instrument on the wait-and-see list is the building’s seven-octave electronic carillon, which for decades chimed melodiously across Northrop Mall through speakers on the building’s roof. “We are investigating whether the speakers are being reinstalled to activate the carillon again in the future,” said Northrop spokeswoman Cari Hatcher.

Preserving the richly detailed proscenium arch — the auditorium’s only remaining original component — was a top priority. During a tour last week, Carl got his first glimpse of the arch as it was bathed in the spotlights it so richly deserves.

“I’m totally thrilled,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”


Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib


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