Moving history: The Shubert Theater

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN and LINDA MACK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 1999 - 10:00 PM

Moving a 6-million-pound Shubert Theater at a snail's pace requires tons of steel, incredible finesse and infinite patience. During the weeks long move, the Shubert will travel an average of only 150 feet a day.

At the site in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, workers have spent the past few weeks fitting the 1910 Shubert with a half-million pounds of steel to support its weight and make it rigid for the move. Within the week -- barring bad weather -- the 80- by 80-foot building will be lifted gingerly and readied to move a quarter-mile to its new location, where it will await its new life as part of a performing arts center for local groups. Artspace Projects Inc., a nonprofit developer of space for artists, will raise $26 million for the theater's renovation and integration with Hennepin Center. The city, which owned the long-vacant theater, approved and spent nearly $4 million for the move.

Designed by William Albert Swasey, the Shubert is a fine example of design for live theater. Its two-balcony configuration puts most seats close to the stage, with excellent sightlines and acoustics. Its Classical Revival facade is one of the few terra cotta fronts left in Minneapolis.

Graphics of the move

WARNING! These files are large and may take some time to download.

Building project overview (121 k)

Part 1: Preparing for the move (623 k)

Part 2: Cracking and jacking the building (378 k)

Part 3: Pulling the load (143 k)

Part 4: Rotating the building (36 k)

Part 5: Preparing the new site (128 k)

Part 6: Setting it down (134 k)

Saving the Shubert

As the city's oldest surviving downtown theater, the 1910 Shubert boasts a rich history. It was built as a legitimate theater by national theater impresarios the Shubert brothers and was home of the famous Bainbridge Players from 1912 to 1933. From 1934 to 1956, under the name the Alvin, it was a vaudeville house and, for a short time, an evangelical temple. From 1957 to 1983, when it closed, it was the Academy movie theater.

In its new location at 528 Hennepin Av. S., it will be joined to the Hennepin Center for the Arts by a new atrium and it will act as a performing arts center for local groups, especially dance and theater.

Other theaters on the move

In October 1997, the International Chimney Corp. and Expert House Movers of Maryland moved the 1926 Gem Theatre five blocks in downtown Detroit to make way for a new sports stadium. Like the Shubert, the Gem was pulled on dollies. That move made the Guinness Book of Records.

In February 1998, the 1912 Empire Theater was rolled on rails 140 feet down 42nd Street in New York City to become the entrance to a new cineplex.

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