Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Milton Berle performed there. Now so will Ryan Adams, the xx and Bryan Ferry.
In 1916, the Palace opened as downtown St. Paul’s biggest theater. This week, it will reopen as the city’s biggest rock theater. In vaudeville days, there were 2,300 seats unobstructed by columns. In this new incarnation, there are 725 seats in the balcony (the original seats, recovered and reupholstered) and room for nearly 2,000 concertgoers standing on three tiers on the main floor.
Here’s a brief history of the Palace, located on the pedestrian-only 7th Street Place, between Wabasha and St. Peter streets.
• St. Paul-based architects Henry Orth and Charles Buechner specialized in designing courthouses and theaters in the Midwest. They also designed the buildings at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Their Palace featured vaudeville shows as well as movies. It also was built along with the St. Francis Hotel, which reportedly became a hangout for gangsters.
• In 1922, the name was changed to the Palace-Orpheum Theatre after it became part of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Three years later, when the theater became exclusively a movie house, the marquee was changed to simply the Orpheum Theatre and then later the RKO Orpheum.
• In the 1940s, RKO remodeled the theater, with a new facade, marquee and lobby. The seating capacity was trimmed to 1,400.
• In 1960, movie impresario Ted Mann, who had started his movie theater empire in St. Paul, purchased the Orpheum from RKO. He shuttered the place as a first-run movie house in 1977.
• In the early ’80s, the Orpheum reopened, showing classic and cult movies to sparse crowds.
• In 1983-84, Garrison Keillor moved his “A Prairie Home Companion” to the Orpheum for one season while the nearby World Theater — to be re-christened as the Fitzgerald in ’94 — was having its roof and ceiling repaired after plaster began falling. The Orpheum then closed in 1984.
• In 1999, the Kelly Brothers, an investment firm, purchased the Orpheum from the St. Paul Port Authority, renovated the lobby and, starting in 2001, leased the spacious lobby to the Brave New Workshop. Their comedy shows continued until 2005, when the theater closed for good.
• In November 2013, plans were announced to convert the dormant Palace into a live music venue. The city of St. Paul purchased the theater in the fall of 2015 from the Kellys for about $325,000 and renovation began, including a new roof, restrooms, elevators, dressing rooms and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The St. Francis Hotel remains a low-income apartment building.
• Why all the cracked plaster and decay? St. Paul’s Oertel Architects Ltd. designed the renovation to conserve the building’s “worn and weathered aesthetic.”
• Future Palace shows include Greensky Bluegrass (March 18), Regina Spektor (March 26), the xx (April 28), Jason Isbell (July 7) and Ryan Adams (July 28-29).