ROCHESTER – With a flourish that included a mayoral proclamation, city officials here officially launched their renovation of the city’s historic Chateau Theatre on Thursday evening, with a promise to listen to local ideas about how to best restore it.
The consultant hired this month to lead those talks, Miller Dunwiddie Architecture, will present its first report on the building’s new future as a theater and performing arts space in August.
“It’s aggressive, but doable,” said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who chairs the Chateau Theatre Task Force and has had a strong hand in the city’s $6 million purchase of the building. He has predicted a late 2017 reopening of the 89-year-old theater, though no official timetable has been set.
The project represents one of the first efforts to remake the city under the Destination Medical Center plan, a Mayo Clinic-driven effort to maintain the city’s prominence in health care, medicine and research. The 20-year project blends billions in private investment with $585 million in public dollars while remaking the city into a destination in its own right.
The Chateau’s private owner signaled that she was willing to sell not long after the DMC plan got underway in 2013, and the city led by Brede moved quickly to buy it, closing on the deal earlier this year.
Space for arts welcomed
The move has been strongly supported by the local arts community in Rochester, who say more local space is needed for the arts.
Megan Johnston, executive director of the Rochester Art Center, said she was excited to hear DMC officials talk about the Chateau.
“It’s a pretty big deal that the city supports and understands it,” she said.
Brede said the city was sold on Miller Dunwiddie to lead the restoration because of the way the firm promised to engage the public. It’s a beloved piece of local architecture, and plenty of people will want to influence the project, he said. The Mayo Clinic already has suggested that about 10 events per year could be held in the theater, he added.
The cost of the restoration is not yet known.
The theater was opened in 1927 as the Chateau Dodge Theatre by the Finkelstein & Ruben Amusement Co., which at the time ran 125 theaters nationwide. Its features included atmospheric lighting with small bulbs placed in the ceiling to look like the night sky. A brochure from the grand opening ceremonies includes dozens of advertisements from local companies wishing the new business well. “You have presented us [with] what we wanted long ago,” read the ad from O.E. Paschke Paints and Wallpaper.
The building was nearly torn down in the 1970s, when plans for a Wells Fargo building called for razing the Chateau. Local resident John Kruesel and a group called the Worldwide Friends of the Chateau rallied against the demolition, eventually saving the building. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In 1994 it was reopened as a Barnes & Noble bookstore. The store closed when its lease expired at the end of 2014.
Kruesel said the task now facing the city, in his opinion, is to restore the building to its original condition.
“We’re all putting on a pair of vision goggles,” he said.
A skyway was cut into the property, running on the second story along the front of the building. That took away the original balcony bathrooms, and newer bathrooms installed on the first floor should probably be removed, said Kruesel.
He’s also hoping to see dressing rooms rebuilt.
Castle decor and an organ
And if it’s entirely up to Kruesel, the theater’s iconic castle decor with turrets and faux stone walls will remain, he said.
“It will be a place of wonderment,” he said.
Kruesel said the theater needs an organ, the original having gone missing. This week he spoke to a family in Spring Valley, Minn., who have had a functioning theater organ at their property for years. The Wurlitzer organ was reportedly the original from the Garrick Theater in Minneapolis (later known as the Century). The family agreed this week to donate the organ to the Chateau, if the city accepts it.
“It’s a piece of cake to put the theater organ back inside the facility,” Kruesel said, but the organ probably would need a complete overhaul costing six figures, he added.