The Edina Cinema survived nearly 87 years — including 1981, when a tornado tore its iconic sign right off — but the movie theater could not outlast COVID-19.
A lifetime after the theater first welcomed moviegoers at 50th and France, the cinema will not reopen after closing early last year because of the pandemic. It's the latest casualty — but likely not the last — as the lights come up after more than a year of unprecedented hardship for the entertainment industry.
"It feels more like a downtown when you have the theater. But if that's not viable, then we have to explore other options," said Suzanne Haugland, a local business owner whose late husband bought the theater in 2005. "Everybody wants it to be a theater, but if they're going to sit at home and watch a big-screen TV, then theaters can't exist."
City officials say the cinema's sign, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, isn't going anywhere. But locals with memories of family outings and date nights at the theater say they'll still feel the loss — even after months of watching movies from the confines of home.
Rick Hellweg, a retired lawyer, said he's seen countless movies at the Edina Cinema over the past 40 years.
"It's really sad," he said while looking up to the marquee from the sidewalk. "I guess it's a lost era."
Birgen Dragos, who works in the business district, said she grew up blocks from the theater and frequented it with family and friends.
"It's been a staple in the neighborhood, almost like what I think of Edina's little version of the 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign," she said. "So it's a bummer to see the area lose that."
Edina City Council Member Ron Anderson said the sign will remain a fixture at 50th and France, and he hopes the bright lights will shine again someday soon.
"That sign has and always will be a part of our community. It's our identity," he said. "We don't want to see that as a sign of failure but as an opportunity."
Like movie theaters across the country, stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19 represented the nail in the coffin for the Edina Cinema. Hauglund said Landmark Theatres, which operated the theater since 2003, packed up the projectors and candy before returning keys in March. She hasn't heard from Landmark since.
Calls left with the California-based company, which also operates Uptown Theatre and Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, were not returned.
The four-story Edina Cinema building, which houses four screens and a mezzanine, was built in 1934 for $70,000. Releases that year included Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" and Cecil B. DeMille's "Cleopatra."
"Eyes of local moviegoers will turn to Fiftieth and France avenue south next Friday night when the Edina theater, de luxe neighborhood playhouse, opens its doors for the first time," read the Aug. 26, 1934 edition of the Minneapolis Tribune.
Today, the theater's lobby is a pre-pandemic time capsule, with posters of then-new releases, including "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," "Ordinary Love" and the latest adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma." The popcorn aroma is gone; the ticket booth is an empty shell, and rows of coral chairs are collecting dust.
In other communities, historic theaters have ended up becoming apartments or mixed-use buildings. In Hopkins, Cinema 6 will soon be an apartment building with commercial space, according to development proposals from the Beard Group. In Rochester, the Chateau Theatre was converted into a Barnes and Noble after attempts to transform it into a mixed-use event center.
From her vantage point at Edina Cinema, Hauglund already has watched the movie business transform from big reels of film delivered via FedEx to tiny electronic chips, while the rise of streaming services — and then the pandemic — kept viewers home.
"The potential is here," Haugland said, so long as the community supports it. While a lot of people have been sharing their memories of going to Edina Cinema as children, she said, they now need to bring their own children if and when the theater reopens.
Haugland remains hopeful but also uncertain, even as the pandemic appears headed toward its conclusion.
"Now everybody wants to be out because we've been home," she said. "So is that going to translate into the theaters?"
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751