Historic Saint Paul is partnering with Frogtown Neighborhood Association and Victoria Theater Arts Center to revive the long-vacant, 1915 Victoria Theater at 825 University Avenue as a community arts center. The building, designed by Franklin Ellerbe and a locally designated heritage preservation site, originally was a silent movie theater and then became a Prohibition-era cafe and nightclub in the 1920s. Slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot several years ago, people in the surrounding community rose up with a dream to reclaim and reuse this historic, neglected structure. The Victoria Theater Arts Center will be a much-needed, vibrant community arts hub for youth and adults in Frogtown, Rondo, and the larger community. HSP is a critical partner in the project, providing ongoing support and engagement.
The Victoria Theater building is historically significant in several respects, the most important of which is its regional and perhaps even national cultural significance for a 1927 recording by the Victoria’s house orchestra that appeared on an important record in American musical history. The 1927 Gennett Records recording of the song Moonshiner’s Dance Part I, performed by Frank Cloutier and the Victoria Cafe Orchestra, was eventually included in the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music which was a touchstone for the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s. Moonshiner’s Dance is about Saint Paul and Frogtown, representing an aspect of Minnesota culture during Prohibition as well as Minnesota’s role in America’s sense of its past and cultural identity.
What’s next? Raising $2.7 million for renovation of the theater!