Capri Theater History

Paradise Theater was built in 1927

The Capri Theater is the only one of 13 movie houses in North Minneapolis that remains standing today. Built in 1927, it was known for many years as the Paradise Theater (pictured above in the late 1930s) and was later named the Capri in 1967. (Photo: Minnesota Historical Society)

Thanks to the University of Minnesota’s Northwest Architectural Archives, we are able to piece together more details about the history of the Capri Theater. Among the papers of the Liebenberg and Kaplan collection: the 1925 ink on linen blueprints for the “Herman Jeub Store & Theater Building, Oliver & West Broadway.”

Eleven linen sheets (20” by 24”) outline the plans for this building created by Henry Orth and Charles Buechner … architects who in the 1920s designed a number of theater, retail and government buildings in the Upper Midwest.

As we continue to search for more photos of the interior and exterior of the building during its early years, we will be able to confirm what from the plans actually came to fruition. For example, plans called for the ornamental arches above the second story windows to be solid marble. In all the photos we have of the building, the arches were made of brick. (If you have photos of the Paradise/Capri Theater, we would be so pleased to see them. Please contact James Scott, Interim Director of the Capri Theater, at 612-643-2024 or jscott@pcyc-mpls.org.)

Nevertheless, the plans called for a ceiling suspended 6’3” in the theater space. The movie screen was 24 x 17 feet, and the ornamental features inside were plaster trim. There was no balcony for seating. And on the house right side of the stage, an opening was created for the future installation of an organ.

In 1932 the theater was remodeled by Jack Liebenberg, Liebenberg and Kaplan, Architects.

In the forward of the 1982 book “Marquee on Main Street,” Lyndel King (then director of the University of Minnesota Gallery, which hosted an exhibition that year of Jack Liebenberg’s work) wrote:

“In the Upper Midwest, it was often Jack Liebenberg’s movie theater designs that represented the most up-to-date architecture in town. His energetic inventiveness provided images that molded the consciousness of people living not only in large cities, but also in small towns everywhere.”

King added: “The smooth, flowing lines and flashing colored lights of the Art Deco movie theater façade, as which Jack Liebenberg was a master, personify the movies to many Americans. Even those who can put no name to the vibrant style that came to full flower in the United States during the 1930s, if asked to describe what a movie theater should look like, would probably describe the vertical sign, with rows of flashing lights arranged in streamlined curves, characteristic of Art Deco.”

In 1932 Liebenberg designed the marquee for the Paradise Theater (as the Capri was then known). The giant sheet metal marquee on West Broadway was designed to have 837 light bulbs … 21,700 watts total! The letters spelling out the name Paradise used 101 of those bulbs.

The theater has more than 500 seats, and in one variation of the plan second floor offices were to be removed to accommodate a balcony with more than 100 seats. The restrooms were also upstairs, with a larger “powder room” for the ladies. (Again, the challenge is to find evidence for how the second floor was finally remodeled at that time.)

One posting on CinemaTreasures.com claims that the Paradise’s ceiling “was a sky with twinkling stars and clouds. Castle battlements line the top of the walls.” This would be much like another theater Liebenberg designed in Uptown Minneapolis: the now closed Suburban World Theater.

The lobby on the main floor was relatively small … with the entrance off West Broadway. Liebenberg, however, designed a number of display cases for the lobby. The New Logan Drug Store was located on the Oliver side of the lobby, and there was a smaller retail space (used for a Barber Shop) on the opposite side at street level.

The next major renovation occurred in 1965 … when Liebenberg & Kaplan moved the lobby to the corner of the building at Oliver and West Broadway. There are many sketches of marquees with an updated “Paradise” sign … and among those sketches is one with the name “Capri” as it currently exists on the marquee. It appears that the name was changed during the process to move the marquee to its new location on the building.

The retail space was removed from the first floor, and the lobby was expanded … including a large concession area, mirrored walls and a large light fixture hanging from the lobby ceiling. Inside the theater the orchestra pit was filled in, and the final seating configuration settled at 507 seats.

The next major renovation of the Capri was in 1993 … when PCYC transformed the building into the “Capri Arts & Learning Center.” Jafvert, Mueller Architects, Inc., modified the second floor for use as classrooms, including the balcony. The main floor of the theater was also reduced in size to accommodate a dance room. At this time the windows on the second floor were replaced. The windows on the first floor were replaced in 2006.

In 2007 Plymouth Christian Youth Center launched its “Capri Theater Renaissance” to bring the lights up on West Broadway by renovating the Capri and expanding its artistic offerings. In April 2009 the first phase of renovations began. The stunning renovations were designed by Jon Baker of Baker Associates, Inc., Architects, and they included installation of state-of-the-art theatrical lighting in the auditorium, as well as a new sound system and acoustical treatments. The $700,000 project included expansion of the lobby and a retrofitted marquee. The Capri Theater re-opened two months later with two Legends jazz concerts Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21, 2009.