Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts

A tale of two city blocks: The dual heritage of Minnesota’s premiere center for dance is a story more than 125 years in the making.

It was 1985, and downtown Minneapolis had seen (much) brighter days. Desperate to reform its depressed, run-down atmosphere, the Minneapolis City Council voted to demolish all the buildings on what we now call “Mayo Clinic Square” (formally known as Block E) — one of that era’s most notorious neighborhoods. It was time to make a fresh start.

But there was a 2,900-ton problem. On that block sat the former Sam S. Shubert Theatre, a 1910 construction that had served over the years as a venue for touring Broadway shows, a movie house and a vaudeville showplace.

The idea of losing the vacant theatre to demolition captured public sympathy. As it happened, Minneapolis residents felt passionately about the Shubert’s role in the city’s unique history. The resulting legal battle lasted a decade, and further heated up once the Shubert made it onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

ArtSpace Project Spaces the Shubert from the Wrecking Ball

The conflict finally resolved in 1996 when the City Council accepted a somewhat radical proposal from Artspace Projects. The nonprofit group proposed a plan that would save the theater by physically moving the granite and glazed terracotta structure next to the Masonic Temple Building, now home of the Hennepin Center for the Arts (HCA), two blocks away.

The trip across Block E to Hennepin Avenue took place over 12 memorable days in February 1999. At 5.8 million pounds, the Shubert was the heaviest building ever moved on rubber tires.

Artspace spent the next decade raising enough money to remodel the theater as a home for dance, and structurally connect it to the Masonic Temple Building. The plan also involved the removal of one of the theatre’s two balconies to create an intimate 505-seat house ideal for dance.

In 2010, the historic theater was renamed to honor Katherine and Robert Goodale, whose generous gifts and leadership helped make the transformation possible. The Goodale Theater opened in September 2011.

A new era of dance in Minnesota had finally arrived.

Two Historic Buildings, One Modern Mission

Together, the Goodale Theatre (formerly the Shubert Theater) and the Masonic Temple (home of Hennepin Center for the Arts) form the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, Minnesota’s premiere dance organization.

Hennepin Center for the Arts: Masons, Merchants, and Movement

Built for the Masonic Temple Association of Minneapolis, the Masonic Temple Building rises eight stories over Hennepin Avenue, its Ohio sandstone façades offering a remarkable example of the “Richardson Romanesque” architectural style.

Noted local architectural firm Long and Kees designs the structure. Like the firm’s other creations including Minneapolis City Hall, the Lumber Exchange and the Flour Exchange, the Masonic Temple eventually makes its way onto the National Register of Historic Places.

The Masonic Temple Association sells the building to the Merchandise Building Corporation.

Minnesota Dance Theatre (MDT) becomes the Merchandise Building’s very first arts tenant. MDT’s neighbors include a shoe store, a liquor store, a church and a beauty salon. The Fraternal Order of Eagles runs a bingo parlor on the top floor.


A group of prominent business, professional, political and arts leaders form a nonprofit corporation that eventually becomes the Hennepin Center for the Arts (HCA). They purchase the property from the Merchandise Building Corporation for $500,000 … and spend nearly 10 times that amount restoring it.

Exterior improvements include a new roof, new windows and a chemical wash that spiffs up nine decades of grime from the façade. Inside, updated mechanical and electrical systems hum, and the five lodge halls become theaters and dance studios.

The mid-1990s 
HCA’s board of directors hand operations over to Artspace Projects, an organization that specializes exclusively in running arts facilities.

Present day
The former HCA buzzes with the activity of several of the Twin Cities’ leading dance troupes, including James Sewell Ballet, MDT & School and Zenon Dance Company and School.

Each year, thousands of children and adults visit the building to rehearse, perform and take classes. HCA is also the birthplace of The Cowles Center’s innovative Distance Learning Program, which uses online technology to create two-way, real-time teaching environments for students throughout Minnesota and the United States.

The Goodale Theatre: From Broadway to Burlesque and Beyond

The Goodale Theater begins life as the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, one of more than 60 theaters built between 1900 and 1920 by the Shubert Theatrical Company of New York.
Architect William A. Swasey designs the 1,500-seat house with two shallow balconies and a handsome glazed terra cotta façade in the “Classical Revival” architectural style.

1915 – 1934
The Shubert family lets manager Alexander G. “Buzz” Bainbridge form a resident stock theatre to keep the box office busy between touring Broadway shows. For the next two decades, the Bainbridge Players are the Twin Cities’ leading professional theater company.

The Shuberts sell the theater to William Steffes. Steffes renames it “the Alvin” and hires Minneapolis architects Liebenberg and Kaplan to give it a major facelift. The architects add a huge Art Deco-style marquee and film projection booth.

The Alvin hosts both drama and movies for several years. But due to poor ticket sales, the theatre closes its doors in December.

The theatre reopens as a house of burlesque. Over the next two decades, the Alvin spotlights some of the best-known striptease artists of the day.

The Rev. Russell H. Olson leases the building and transforms it into a church called the Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium. Religion doesn’t fare as well as striptease. Within three years the church has moved out.

Movie theatre mogul Ted Mann buys the theater so he can show the new widescreen films in downtown Minneapolis. Turning the theater into a widescreen movie house means big structural changes that lower the seating capacity to 830.

Renamed the Academy, the theater reopens in July as a cinema. The brand new 45-foot curved screen debuts its first film: Michael Todd’s “Around the World in Eighty Days,” the 1956 Academy Award for Best Picture. Todd, a Minnesota native who had worked at the theater as a boy, attends the opening.

1982 – 1999

The Shubert closes, and sits vacant on 7th street. Legal battles rage about the theatre’s fate, and local citizens fight to make sure it won’t get demolished along with its neighbors in favor of new developments.

Artspace Projects proposes a plan to save the Shubert by moving it two blocks over, next to the Masonic Temple Building.

The historic theater reopens as the Goodale Theatre—part of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.

The Cowles Center brings Dance to the Minnesota Masses

Today, The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts inspires and facilitates the creation, performance and education of dance and the performing arts.

The Cowles Center offers free distance learning dance residencies to schools across Minnesota using two-way videoconferencing technology. On average, the Center works with 40 schools and as many as 2,200 students each school year.

Some of its residencies spark student curiosity through in-depth exploration of specific dance forms. Others incorporate movement into more traditional subject areas, showing the value of dance as a tool for learning. Still others offer training for first-grade students at Minnesota district elementary schools during traditional PE class time.

The Cowles Center’s Student Matinee program introduces K-12 students to professional dance performance through affordable, interactive school-time performances in the historic Goodale Theater.