Varsity Theater

1308 4th Street SE,
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Unfavorite 5 people favorited this theater

Showing 19 comments

DavidZornig on November 27, 2019 at 7:37 am

Varsity vertical sign on the far right in 1974, in below link.

Sean Ryan
Sean Ryan on May 27, 2018 at 11:48 am

Sadly, Jason McClean spent the last decade ruining the art moderne interior with his awful brand of 1980s bohemian chic, and has now fled the country because of child molestation charges. The theater is under new ownership. Great old photos here showing before and afters of the 1930s remodeling:

rivest266 on January 15, 2017 at 12:30 pm

April 21st, 1939 grand opening ad in the photo section.

DavidZornig on November 24, 2015 at 4:05 pm

1976 photo added courtesy of the Old Minneapolis Facebook page.

dmmaasch on May 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I was manager of the Varsity and the Campus theatres during the 1970’s, a great time to work in that area. I still have the original blueprints from 1915 and the remodeling prints from 1939. In the early 1970’s, General Cinema remodeled it to their company style

GeorgeStrum on August 1, 2006 at 5:17 am

Next summer the Theatre Historical Society may be visiting this theatre.

kencmcintyre on June 14, 2006 at 3:36 pm

This is a January 2005 article about the re-opening of the Varsity:

zooklaw on May 18, 2006 at 7:36 am

The Varsity Theater is managed by the staff of the neighboring Loring Pasta Bar.

Sean Ryan
Sean Ryan on April 8, 2005 at 12:07 pm

The Varsity is Alive again!

Thank You Mr. Mclean-

Marvelous Job!

PeteScholtes on January 27, 2005 at 12:58 pm

I’m putting together a history of the Varsity and would love to talk to all of you, but don’t seem to be able to email you by clicking on your names. If you’d like, email me at

Jesse Hoheisel
Jesse Hoheisel on January 12, 2005 at 10:36 pm

So they’re not going to be showing movies then? That’s sad….

kbaichtal on January 9, 2005 at 6:02 pm

Here’s an article that includes a contact email for the Varsity.

View link

I see there’s a Loring Cafe connection… too cool!!

Jesse Hoheisel
Jesse Hoheisel on January 9, 2005 at 5:07 pm

Does anyone know what they are doing to the Varsity now, and what is taking it so long? It was going to reopen in November, now what?

kbaichtal on October 16, 2004 at 10:32 am

If I am remembering correctly the rent-to-buy in 1990 was $200K-ish? Don’t know about the later two sales.

scotchie on October 16, 2004 at 10:16 am

Does anyone know what the purchase price was? The reason I ask is that I am looking at a similar venue, in a similar condition, with a very similar history, and am looking for a comparable. This is public information from the city for assesment purposes but it might be difficult to obtain for a period because it appears that the sale was recent?

banquo79 on October 12, 2004 at 12:11 pm

The theater was bought again and will soon be more of a theatre. The new owner wants to turn it into a play house. He is in the process of remodeling now and wants to reopen by november (probably late november). It will be a venue for artists to gather at the all day cafe, and a bar that will occupy the lobby area. And the theater space will be just that, except it will return to its vaudeville roots in that live action theatre will be performed, as well as musical acts and tours. The owner wants to make the space available for fledgling actors from the university of minnesota to put on plays that perhaps they write themselves or if they want to get a troupe going they can start there. Its a “just off campus” real audience experience that he wants to give them, he’s a former actor himself.

nelsonexpert on August 16, 2004 at 2:04 pm

Question: how do we change some of the Theatre Information at the top of this page – such as address, seating capacity, etc when usually they are “unknown”? (or are incorrect) I see nothing in the FAQ’s about this.

Varsity Theatre in Mpls was known as the University Theatre prior to its 1938 remodeling by Liebenberg and Kaplan, and was renamed Varsity. It closed as a movie theatre in 1988. The city of Mpls was able to shut the theatre down for not paying sales taxes during the brief time as a nightclub as described above. The building is currently for sale.

kbaichtal on February 18, 2004 at 4:57 pm

The theatre actually did become a concert and dance venue (called the Varsity) for approximately a year from 1990-1991. It offered alternative dance nights such as Industrial, hip-hop, and gay night, as well as foreign films like Cinema Paradiso, theatrical performances, and live music including death metal and hip hop. The “fierce battle” mentioned above was mainly because the club did not serve the university directly adjacent, but brought in outside crowds. The wrong sort of crowds in some people’s opinions, though there were surprisingly no incidents of violence at any of the shows (the club was non-alcoholic and all ages which makes a big difference). The club was shut down by the City of Minneapolis after 1 year, I shan’t say much about that but email me if you want the details as I was there for most of it.

Possibly of interest to theater buffs:

In 1990 when the abovementioned nightclub person took the building over, he found it already gutted, with no theatrical equipment, seats, concession equipment, fire alarm system, etc. although there were 2 movie screens, a modern one still mounted and a silver screen in storage. There were also a couple VOT speakers hidden behind the hung screen. I seem to recall the historical information he’d collected indicated the theatre was originally built for both movies and vaudville around 1915ish but became higher-capacity and movies-only when it was extended lengthwise in a remodelling in the 30’s or 40’s. It was a 900 seat theatre at the time it closed as a regular movie house. There was a limestone facade and glass block windows. There was nothing resembling dressing rooms, backstage, etc. There was a quasi-flyloft looking extension to the roof but no such equipment was there and it was scarcely higher than the rest of the roof. The main room walls were covered in acoustical tile. None of the art deco lighting was still present though there was a fairly interesting 70’s-looking chandelier in the stairwell. It was basically a shell.

Speaking of the roof it was pretty much shot in 1990. Hundreds of gallons of water were coming in. All the pipes in the place had been exploded due to the water supply being left on in winter. The first acts upon taking over the theatre for a nightclub were a total electrical rewiring and plumbing replacement.

During the initial weeks of the nightclub the interior of the main room was painted black (it was red before) and the studs left over from the missing seats were ground down to leave the floor smooth for dancing. A 35mm projector and platter were purchased and installed, these did not come with the theater but were bought used elsewhere as was all concesssions equipment. A large quantity of theatrical seating was also bought used, and some was later mounted on strips to be moved around as needed. Well, I could talk quite a bit about the nightclub’s operations but that would probably be boring, so moving along.

All the new equipment was taken with when the nightclub left so the building was more or less as-was at that point. If I remember correctly, the catalog photography company took the building over about a year after the nightclub closed. They did an extensive remodelling that included installing office spaces in what had been in the lobby and mezzanine, leveling the main room’s floor and completely replacing the roof (which I heartily approve of as the old one was basically a 2 foot thick tarpaper sponge). They also installed a commercial height loading dock leading directly to the stage area. I was given a tour by someone on the construction site and was told the company could photograph anything, even items as large as automobiles. I believe they also did a partial restoration on the marquee, at least to the extent that it could be painted. I do not know if it was a full restoration or not.

About all that is left that is actually a theatre is the marquee at this point. If it were to be used as a place of entertainment again a person would have to start from scratch, equipment wise and remodelling-wise. But I bet it makes a pretty nice studio.

Write me with any questions if you like, I wasn’t sure what sort of info would interest people.