The Victoria Theater, built in 1915 as a silent movie theater at 825 University Avenue West and converted to a Prohibition-era cafe and nightclub in 1924, will become a beacon of economic opportunity and community artistic engagement at the important Green Line Victoria Street station.
The Victoria was poised to be dumped in a landfill in 2009, when the site was proposed for a parking lot. Frogtown residents organized to save the building and reclaim it as part of the community's cultural heritage, resulting in cancellation of a purchase agreement for the property. In 2011, they succeeded in having the city of Saint Paul designate the building as a heritage preservation site. An important part of the building's historical significance was uncovered by independent historian Kurt Gegenhuber, who discovered that the Victoria Cafe's house orchestra in 1927 made a recording of the song “Moonshiner's Dance” as part of the first commercial label recording sessions held in the Upper Midwest. This dance record was included in a 1952 collection of reissued commercial recordings, The Anthology of American Folk Music, which became an influential document in the development of post-
WWII ideas and institutions of American folk arts. The Victoria Theater is also historically significant as an example of early Saint Paul neighborhood movie theaters, as a rare local example of the work of prominent Saint Paul architect Franklin Ellerbe, and for its role as a Prohibition-era nightclub.
The community's vision for the revival of the Victoria provides a strong foundation for sustaining its future. It is envisioned as a community owned and operated arts center that will be a community gathering place and a venue for artistic expression by the community's many artists, performers, and residents. The Victoria will be a place for this very diverse community to express itself artistically, a place that is currently completely absent in the community. The Victoria will be active and vibrant day and night, with affordable and accessible theater, music, dance, spoken word, visual arts, classes,events, rehearsals, recordings, and a small cafe at the front of the building, all engaging people young, old, and in between from the Frogtown-Rondo community and beyond. Immediately west of the building will be a new pocket park that will be part of Model Cities' Brownstone mixed-use project.
The Victoria Theater Arts Initiative (VTAI) is waging the campaign to reuse and renovate the Victoria. Its ten-member steering committee, comprised primarily of community residents, is supported by some staff assistance from Frogtown Neighborhood Association and Historic Saint Paul.