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First & First purchases, is ready to reactivate, historic Franklin Theater

The former home of Franklin Art Works

First & First, the creative developer of such hotspots as Icehouse, Aria, and 612 Broadway, has purchased the former Franklin Theater in Minneapolis. The historic 10,000-square-foot building, most recently owned by Franklin Art Works as a contemporary-art exhibition space, still has its original plaster movie screen and proscenia. The building also has a brick façade with a 29-foot-long stained-glass window, 35-foot-long arched entry, and second-level open-air balcony facing Franklin Avenue.

“The Franklin is a significant theater in Minneapolis history,” says Peter Remes, founder of First & First. “I’ve always loved this fascinating building, especially what’s behind the exhibition space, which people haven’t seen for decades: the spectacular old theater.” The building also has a storied history.

Originally known as the New Franklin Theater, the building was designed by Lindstrom and Almars and constructed in 1916. After serving as a neighborhood silent-movie house for 60 years, the building was gutted in 1977 and turned— under the ignominious ownership of Ferris Alexander—into a three-screen adult movie theater. After the City of Minneapolis seized the building in 1990, the Franklin was a bike shop and site for under-the-radar performances.

Franklin Art Works purchased the building in 1999. With help from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Franklin Art Works transformed the building into a contemporary art center. “They took a horrible mess and turned it into a well-respected art gallery that held numerous groundbreaking exhibitions by emerging artists,” Remes says.

First & First’s purchase signifies the company is moving into a new part of town and new type of building. “It is new for us,” Remes says. “We’re stretching our boundaries from where we typically focus or concentrate.”

“But the neighborhood, which is so culturally diverse, and the building, which on its own is gorgeous, are equally interesting,” he continues. “We just found the Franklin—a one-of-a-kind building waiting to be reactivated in an interesting way—to be a dynamic, unique project we’re intrigued by.”

Possible new uses for the building include an exhibition space with microbrewery, or “expanding the Aria concept here for smaller groups,” Remes says. “Because of the way the building sets up, it offers a lot of creative possibilities, which we also found compelling.”

In the next 60 days, activity will begin taking place in and around the building. “We would like to launch with unique and compelling programming that brings people from the community, and from outside of the neighborhood, into the building. We’re discussing internally how to find a balance of uses that creates that perfect harmony.”

Source: Peter Remes, First & First
Writer: Camille LeFevre
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