If these buildings could speak: Andria Theater


Under the floor of the current Andria Theater lobby, artistic director David Christman recalled that there were mosaic stars, similar to the Hollywood setup. Using a broomstick to peek under a ceiling tile, Christman revealed the old red and white patterned wallpaper of the space.

And those glimpses of the past just steps from the front door only scratch the surface of the building’s many layers of history.

From the hotel to the hardware store, from the theater with screens to live productions, the structure located at 618 and 622 Broadway St. has served many different purposes since it was rebuilt in 1936.

The board of directors of the Alexandria Area Arts Association debated the name of the new performing arts space after the purchase of the old cinema in 1991: AAAA or Andria.

During this period of debate, Christman found a message printed on a broken typewriter in the basement of the building.

“It should be called Andria …”

He tried to figure out who shot him, but no one confessed. He tried to match the font to one of the other working typewriters, but this one was markedly different from the others.

Whether it was an explainable coincidence or one of the theater’s two ghosts, Christman said it was the discovery of that message that helped them decide. The council’s decision is clear to anyone looking at the theater spire on Broadway Street.

Before the Andria Theater, here’s a closer look at the history of the addresses it occupies downtown, according to records from the Douglas County Historical Society:

618 Broadway Street

  • 1868: One of the first two hotels in Alexandria, the Minnesota House, was built. The structure contained 18 rooms, a billiard room, and a door to the outside of the upper floor that led nowhere. A separate stable building was available at the rear.

  • Early 1900s: a few different saloons – run by John Anderson and Knutson, first name not available, followed by Oscar Herbert and Charlie Foslien– were here.

  • 1931: The Minnesota House burnt.

  • 1936: The Andria Theater opened to the public on February 7, with “Three Children and a Queen” being the first film presented. The Baehr family bought it because it owned a chain of other theaters in Minnesota and North Dakota. The $ 75,000 construction project included a two-story building with a 51-foot frontage and four apartments on the second floor.

622 Broadway Street

  • 1888: An introductory article in the Douglas County News announces that The People’s Theater Company. was opening a show, and tickets were priced at 10, 20, and 30 cents.

  • Early 1900s: A variety of stores, including Muller Drug Store, Chris Nelson Harness, Peoples Store, Gep L. Treat Lawyers and Chidstester Buell, FO Herbert Saloon, JA Munkberg’s Harness and WM Hogan Livery Grange were housed in this space.

  • 1936: Game material found his home here.

  • 1974: A renovation project costing $ 150,000 took place, expanding Andria Twin Cinema to include the site of the hardware store. This addition included new projection equipment and 220 additional seats so that the cinema could show two films at a time.

  • 1991: After a series of 55 years of films, the Alexandria Region Arts Association bought the theater with plans to renovate the space to showcase local talent live. Volunteers from the Technical College of Alexandria helped build the stage. “It was the ‘home’ that art-loving people had always looked for,” described a reviewer in Echo Press, after the AAAA performed at Jefferson High School before moving into this building.

Over the past three decades, there have been smaller improvement projects around the theater, such as redesigning bathrooms, setting up changing rooms and creating a building space.

For the upcoming “Grease” show, Christman said the entrance will be transformed to introduce members of the public to the period. A 1948 television will air 1959 commercials, and a vintage pink sofa and chair will sit opposite. A few 1950s vehicles will be parked in front, and girls on roller skates will spin along the sidewalk and wave to passers-by.

“I love doing a show in the show and before the show,” Christman said.

Beyond upcoming shows, Christman said the Andria Theater dream was to put up electronic panels with LED lights in place of the current marquee system. This alternative would require less maintenance and could light up Broadway Street, especially on show nights.

“It’s community theater,” Christman said. “It’s yours, it’s mine.”


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