Defunct St. Paul movie theater revitalized as North Garden Theater

A look inside the North Garden Theater as renovations were underway // Photo courtesy of Ryan North

A century-old building that had fallen into disrepair and was slated to be demolished by the City of St. Paul is being brought back to life as the North Garden Theater thanks to a couple who saw its star potential.

This rundown, long-vacant building enjoyed its heyday in the first half of the 20th century as the Garden Theater, showing silent films and then “talkies.” But after closing down around 1960, it was turned into a warehouse for a casket company, before it too shuttered its doors.

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That is, until December 2015 when husband and wife duo Ryan and Tina North spotted a listing online for the building at 929 7th Street West. The Norths, owners of Moss Envy in Minneapolis, discovered an appealing opportunity. “It’s a culmination of our background as business owners and entrepreneurs and our passion for the theater,” Ryan says. “It just seemed like a ripe and ready place for putting something in.”

Ryan and Tina, who also are actors on the side, figured its proximity to the Schmidt Artist Lofts made it a prime place for the rebirth of a new, 5,000-square-foot performing arts venue and rental space. The West 7th neighborhood itself stirred up positive emotions in the Norths. “We thought, man, there’s a scene building here,” Ryan says. “West 7th has a supportive community, full of artists, and we think it’s about to explode in such a positive way.”

Soon, a theater that hasn’t been used in six decades will welcome performers to its stage once again.

For the past seven months, extensive renovations on the building have been ongoing, including fixing holes in the ceiling, crumbling rubble, and carting out 20 dumpsters worth of accumulated garbage and debris. The Norths are preserving as much of the history of the space as possible, including much of the building’s original brick, which will be visible.

The 200-person space will host an array of performances, including plays, cabarets, improv comedy, music, dances, and art shows, while doubling as a community events space for weddings, receptions, corporate functions, and likewise. “We wanted to create a flexible space, from the types of performing arts that come in to the stage and seats being physically movable and flexible,” Ryan says.

To toast to West 7th’s new venue, the Norths are planning two opening nights on June 2 and 5 that will feature a cabaret, silent auction, drinks at the back bar, and social time for patrons to enjoy. “We hope West 7th embraces us and uses us,” says Ryan. “We’re anxious to get people in here.”