Finally, the lights are up at the Chateau.
The Chateau Theatre, a gloriously fanciful vaudeville house and movie palace in Rochester that was built in 1927 and later became a bookstore, went dark when Barnes & Noble moved out in 2014. The city bought it for $6 million in January 2016, with help from Mayo Clinic, and had been dithering about what to do with it since then.
Some renovation work has been done, and to be fair, the Chateau’s fate was tangled up in the nonstop planning for Destination Medical Center. But with retail vacancies on the Peace Plaza and the theater gathering dust, the public was getting restless, so the city put out a request for proposals last year from organizations with big ideas for returning it to its glory days.
The winner was Exhibits Development Group, which creates and markets museum exhibitions, and in late November, the doors opened on the first Chateau show, a Beatles retrospective called “Magical History Tour,” with Fab Four memorabilia and interactive displays.
St. Paul-basd EDG has a five-year lease and is planning concerts, lectures and event rentals as well as museum-quality exhibitions. The Beatles exhibition runs through February, which buys EDG some time to put its programming in order.
“The Chateau is the community’s cultural center,” says Amy Noble Seitz, the company’s founder and CEO, and the plan is to present “exhibitions, music, media installations — lots of different types of programming.” Seitz says other organizations that were interested in running the Chateau, including Minneapolis-based Entourage Events Group, have “come to us with their ideas on how to use it, and we’re trying to dovetail some of them. We’re encouraging the community to come to us with their ideas.”
When the city bought the theater, a lot of people were hoping against hope that it would become a cutting-edge venue, a la the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, that would draw people downtown and light up the night. That’s not likely for at least five years. But EDG’s plans are a start, and in the meantime the theater with the French chateau-style facade and fairy-tale village interior is being used and cared for.
That puts it atop the list of major arts headlines in Rochester and Southeast Minnesota for 2019. Also on that list: The full-bore opening of the Castle Community, the totally original arts hangout that opened about a year ago in Rochester’s former National Guard Armory building. Like the Chateau, it’s one of the few landmarks to somehow dodge the wrecking ball in downtown Rochester. A nonprofit partnership bought it from the city and it’s a curious amalgam of art gallery, used bookstore, coffeehouse, concert hall and glass-walled artist studios.
After proving the concept for almost a year, it’s finding a place in the arts community. It also has Cameo, an ambitious new restaurant in a city that’s booming but has only a few fine and fancy, locally owned dining rooms.
Other newsworthy A & E events in Southeast Minnesota last year, some awesome and some dismal:
Treasure Island hits the jackpot with its amphitheater: The Twin Cities area still needs a true outdoor concert amphitheater that draws top-tier artists, but in the meantime, the 9,400-seat amphitheater at Treasure Island Resort and Casino near Red Wing is mopping up, with Janet Jackson and Rod Stewart among the big tickets last summer. Treasure Island also has stepped up its indoor bookings as well. Bret Michaels is at the event center on Feb. 14.
World music at Riverside Concerts: Rochester’s summertime Down by the Riverside concerts have become monster events, drawing thousands of people to the riverfront for free music by bands such as 10,000 Maniacs, Cloud Cult and the Revolution. Less noticed but just as appreciated is the World Music Series that Steve Schmidt and the city Music Department have put together, showcasing outstanding global musicians for two-day “mini-residencies.” In November, it was Ladama, four women from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States who play traditional and some very non-traditional instruments to produce a pulsing, totally original Latin Alternative music. To paraphrase a friend, more of this in Rochester, please.
Zumbrota Arts Center calls it quits: Marie Marvin’s Crossings at Carnegie has been a labor of love for nearly 20 years — the kind of smart, imaginative art gallery and cultural center that most small towns can only dream of, housed in a stately Carnegie library building. After a few years of listing the building for sale, Marvin decided to call it quits last summer and close the gallery. Though she’ll keep some concerts and art classes going for now, it’s a big loss for the Zumbrota area. The things that make a town attractive and distinctive are often the result of hard work and imagination by just a few inspired people such as Marvin.
The Rochester Symphony hits a high note: When the Rochester Philharmonia was formed in 1919, Stravinsky and Sibelius were in their prime and Shostakovich was just a pup. The orchestra, later renamed the Rochester Symphony and now celebrating its centennial, has had its forte years and pianissimo years, but under long-time music director Jere Lantz it’s been mostly upbeat. The October program showed the orchestra’s range and ambition, with music by Copland, Grieg, Richard Danielpour, Howard Hanson and Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus. An indication of how this isn’t your grandpa’s symphony orchestra: There’s an IPA named for it at a local brewpub.
Thesis Brewing Project joins the bandwagon of breweries: Speaking of breweries, after a late start Rochester has become a thriving beer town, with Kinney Creek, Grand Rounds, Forager, Little Thistle, LTS and now Thesis Brewing Project, which opened on Second Street Southwest in August and has one of the tastiest IPAs in the area, the Cadillac Ranch. Also rolling out the barrel this year was Trout City Brewing, which Anita and Andy Bisek opened in August in Preston’s 130-year-old former bank building. Don’t miss the restroom in the old vault, or the Egomaniac Rye IPA paired with with a Swedish meatball sandwich.
Rochester gets a genuine steakhouse: Ever since Michaels restaurant closed on New Year’s Eve, 2014, Rochester diners have been licking their chops, awaiting a replacement. Michaels’ owners talked bravely at the time about reopening somewhere else downtown, and other restaurants added steaks and chops, but Pittsburgh Blue opened in the new Hilton Hotel on South Broadway in April and there should be no more complaints. Yes, it’s a franchise but a Minnesota franchise, and a long overdue improvement in Rochester’s dining options.
Lake City’s loss is Winona’s gain: Speaking of restaurants, one of the best in the area, Nosh, which overlooked the marina in Lake City, closed last summer after 12 years and is moving downriver. Chef-owner Greg Jaworksi hopes to reopen in downtown Winona in late winter, with half the seating but the same adventurous cuisine and top-quality service. “It’ll be interesting to see if a lot of my existing clientele will remain loyal — I’m curious to find out whether it was the food or the view, or a combination of the two,” he says. For true Nosh fans, it was the food.
“Sleeping by the Mississippi” at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum: Winona is the envy of Southeast Minnesota when it comes to arts and culture — the Minnesota Beethoven Festival and Great River Shakespeare Festival are two summertime manifestations of that. The Marine Art Museum is another, with its remarkable collection of art on watery themes by Monet and other great masters, as well as exhibitions by contemporary artists such as Alec Soth. More than a dozen photographs from Soth’s 2004 collection “Sleeping by the Mississippi” were featured last summer.
Soth, who lives in the Twin Cities area, is “one of the best-known fine art photographers working today, and the museum has been interested in exhibiting his work since we opened in 2006,” said curator Jon Swanson.
Thirteen years later, it happened. Good things come to those who work and wait, and here’s to the good things coming in 2020.
Jay Furst lives in Rochester and has been a journalist and arts writer for more than 30 years. He writes about opera for Opera News magazine.