Saved from the wrecking ball, historic, abandoned theater may return to its roots

Record of Moonshiner’s Dance Part 1 (Photo courtesy of Aaron Rubenstein)

If not for the 1927 song “Moonshiner’s Dance Part One”, the former Victoria Theatre on University Avenue (also a former speakeasy) would probably be a parking lot.

The former Victoria Cafe, at 825 University Ave. (Photo courtesy of Kurt Gegenhuber)

The building was scheduled for the wrecking ball in 2009, but then amateur historian Kurt Gegenhuber discovered a tune on the Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music was recorded by the Victoria Cafe house band during Prohibition.

“It was only after I understood that it was associated with one of the most important collections of sound ever released that it became associated with something truly, deeply significant in the history of American culture,” Gegenhuber said.

On that basis, St. Paul designated the building historic. Now, a non-profit organization is raising money to turn it into a theater again.

Tyler Olsen, who coordinates the Victoria Theater Arts Initiative, said music could very well play a part in the future of the space.

“Whenever people ask about what the place is going to be, the number-one thing that comes up every time is music.” Olsen said that’s fitting, considering it was music that saved the building.

Read more on the history of the Victoria Theater