Editor's note: Curious about the structures lining Broadway Street? Here’s an in-depth look at the buildings around downtown Alexandria, businesses who previously occupied the spaces and the purposes they’re being used for today.
Underneath the Andria Theatre’s current lobby flooring, artistic director David Christman remembered there used to be mosaic stars, similar to the setup in Hollywood. Using a broom handle to peek up under a ceiling tile, Christman revealed the space’s former red and white patterned wallpaper.
And those glimpses from the past a few steps through the front door just scratch the surface of the building’s many layers of history.
From a hotel to a hardware store, a theater with screens to productions on stage, the structure located at 618 and 622 Broadway St. has served several different purposes since its reconstruction in 1936.
The Alexandria Area Arts Association board debated what to name the new performing arts space after purchasing the former movie theater in 1991: AAAA or the Andria.
During this period of debate, Christman found a message printed on a broken typewriter in the building’s basement.
“It should be called the Andria…”
He tried to figure out who pulled the trick on him, but nobody confessed. He attempted to match the font to any of the other functioning typewriters, but this one was distinctly different from the rest.
Whether it was an explainable coincidence or one of the theater’s two ghosts, Christman said it was discovering that message that helped them decide. The board’s decision is clear to anyone looking up at the theater’s spire on Broadway Street.
Prior to the Andria Theatre, here’s a closer look at the history of the addresses it occupies downtown, according to Douglas County Historical Society records:
618 Broadway St.
1868: One of the first two hotels in Alexandria, the Minnesota House, was built. The structure contained 18 rooms, a pool hall and a door on the outside of the upper floor that led to nowhere. A separate stable building was available out back.
Early 1900s: A few different saloons—run by John Anderson and Knutson, first name unavailable, followed by Oscar Herbert and Charlie Foslien—were located here.
1931: The Minnesota House burned down.
1936: The Andria Theatre opened to the public February 7, with “Three Kids and a Queen” being the first featured motion picture. The Baehr family purchased it, as they owned a chain of other theaters in Minnesota and North Dakota. The $75,000 building project included a two-story building with a 51-foot front and four second-floor apartments.
622 Broadway St.
1888: A news blurb in the Douglas County News announced that The People’s Theatre Co. 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, F. O. Herbert Saloon, J. A. Munkberg’s Harness and W.M. Hogan Livery Barn were housed in this space.
1936: Gambles Hardware found its home here.
1974: A remodeling 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 more seats so that the theater could show two movies at once.
1991: After a 55-year run of movies, the Alexandria Area Arts Association purchased the theater with plans to refurbish the space to showcase live, local talent. Volunteers from the Alexandria Technical College helped build the stage. “It was the ‘home’ that area arts-minded people had always been seeking,” a review in the Echo Press described, as the AAAA had been performing shows at Jefferson High School before moving into this building.
In the past three decades, there have been smaller upgrade projects around the theater, such as redoing bathrooms, implementing dressing rooms and establishing a set construction space.
For the upcoming show “Grease,” Christman said the entryway will be transformed to introduce audience members to the time period. A 1948 television will be displaying commercials from 1959, and a vintage pink couch and chair will sit across from it. A few 1950s vehicles will be parked out front, and girls on roller skates will zip along the sidewalk and greet passersby.
“I love to do a show within the show and before the show,” Christman said.
Beyond the next shows, Christman said the Andria Theatre’s dream is to put in electronic signs with LED lights in place of the current marquee system. This alternative would require less maintenance work and could light up Broadway Street, especially on show nights.
“It’s a community theater,” Christman said. “It belongs to you, it belongs to me.”