11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Year Listed: 2002
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Guthrie Theater was the creation of a visionary impresario, Tyrone Guthrie, who sought to escape the commercialization of Broadway by establishing a professional repertory theater in the American heartland. Sleek and innovative and far ahead of its time, the Guthrie Theater was the focal point of Minneapolis' cultural life for more than four decades. The theater, which opened in 1963, was designed by prominent Minnesota architect Ralph Rapson, a leading contributor to architecture's modern movement. The theater's innovative thrust stage and asymmetrical orientation literally set the stage for future theater design. In 2001, the theater company that occupied the Guthrie decided to build a new facility on a site several blocks away. Consequently, the Walker Art Center, which owned the Guthrie, and sat adjacent to it, created a master plan that called for expansion of the Walker and demolition of the theater. It was to be replaced by an expansion of the Walker's sculpture garden.
Initially there were concerns if the Guthrie, built just 40 years earlier could be considered historic, but a formal determination by the State Historic Preservation Office in 2002 found the building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In spite of the fact that the exterior had been cruelly altered in the early 1990s, SHPO found the interior performance space that had so influenced the development of regional theater nationwide wholly intact and worthy of preservation. The community rallied to save the building. The Guthrie countered by promising to replicate the space in their new facility.