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Joe Senkyr Minjares, Caren Martin and Michael English pose for a photo.

Parkway Theater owner Joe Senkyr Minjares (left) stands with assistant professor Caren Martin and lecturer Michael English, who worked with U interior design students on a project to redesign the historic theater.

Extreme makeover: neighborhood theater edition

U interior design students unveil ideas for renovation of Parkway Theater in Minneapolis

By Rick Moore

Nov. 28, 2006

As class assignments go, this one was a doozy. Take a beloved but aging neighborhood movie house and come up with a design for a renovated, multipurpose theater that's true to its historical roots and enticing to new generations of patrons.

Such was the task for 34 students from the University of Minnesota as a major project for their Interior Design Studio 7 class, and in early October the students split into seven teams to begin developing ideas for renovating the Parkway Theater near 48th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.

Originally designed in 1931, the building has undergone a number of renovations, but currently the exterior is in poor condition, the marquee has water damage and the interior is mismatched and in need of repair.

Showcasing designs
About six weeks and literally thousands of collective hours later, the students presented their redesign ideas at the theater for Parkway owner Joe Senkyr Minjares, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, members of the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program and other interested community members.

"I've been surprised at how emotional I've been about it," Minjares said. "I feel really, really fortunate to have these young people take a vision I had and run with it. It validates a dream."

Attendees could walk from display to display and not only see blueprints, sketches and even material swatches for the students' imagined spaces, but also hear the students describe the rationale behind their themes.

The students were given significant feedback during the project as to what Minjares was hoping for in a renovated space: a flexible performing arts venue that could accommodate film, live entertainment and private events. From there, they ran with their own ideas.

"It was interesting taking what the owner wanted and incorporating that into the space," said Elizabeth Hanson, whose group came up with the theme "Modernizing Tradition." "He had very lofty goals. We tried to decipher which ones were most important and which ones would fit the space best."

Preserving history
To a group, the students were mindful of the long history of the Parkway, which stands two blocks north of Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Parkway. For many, that meant maintaining "Parkway" in the name of the theater and trying to embody the heritage of the theater in their designs, with themes such as "Preserving the Past" and "The Rhythm of Life."

One group focused on the concept of time--past, present and future--in its conception of a theater named "The Icon," inspired by the Aztec calendar as well as some of the theater's art deco aspects. According to student Barb Perry, the concept is "holding on to some elements from the past, [though] we're adding new elements... and planning for future new elements, so that it all melds together into a cohesive design."

Another group operated with the theme "Celebration of the Imagination." "Through the looking glass, everything is a little abstract--[we're] bringing in the mystery and the sensuality of the performing arts," said team member Emilee Pearson. The group chose Sueno Vida as a new name for the theater, which is Spanish for "dreaming life."

Revitalizing the community
"He (Minjares) really wanted [the redesigned Parkway] to breathe new life into the community," Pearson said. "We decided to go all the way--create a new look, a new fa?ade and a new name."

At the end of the day, after all the designs had been examined and ogled--and explained in great detail by the students a dozen times over--Minjares smiled and reflected on the work of the U students.

"I've been surprised at how emotional I've been about it," he said. "I feel really, really fortunate to have these young people take a vision I had and run with it. It validates a dream."

"It's one thing to have a nice facility, and another thing to have some heart and soul in it," he added.

Rather than use one particular design concept as a whole, Minjares figures he might draw out individual elements from a number of the concepts.

"Some of the designs I've seen today are really, really nice, but they may not be practical for what we're trying to do," he said. "What I did find in some of these designs are some good short-term solutions," such as moving the ticket booth to the other side of the theater's entrance area.

All of the potential solutions on display came with a significant expenditure of time. For some groups, the rough math worked out to be 20-30 hours a week times four people times six weeks... which equals a lot of time. "One day we spent 12 hours together," said student Chiharu Miller.

That's not to say that it wasn't often a labor of love. Said Gretchen Litwin: "I'd rather be doing this than any other homework."