SAINT PAUL, MN - In the city's Thomas-Dale neighborhood, the Faust Theater, formerly located at 626 W. University Ave., was opened in 1911 by Henry J. "Heinie" Breilein. For a large part of its history, including a couple of ownership changes, ownership ran a quiet, family-friendly business.
St. Paul's theater, which held kid's matinees and first-run movies until the 1960s, was one of the city's many jewels. The movie-going public began to migrate to the suburbs and take their entertainment dollars with them. With dwindling revenues, the Faust Theater had to close its doors. In 1964, the 950-seat theater was put on the market.
The building was leased to an evangelical church in 1967 for a brief period. While the large Faust sign remained, the marquee was changed to read "Prepare to Meet Thy God."
in the early 1970s the building, located on the southwest corner of Dale and University was purchased. On March 26, 1971 it opened as an x-rated theater. The Faust, along with its large capacity theater, offered customers access to ‘peep shows’ and a pornographic bookstore. A short time later, on the northeast corner of the same intersection, an 85-seat x-rated theater called ‘The Flick’ opened.
Chaos soon swept through the neighborhood. It became a hotbed for x-rated movies, drug trafficking, prostitution, and other illegal activities. Despite legal challenges referencing the city's obscenity ordinance, the two theaters remained open. After the police department took him on a "ride-along" in the 1980s, then-mayor George Latimer decided to shut down this "supermarket of porn in the Twin Cities."
The mayor saw first-hand the problems in the area, including the influx of prostitutes and drug dealers that seemed to be attracted to the surrounding community. Although he believed the business had the right to exist and that no one was forced to enter, he realized the Faust had negative effects on the neighborhood.
During the late 1980s, city leaders had an agreement-in-principle for the Flick to close as soon as the Faust was out of business. The city began its battle to shut down both theaters when the agreement never came to fruition.
Early in 1989, it closed both the Faust, Flick, and nearby Belmont Club for good with an eminent domain payment of 1.83 million dollars. As a result of the fight led by Mayor Latimer, and coucilpersons Bill Wilson and Kiki Sonnen, on March 6, 1989, the Faust Theater was closed.
Faust's closure was aptly described as a remarkable victory for the neighborhood residents around University Avenue and Dale Street. Once again, people could feel comfortable leaving their homes.
A tumultuous twenty-year relationship between the city and theater finally came to an end, but not without some fireworks on the way out.
Earlier in the day, on March 6, an 11:30 AM press conference was scheduled in front of the Faust building. A crowd showed up to pronounce victory over pornography and began putting signs on the building announcing its death. Kiki Sonnen later described the meeting as an impromptu party. Someone inside the theater threw a bucket of dirty water down from the third-floor window onto the crowd below.
Among the soaked activists was a KSTP television photographer and his now ruined $40,000 camera. The manager was confronted by angry protesters who entered the building. There was a fight. In the end, the police were called and everyone was sent on their way. By the morning of March 7, the Faust Theater was out of business. They were given thirty days to get their things and leave.
City leaders also changed to keep future pornography merchants from offering multiple types of 'entertainment' under one roof. The days of the Faust, and places like it, were officially over in Saint Paul. After the update of the obscenity ordinance, the Flick realized it was the only theater left in town that could provide multiple types of pornographic material to its customers, and so sued to continue doing business. It was in vain. In July of the same year, The Flick closed.
After debating the historical value of the building, the community and city officials decided the Faust and Flick should be leveled, and the area take the opportunity to start new. The Rondo Library now stands in the spot once occupied by the Faust. In order to have the Faust close its doors and completely leave Saint Paul, the city paid far more than the building's actual value.
While the city council did successfully remove the Faust and Flick theaters for St. Paul, it neglected to mention other Twin Cities locations. The owner of the Faust, armed with a large "get out of town" payment, went across the river to Minneapolis opened an adult theater in the city's Warehouse District.
On August 1, 1995, city leaders, community members, and other onlookers buried a symbolic coffin on the site of the demolished Faust Theater.
- "Faust Theatre." Cinema Treasures. https://cinematreasures.org/theaters/25583.
- Horgen, Tom, and Jennifer Bjorhus. "The King of Clubs." Star Tribune. Last modified July 19, 2011. https://www.startribune.com/the-king-of-clubs/124498918/.
- Kimball, Joe. "Neighbors see Faust closing as 1st step in turnaround." Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 6, 1989, 1.
- McClure, Jane. "Faust Theater." Faust Theater. https://saintpaulhistorical.org/items/show/188.
- Minneapolis Tribune. "Speaking of mixing religion." March 27, 1967, 38.
- Star Tribune (Minneapolis). "St. Paul Buries Faust Theater." August 2, 1995, 18.
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