St. Louis Park's Cooper Theater opened on August 8, 1962 at
Wayzata Blvd. Hubert Humphrey and his wife were
present at the grand opening.
The $1 million facility was built on 32 acres.
It had tiered, plush (mohair?) seating for 800 people, and
the lot held 400 cars. The theater eschewed
popcorn for Swiss chocolate and was meticulously maintained
- reportedly the lobby was repainted monthly. It had a
135 foot wide screen [35 x 105], and the auditorium was
described by the Star Tribune
as a “perfect circle without a quivering piece of hardware.”
One wag said it was haunted by a workman who died building
The theater was one of three in the country to be specially outfitted for Cinerama
(see the bottom of this page for information on the other
two). Cinerama used three film projectors synchronized to make a
Cinerama wasn't new in 1962; in fact, it
was a decade old. "This is Cinerama" had premiered on
September 30, 1952, at the Broadway Theater in New York
City. It opened in April 1954 at the Century Theater
at 38 So. 7th Street near Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis,
and was the only theater to show it in Minnesota, the
Dakotas, Iowa, or Wisconsin. The Century was
reportedly only the 11th theater in the country to show a
Cinerama film. An article in
the May 19, 1954 Park High Echo featured an article
entitled "New Movie Invention Now Showing in City."
accurately described the process:
The picture itself is played upon a gigantic curved
screen, giving the viewer an impression of actual
participation in the scene around him.
"This Is Cinerama," the only movie released to date
in this medium, is a travelogue. Beginning with a
whirling roller coaster ride, the scene shift to a
beautiful cathedral, the canals of Venice and to
Florida's Everglades among other places and is climaxed
by an airplane tour of the entire United States.
A controversy has been raging in Hollywood over
additional Cinerama productions. The latest
decision is to continue releasing travel pictures.
"This is Cinerama" closed on July 26, 1955, and a new
film, Louis de Rochemont's "Cinerama Holiday," made its
debut at the Century.
Theater closed in 1964 and was demolished in '65.
A list of all of the movies that played the Cooper, the
Cooper Cameo and Cooper 1 and 2 was compiled by three
projectionists that worked the Cooper: Francis May, Joseph
T. Lewis and Michael J. Varani. Fran May and Joe Lewis
worked the Cooper from day one as part of the original
Cinerama crew. Mike was hired when Fran May retired in 1980.
Joe Lewis worked with Mike part time up until his retirement
in 1987. Mike compiled all of the movies and brief equipment
and ownership changes from 1980 to the 1991closing. Fran and
Joe are responsible for the content from 1962 to September
of 1980. The following are some milestones in the history of
the theater, taken with permission from the database.
The first movie shown was the "Wonderful World of the
Brothers Grimm," on August 9, 1962. The ad in the
Minneapolis paper had a list of places in outlying cities
where one could buy tickets, and a coupon one could send in
to buy tickets in advance. When the Cooper played
Cinerama, it was “hard ticket” meaning a patron bought a
ticket for a specific seat.
The local premiere of "Airport" was held at the Cooper, on
or around March 5, 1970. The event was a fundraiser
for the Minnesota Association for Retarded Children, raising
$30,000. The Humphreys were in attendance, as were
local celebrities Johnny Canton and Nancy Nelson who were in
the movie. Jacqueline Bisset was also there, and some
patrons arrived by small planes that landed right on the
On December 25, 1975, the Cameo Theater opened. This
smaller theater (300 seats) was built onto the existing structure – the
big screen was never divided.
A Dolby CP 100 Unit was installed in December 1978.
On November 19, 1979, the theater was acquired by Plitt
North Central Theatres.
In April 1982, a new screen and a Dolby CP 50 stereo unit
On November 12, 1982, the Cameo name was dropped and the
theaters were known as the Cooper 1 and 2.
On November 7, 1985, the St. Louis Park Cooper Theater was
the scene of the premiere of “That Was Then, This is Now, a
movie based on a book by S.E. Hinton and co-starring Emilio
Estevez. EE did not attend.
On November 22, 1985, Cineplex Odeon acquired Plitt North
On June 22 and 23, 1987, Screen 1 closed to install Xenon
But the market for Cinerama was limited and new and better
technology came along. The theater fell into disrepair as
receipts could not keep up with maintenance costs. The
owners could no longer afford to operate it, and the death
knell rang. The opening of the Willow Creek Odeon complex,
just three miles away, did not help the situation. There was a concerted but failed effort by many,
including architect Gail S. Anderson, to save it as a
National or State historic landmark, but the structure was
not yet 50 years old. St. Louis Park did not have any
similar ordinances, so the theater was done.
The last two movies, “Dances With Wolves” on the Big Screen
and "Godfather III" on the small screen, were shown there on
January 31, 1991. A correspondent who attended "Godfather
III," which got out after "Dances With Wolves," was over
said that when walking out, they were already removing
chandeliers and other decorations, but that's been disputed.
The property, now just 2.2 acres, was razed in September
1992, at the time to make room for an Olive Garden
restaurant owned by General Mills. Olive Garden went in
elsewhere, though, and the site is now Stahl Construction.
For a web site that at least used to have pictures, see
Lost Twin Cities III has a segment on the Cooper that has
many great photos of the building as well as video of its
demolition. See their
for a gallery of photos, some from Keeper-of-the-Flame Mike
"How the West Was Won" was shown in
1963-64. Image courtesy Mike Varani
Photo by David Przetycki
1987 Photo courtesy Danny Amis
OTHER COOPER CINERAMA THEATERS
There were two other nearly identical theaters built around
the same time, all by the the
of Lincoln, Nebraska, a charitable and educational
organization established in 1934 by Joseph H. Cooper, a
long-time theater owner and former partner of Paramount
Pictures. The Foundation supports nonprofit organization
organizations in Lincoln and Lancaster County, Nebraska.
The foundation once owned and operated fifteen theatres in
Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri. It sold off its
theater interests in 1975.
The theaters were designed by architect Richard L. Crowther
of Denver. The original blueprints for the theaters are in
the Denver Public Library Special Collections Department.
Cooper Theater was located at 860 S. Colorado Blvd. in
Denver. It opened on March 9, 1961. It featured
a 146-degree louvered screen (measuring a massive 105 feet
by 35 feet), 814 seats, courtesy lounges on the sides of the
theater for relaxation during intermission (including
smoking facilities), and a ceiling which routed air and
heating through small vent slots in order to inhibit noise
from the building's ventilation equipment. It was demolished
in 1994 to make way for a Barnes & Noble Bookstore.
The third Cooper-built Cinerama theater, the
Hills Theater, opened in December 1962 in Omaha.
The Indian Hills theater closed on
Sept. 28, 2000, as a result of the bankruptcy of Carmike
Cinemas, and the final film presented was the rap
music-drama "Turn It Up." Despite an intensive
grass-roots campaign by local preservationists, support
by film actors and the movie industry including Kirk
Douglas, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Ray Bradbury, the
National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the
American Society of Cinematographers, the owner,
Nebraska Methodist Health Systems, Inc., went ahead with
demolition on August 20, 2001, to make space available
for a parking lot for its administration offices.
(Ironically, on August 8, the Omaha Landmarks Heritage
Preservation Commission had voted unanimously to
recommend to the Omaha City Council that the Indian
Hills be designated a Landmark of the City of Omaha. The
building was destroyed anyway before the council met to
take action.) The demise of the theatre and efforts to
preserve others throughout the nation are chronicled in
Jim Fields's documentary "Preserve Me a Seat."