The heart of the University of Minnesota’s east bank campus and a state historic landmark, Northrop has served as the University’s primary gathering place for the performing arts, world-renowned dance performances, concerts, academic ceremonies, and major civic events.
Since it’s opening in 1929, Northrop has hosted a dizzying array of artists, entertainers, and public figures from Igor Stravinsky to Santana; Mikhail Baryshnikov to the B-52s; His Holiness The Dalai Lama to the Grateful Dead.
Tens of thousands of students, arts patrons, and Upper Midwest citizens have marveled at its majestic design and experienced its diverse programming. But what’s the history of this famous building?
Northrop was first conceived of as the northern anchor of a 1907 Cass Gilbert-designed campus gathering area, today called Northrop Mall. Officials wanted the anchor to be an auditorium to serve as “a lively center for the arts.” Along with the auditorium, named in honor of the University’s second president, Cyrus Northrop, fundraising started in 1922 to raise $2 million to also build a stadium along the mall. Memorial Stadium would be dedicated to the 3,200 Minnesotans who had died in World War I.
Designed by Clarence H. Johnston Sr., the monumental Classical Revival building was dedicated on Oct. 22, 1929, on the site of a former medicinal plant garden. The University celebrated Northrop’s opening that fall with three concerts. The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, soon to take up residence in Northrop for the next 44 years, led off the events.
For decades, Northrop was the only large multi-purpose hall and primary arts presenter in the area. Its importance to the cultural life of the entire community from the 1930s to 1970s cannot be underestimated.
In the 1970s, interest in dance was gaining popularity. Northrop’s seating capacity and the size of its proscenium stage made it one of the only facilities in the region with the ability to present major touring dance companies. The Northrop Dance Season was established in 1970–71 and has flourished ever since.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. After years of deferred maintenance, an extensive interior renovation of Northrop began in 2011. The project closed Northrop for three years but when the building reopened in 2014 to fanfare, the iconic building included a new multipurpose main theater with state-of-the-art acoustics, improved sightlines, cutting-edge technologies, and updated amenities.
Since that Grand Reopening in 2014, Northrop has hosted more than 5,000 events and welcomed 1 million people through its doors. Nearly 90 years after its initial dedication, Northrop remains a center of discovery and transformation that connects the University of Minnesota and communities beyond by celebrating innovation in the arts, performance, and academics.