The Pence Opera House


We take pleasure in announcing to the public the opening of the Pence  Opera House under our new management which will conduct it on a new and practical plan enabling us to present the best dramatic productions at a cheaper price of admission then any other first class theater in the Northwest. The prices of being reduced to ten, twenty and thirty cents, thus placing within easy reach of everybody the possibility of enjoying strictly first class theatrical performances on conditions easily afforded! It is further our intention to give to performances each day making it especially convenient for ladies and children to attend and trusting that these liberal inducements will be equally responded to buy an equally liberal patronage from the public we feel certain of making payments opera house once the principal pleasure resorts of Minneapolis.
Respectfully,  Henry Hanson
Lessee Manager, Sent from my iPhone,
March 22nd, 1884

Back in 1866, the building of an opera house looked like a safe bet. Young Minneapolis was enjoying a post Civil War boom. A well heeled, thirty-six-year-old bachelor by the name of John Wesley Pence had come to Minnesota a year earlier in search of a way to spend the fortune he made in Ohio milling, distilling, and cattle-fattening enterprises. Pence told the newspapers he’d be able to provide a fine public hall if he got a little cooperation. Pence offered to build a three story, stone building and prepare the third floor as a theater if the citizens of Minneapolis would pony up several thousand dollars to help pay the expense. The city found the cash and by March, 1867, architect, A. M. Radcliffe had converted the third floor. The Pence Opera House became the entertainment and cultural center of Minneapolis.

Over the years, the hall hosted Ole Bull and his violin, Laura Keene performed in Our American Cousin, Bjomstjerne Bjornson lectured to Scandinavians immigrants on Norway’s constitutional struggle, Shakespeare’s plays were presented along side local acts like the Singing Hutchinsons and Ignatius Donnelly. Through the decades the theater changed hands and changed names. It was called the Metropolitan when the Murray-Cartland acting group leased it and became known as the Criterion when Bryton presented his stock company there. The theater was called Slensby’s Theater after John Slensby put it to use as a vaudeville house, and the Norden after a Scandinavian bunch rented it in 1890. In 1892 the curtain went down on the third floor theater. After the turn of the century the building was converted into a boarding house. The Union Mission acquired the place in 1915 and the building was used as a shelter for homeless men until it was razed in 1952.