Some views of the Empire's renovation process.
(All photos and text by Christopher P. Jacobs (c) 1998)

In January 1997 the seats had been sent out of state to be reupholstered and refinished, the extension of the stage had begun in front of the old proscenium, and the new orchestra pit was dug and paved. These expansions will allow the stage to be fully functional for live shows, although they necessitated a reduction in the number of main floor seats from 516 to 420.

In March of 1997, interior renovation was well on its way, just one month before the flood hit. Here, the new proscenium is starting to take shape. Behind the new steel studs the original movie screen from 1919 can be seen painted on the back wall of the building.

View from the stage in March, 1997. The shaft for the new elevator, required under the American Disabilities Act, cut the size of the projection booth by more than half. Its wall can be seen blocking the four projection booth ports on the right. The two former balconies had held a total of only 50 seats after the 1930 remodeling. Their floors have now been leveled and they will be the control centers for stage sound and lighting.

The auditorium reconstruction work as it appeared in mid-October, 1997. The new stage is lower and has been extended to almost twice its previous depth, or about four times its original depth. A new orchestra pit has been dug in front of it, and can be covered over to recover the floor space and front row of seats if needed. The pilasters along the walls have been repainted to highlight their design, with new gilding applied to the lion heads. The same pattern of the 1930's floral motif mural on the acoustic wall covering has been duplicated using new colors to complement the new wall and ceiling treatment.

Repainting of the ceiling was started in December 1997, and the wall tiles were prepared for repainting the murals in new colors.

Repainting of the wall murals was started in late December 1997 (right-click and choose "View Image" for a closer look).

After the damage from the flood, the marquee message was changed to reflect NOCAC's commitment to continue with the Empire's reconstruction into a focal point of the new downtown Grand Forks. The 1950s granite siding was stripped off the front in early September in preparation for a brickwork restoration in keeping with the original style. The marquee chase lights will be rewired and extended down to the neighboring building (formerly the Dakota Shopper, the Girl Scouts, and the Pancake House), and the dented framework replaced. Inside, the lobby now extends into that structure which has been integrated into the overall design, also providing restrooms and scene shop space.

Click HERE to see pictures of the flood damage. (May-June 1997)

VIEW PROJECTION BOOTH during and after reconstruction

VIEW FINAL TOUCHES to the construction (March 1998)

VIEW NEARLY COMPLETED AUDITORIUM (March 1998)

VIEW PREOPENING GALA RECEPTION NIGHT (March 27, 1998)

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