George Glotzbach recollection of the auditorium/theater portion of the site:
“AS THE SON OF LINUS C. GLOTZBACH who built this building as New Ulm High School Auditorium, now on the National Register of Historic Places, while he was Director of the State of Minnesota Works Progress Administration; and where I attended its dedication in 1939;
AS A STUDENT where, at age 12, I served as MC for an all-grade-school program; where I attended High School; where I learned to wrestle; where I joined Friday morning convocations; where I attended numerous sports events; and where I performed in our Junior Class Play;
AS A LOCAL HISTORIAN where I sat with the three iconic WPA murals every school week; where I learned the history, symbolism, and artistry of John Martin Socha’s presentation; and where I helped preserve the murals in-place as an important part of New Ulm’s heritage.” George L. Glotzbach
The entire block on which the theater resides is on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was not always such. At the time of New Ulm’s founding and platting, foresight set this site aside for education, designated the Courthouse block as a government center, and the Turner Hall site for fitness and social activities. Two schools were first built on the site, the Union High School and later the Emerson Elementary School.
When crowding occurred, in 1915, not without some difficulty, the central portion of the site facing State Street was constructed as a state-of-the-art high school. Again when school populations strained space, commencing in 1938, and completing construction in 1939, through the Works Progress Administration, a wing was added to the high school on its north side and an auditorium/gymnasium on its south side. In the auditorium were three WPA murals representative of the area’s history. These were painted by artist, John Martin Socha, and belong to the Government Services Administration (GSA), with the site owners, under agreement, having the care and maintenance responsibility and making them available for public viewing. The result was the largest WPA project of its kind in Minnesota. And then again, once the baby boomer population started to enter schools, in 1956 one more addition was attached facing 1st North Street.
Over time, both Union High School and Emerson Elementary School were razed. The site became the district’s high school, subsequently converting to a junior high school once a new high school was constructed on South Payne Street. Upon state standards changing and precluding the space eligibility for classroom use, the classroom portions became the District Administrative offices, with the theater/gymnasium still being actively used for sporting practice, events and school plays.
Finding it no longer practical to retain the entire site for just those purposes, the school district sought a purchaser. Eventually, it was sold to a local citizen group who had formed Cenate LLC (a contraction for both Center and State Streets). This group’s purpose was to assist in finding a solution to New Ulm’s significant workforce housing shortage and to turn ownership of the gymnasium/auditorium over to a performing arts group. They were able to garner sufficient community-minded investors willing to take the risk in generating operating capital until such time as a housing developer could be found. As part of those efforts, recognizing that a developer would need to have the ability to use historic tax credits to make housing construction possible, Cenate sought and received historic site designation, which the ultimate housing developer, Community Housing Development Corporation, was able to use.
Upon the sale of the classroom portion of the site, Cenate arranged with then New Ulm Actors Community Theatre (NUACT), a not-for-profit whose role was to provide three or four plays a year at various rented or donated facilities, to accept the responsibility of ownership of the theater, stewarding it on behalf of the community. Upon accepting the responsibility of serving as steward for this community asset, NUACT officially changed its name to State Street Theater Co. and commenced expanding its mission and business practices, with initially much focus on a capital campaign so that utilities could be separated from those of the apartments. Today it continues as a non-profit entity, not only producing plays each year, but also bringing an array of other performing arts for the benefit of a regional audience. It also rents the theater for other venues, whether a band or orchestra wanting to perform there; workshops; meetings or banquets and collaborates with regional grups to bring ballet and other arts to the stage.
And a history would not be complete without mentioning Bobbi McCrea who, in growing up in New Ulm, was engaged in all things theatrical. Upon moving back to New Ulm, her creative energy contributed much toward stimulating interest and growth in the New Ulm area arts scene. A vision she had was that one day, the performing arts would have an appropriate theater to call “home.” Unfortunately, Bobbi is not with us to see that her dream came to fruition and that those who worked with her in the past and a host of other volunteers are working hard to sustain that dream!