Tucked into downtown is the soul of the St. Cloud entertainment scene. Built in 1913 as an Elks Club, Pioneer Place on Fifth has seen many transitions over the years. The biggest piece of history sits outside as a reminder of it’s past. The granite pillars and regal steps highlight two clocks carved into the stone that are permanently set to 11 o’clock. This was the time the Elks were to have a moment of silence for their fallen brothers.
“We really want to make this work because we think that St. Cloud needs this on a couple of different levels, not just business-wise. It has a niche, it has a following, it has a really cool vibe that we want to make sure lives on.” ~Ray Herrington
The building has seen prior renditions as a bridal store, ski shop, and Tootsies gift store. It opened in 1998 as a professional theater and has continued to host a variety of local and national artists, and one legend has remained onsite throughout over the years. “The King” is a turn-of-the-century porcelain floor model urinal. The ginormous feature has become a weird tourist attraction as it’s listed as one of the world’s top 100 urinals.
Walking through the historic doors, the Veranda Lounge and wine room have an intimate vibe that makes one feel right at home. The hand-crafted cocktails complement the Veranda room, where they host music 4 nights a week. Friday and Saturday are focused on more acoustic sets, while Monday is jazz and Thursday is open mic night for local original music.
Inside, there are plenty of features that pull guests back in time. The original wood flooring is in place in many spots. Like landmines, they creak and shift when one walks up and down the stairs, a beautiful reminder of the building’s age and history. Upstairs they opened up a hallway that still houses a shaft built in 1913. It was designed to suck down air from outside and then circulate it into the venue. The ladies restroom is all original woodwork, now hosting 5 private stalls with beautiful transom windows above them.
The layout of the theater has been improved dramatically with a new renovation that started in October 2018. For anyone visiting the place before, the overall flow was always an issue. You’d buy your ticket, head around the corner to a small bar in a thin hallway, give up and just head to your seat. The first major improvement comes with a huge new bar upstairs, with space to mingle and wait for the show. A newly installed elevator services the entire building and helps with getting people up and in.
The overall sound of the venue has been dramatically improved as well. An acoustician was brought in to help advise on the changes. They added sound panels along the sides of the entry hallways, short carpet under the seating, insulation on the ceiling, and replaced the existing sound tiles that had layers of paint on them. All of these changes were designed to deaden the room and help control the acoustics.
The former location of the technical booth was in the back, behind glass, where the sound engineer would have to stick his head out to hear the sound in the room. After moving the sound and lighting engineer into the theater, they now have direct influence and control of the acoustics. This transition allowed a brand new VIP Skybox that can seat 12 and has private access. This room can be booked as a group and includes special catering, bartender services, and an exceptional view of the stage.
There are added balconies on each side of the theater that have 9 swivel-able stools with drink rails. These add some amazing sightlines and unique options for catching a show. These changes have increased their seating from 185 to 212. The quality of seating has also been improved. Large comfortable theater seating has been brought in.
Walking through the new improvements and vision of the renovation, you can’t help but feel excited about the new features. The upstairs bar area’s windows overlooking the downtown are nice touches. The new men’s bathroom (still holding The King), along with the increased stalls in the women’s bathroom, will vastly help to support sold-out audiences. The renovation has revealed the beauty of the building, while honoring and exposed a new soul that is ready to showcase musicians for years to come.
Ray Herrington, Part-Owner
As a longtime resident and business owner in St. Cloud, Ray Herrington became good friends with prior owner Dan Barth. He was saddened to hear they were having trouble making ends meet and were prepared to close the theater. While Ray was on vacation he received a call from Dan saying he was giving up and calling the bank.
“They’ll be here in 45 minutes to lock it up,” Dan announced. Ray said, “Lock the door and don’t let them in. I’ll call you back in 5 minutes.”
He called his partners who said they would take care of it. Ray flew back into the cities and met with his team, who revealed to him they now own a theater.
Ray and company realized the theater created attraction and foot traffic to the downtown area. If the theater was to close, then all the surrounding businesses would suffer. His intention is to focus more on music shows since his passion lies more there than theater. He also hopes to change some habits as the new upstairs bar becomes a pre-show hangout and helps to prevent people waiting to arrive and rush to their seats.
Since it’s a historical building, the renovation has been filled with hoops. Originally, the state came in and helped interpret what they could and could not do in their renovation. It was only after designing a blueprint with his architect that the state changed its direction on what it means as a historical building. This led to the team having to re-doing their plans and increasing the cost by thousands of dollars.
Once the plans were finally approved by the the state government, they had to send them to the federal level. Unfortunately, these were sent in the week of the government shutdown last December. It lasted through January and created a 4-month delay in their construction.
Pioneer Place on Fifth offers season tickets for three of their most popular groups. The Fabulous Armadillos return for a 14th season, live radio Granite City Radio Theater for its 8th season, and Justin Ploof and the Throwbacks for four Rockumentaries that highlight some of the best singer/songwriters and musical longevity still riding the airwaves today.
The venue also gives patrons the direct ability to book and choose seats online. This feature helps with planning and allows people to enjoy the full venue without needing to rush to their seats. I highly suggest booking the new balconies for a unique view of the stage above everyone else.
The Guest Room
Justin Ploof, Musician
Growing up in St. Cloud, Justin Ploof had heard rumblings of a cool new venue opening up, one that featured a theater and front room that would host acoustic musicians. He had spent a lot of years in theater in and around the city. Naturally he went to talk to Dan Barth about an idea to combine three things he loved into a show; music, history, and documentaries. The first show was called “Dylan Under The Covers” and featured all songs that Bob Dylan wrote that became hits for other bands. They combined video footage to accompany everything and told stories behind the songs.
His band, Justin Ploof and The Throwbacks, include his father and brother and incorporate many concepts and ideas into their shows. From the music of Saturday Night Live, to their popular “Versus” series that pits two artists against each other. Each of their shows is filled with custom made videos and information to educate and dive deeper into the audience’s experience. There’s a special moment in many of the shows where there’s a collective gasp or laugh of something you couldn’t believe.
Eight years ago they started hosting full seasons of their “Rockumentaries” at Pioneer Place and have the honor of opening their season as the first show at the brand new venue. These unique concert experiences have been a welcome source of entertainment in St. Cloud ever since. They are looking forward to extending their tradition of going into the crowd after the show and thanking people for coming. The new upstairs space gives them the ability to hang out and interact more with their fans.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere than being in a bar or dance club, where it allows you to really sit and absorb the music.” ~Justin Ploof
Full schedule can be found here. A few immediate highlights include:
2/1 – SFO a Journey Tribute with a salute to Kansas and Foreigner – All the hits from 3 of the biggest bands in rock and roll history.
2/7 – Drive… A tribute to The Cars
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.
Sacred Heart Music Center – Duluth