Firehouse Performing Arts Center settles into Station 21

By JAN WILLMS

From its inception in 1894 up until 1958, Hook and Ladder Station 21 was housed at 3010 Minnehaha Ave. Today, the former fire station is again home to Hook and Ladder, but this time, it’s a theater and lounge.

The Firehouse Performing Arts Center (FPAC) has taken over the building, which was Patrick’s Cabaret’s location for the past 17 years. Chris Mozena, executive director of FPAC, said the organization is iconic to the building and its historic nature. “We kind of wanted to honor that history,” he noted, “and the predominant footprint of this nonprofit is the Hook and Ladder Theater that we operate.”

At first, planning to operate under the FPAC name as a performing arts center, the feedback was that if the group was going to have a bona fide theater in the building, it should have its own name. “That seemed to resonate with the board of directors and with myself, so hence, Hook and Ladder was born,” Mozena explained.

20160716_194539-1Photo right: Minnesota Music legend James Samuel “Cornbread” Harris Sr. performs at the Hook and Ladder. (Photo submitted)

“FPAC also has a couple of other studios in the back of the building. Upstairs houses a dance company office and our offices, a kitchenette, restrooms with showers and one non-arts affiliated organization,” Mozena continued.

He said the original fire station had horse-drawn wagons, so the property that abuts the alley had stables for horses. When those were torn down, two additional studios were built. Today they are occupied by the Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theater & School and Jawaahir Dance Company. Those organizations, along with Hook and Ladder, are independent, but all exist in FPAC, according to Mozena.

Opening in September, the theater has already hosted musical acts and will have its premier theater performance Oct. 13 when Patrick Scully, the founder of Patrick’s Cabaret, presents his one-man show on Walt Whitman, called “Leaves of Grass Illuminated.”

“This is a really special performance that has taken over a decade in the process of research and development,” Mozena said. “Patrick just got back from a run in New York City, where he got rave reviews. This is a premiere of the final finished product and will be our first theatrical.”

In the last few weeks, Hook and Ladder held an open house for artists in the neighborhood and hosted five visual artists for the LoLa Art Crawl. They also held a First Responders Chili Cookoff as a LoLa after-party.

“We rent the theater space out to instructors for dance classes for performance theater rehearsals,” Mozena said. “A couple of days a week are dedicated to community groups, outside organizations and business associations, whoever has a need to use this space. And there’s room in that mix for instructors to have classes.”

Mozena said that FPAC will be following the tradition of Patrick’s Cabaret in the sense that both organizations were about utilizing space and transforming it. “The new organization has a slightly more ambitions programming schedule in mind,” he added.

Mozena has had his foot in both worlds, as he was the music director at Patrick’s for the past six years before stepping into his role as executive director of FPAC. “I have over a decade of nonprofit service that has an entertainment bend to it,” he said. He has been an independent record promoter and national radio programming conference coordinator, record label owner, club GM and art curator.

“When I was promoting records, when there was still a record industry, our office was also the office that hosted an annual conclave of radio station programmers,” Mozena said. “These were the people with the key to airways who decided who got played and how frequently, and they still do. They descend on Minneapolis every mid-July.”

Mozena explained that working with that group was his first introduction to the nonprofit arts world. “That prepared me for Patrick’s,” he claimed. “But there I was limited in the scope of stuff that I was allowed to curate. I always had the desire to cross over, and now I have the opportunity.”

The Hook and Ladder Theater has a new sound system and stage, as well as additional licensing for beer and wine that will be effective in mid-October.

“This is a really old building,” Mozena said, “and we had to bring it up to code. The easy part was painting the walls.”

“The most challenging part, hands down, was the licensing,” he stated. “My understanding is they are updating the protocols and systems Oct. 3 to be more streamlined, but that doesn’t help us. We had a great licensing inspector who helped us along the way, but this turned out to be a larger project that took money we hadn’t necessarily budgeted.” He said the building owner had made investments in a new sprinkler system and handicapped renovations.

“At this early juncture, the most rewarding thing is the positive feedback we hear from guests and artists, many who are visiting the venue for the first time,” Mozena said. He noted that the center is planning to get a marquee with some assistance from a Lake St. Council grant. “They used to fly a big flag on the roof,” he said.

Although the FPAC is currently run by volunteers, with a couple of independent contractors, there is a very active board of directors, according to Mozena. He said a couple of things distinguish Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge.

“We are carrying on the tradition of hosting the Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival. That was my baby, and it has been fun to see it evolve. That work prepared me for this too. It is an intense day with five stages, five or six restaurants participating and 30 plus acts, held in mid-July.”

“And I do believe we are probably the only solar-powered theater in the area. Our goal with future updates is to eventually have a zero carbon impact.”

Mozena said some of the fingerprints of Patrick’s Cabaret, which celebrated its 30th anniversary before leaving this space, can still be felt in the new theater. “We still want to be a home for local artists, from emerging to established ones,” he said. “We figure with this reconfiguration and new state of the art sound system, we’re going to be a little more flexible and multi-use in nature.”
“We’re starting out with baby steps,” he continued, “but we are excited about the future here, bringing quality entertainment to the community.”

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