The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) is a non-profit arts organization that fills a unique niche in arts programming for the Twin Cities region. Its focus is on fine and industrial art forms that are produced using heat, spark, or flame—collectively known as "fire arts"—including sculptural welding, blacksmithing, glasswork, jewelry making, and others. CAFAC provides classes to anyone with an interest, from youth to adult and beginner to master-level artisans. We also offer studio rental facilities to working and emerging artists and feature a storefront gallery space.
The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center inspires hands, hearts, and minds through art forms produced by heat, spark, or flame.
To be a regional center for learning, promotion, exploration, and creation of artist forms fueled by heat, spark, or flame.
• We provide a supportive learning environment, open to all with an interest.
• We strive to inspire members’ creativity and innovation.
• We share our knowledge of traditional arts and crafts in order to preserve them for future generations.
• We promote adaptive reuse of materials and promote sustainability practices.
• We are committed to being a catalyst for and participant in positive action in our neighborhood.
CAFAC is a volunteer-run organization, and as such, we don't have regular open hours. If you'd like to visit us, your best bet is to give us a call and set up an appointment. We do also have limited gallery hours when you can visit.
ALL FIRED UP
A short documentary about how we got our start.
ABOUT OUR BUILDING: THE HISTORIC NOKOMIS THEATER
The Chicago Avenue Fire Art Center's home is in the former Nokomis Theater at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis. An important part of CAFAC’s vision includes the preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse of this once vibrant artistic and social amenity back into a hub for creativity, culture, and community.
The Nokomis Theater's grand re-opening in 1929. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, Norton & Peel.
1915: The Nokomis Theater is Born
According to Minneapolis building permits, the Nokomis Theater was originally constructed in 1915 as a silent moving picture house at a total cost of $8,500. At the time, the small commercial intersection of 38th and Chicago was a bustling neighborhood node along the Chicago Avenue streetcar line. The Nokomis Theater's original architect was Joseph E. Nason who, in addition to having designed other theaters throughout Minnesota and several large apartment buildings in Minneapolis, also designed the Resler Building in Minneapolis’s Historic Warehouse District.
1928: The Nokomis Theater Gets a Facelift
In 1928, under new ownership by local theater proprietors Finkelstein & Rubin, the Nokomis Theater underwent an extensive renovation, which included an addition and remodel. At the time, some of the Twin Cities’ most notable theaters were part of the Finkelstein & Rubin circuit, including the Palace Theater, The Capitol (later Paramount) Theater, and the Minnesota (later Radio City) Theater (which, when it was built in 1926, was the third largest movie theater in the United States). For the 1928 Nokomis Theater renovation, Finkelstein & Rubin sought plans from the building’s original architect, Joseph Nason, as well as drawings from the prominent architectural firm of Ellerbe & Co. It was apparently the latter firm’s vision which most pleased the theater magnates, as it was Ellerbe & Co.'s design which won the commission. Their plans included adding a large, decorative brick, triangular peaked parapet to the upper center portion of the building’s façade; a new 22’ X 11’ decorative metal marquee; interior remodeling; and a 1,200 square foot rear addition that allowed for a total seating capacity of 553—all at a cost of $15,000. Among Ellerbe’s many important commissions at the time were the original buildings for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester; the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio; buildings for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and buildings of the University of St. Thomas and Hamline University, both in St. Paul; and the St. Paul City Hall and Courthouse. Today, the 100-year old firm, recently renamed AECOM Ellerbe Becks, is one of the largest architectural firms in the world, specializing in the design of high-profile health care, sports, government, corporate, and higher education facilities worldwide.
1952: Closing and Subsequent Uses
After its 1928 expansion and renovation, the Nokomis Theater remained an active part of the neighborhood for several decades until it closed in 1952, almost simultaneously with the streetcar’s final ride down Chicago Avenue. Soon after, the building’s interior was converted into a retail store. The former theater has seen a variety of uses since its 1952 conversion, and most recently served as the home of Wreck Bros. Auto Body Shop.
Today: Preservation and Restoration
The thoughtful preservation and adaptive reuse of the historic Nokomis Theater into the home of the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center seeks to unearth, preserve, and restore as many original architectural details as possible. Although much of the interior was significantly altered in 1952, several original details remain, including the floor-to-ceiling subway tiled walls and decorative multi-color hexagon tile flooring of the former lobby (now CAFAC's Nokomis Gallery), plaster arch movie screen proscenium and side sound grills, projection booth, and the building's decorative brick facade, featuring beautiful encaustic tile work in the second floor triangular parapet. It is CAFAC’s hope that the restored structure will serve as a beacon for future preservation and restoration of the business node’s many unique structures—a number of which were designed by top architects of their day—and a catalyst for economic and cultural renewal of this once bustling streetcar stop.
The Nokomis Theater, 1945. Courtesy of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, Wilbur C. Whittaker.