ST. PAUL-Artists, often cash-strapped, are used to practicing their skills in unglamorous spaces.

For nearly seven decades, that's been the case in

St. Paul, where generations of ballet dancers sweated and toiled to create beauty above a hardware store.

Thanks to the turmoil of World War II and a chance invitation, Lorand and Anna Andaházy, a couple of leading dancers from the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, ended up in St. Paul.

In 1949, they set up a dance studio above what is now Frattallone's Ace Hardware on the corner of Grand Avenue and Cambridge Street.

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It was the first classical ballet school in the state. And generations of St. Paul residents - children, adults and some who became noted professionals - trained with the Andaházys and in dance schools that would take over the space after the Andaházys moved on.

"You can't throw a rock in St. Paul without hitting someone who's been in that studio," said Lori Gleason, who first took a class with the Andaházys in 1976. She's now executive director of the St. Paul Ballet, the dance company and school currently in the space.

New ballets were rehearsed and staged there by the Andaházys, who also formed a dance company. Ballet stars both taught and were created there. World-famous performers from the Bolshoi to the American Ballet Theatre climbed the steps above the hardware store to attend post-performance parties while on tour in the Twin Cities.

But that all is coming to an end.

Because of a planned change of ownership in the building, the St. Paul Ballet has decided to close the studio on Grand Avenue and expand and consolidate its operation at its other location in St. Paul. It's another unlikely space for art, a former printing company building at 655 N. Fairview Ave., which also houses a boxing gym.

The dancers are leaving on good terms.

Gleason said the current owners, the Smolik family, were good landlords, leasing the Grand Avenue space to the dancers at below-market rates. The downstairs tenant, Frattallone's Ace Hardware, is planning to buy the building and use the second-floor space to expand its housewares department. But hardware store co-owner Mike Frattallone said he wouldn't have turned out the dancers if they wanted to stay.

"It's always been exciting to have the ballet studio up there," he said. "It was very, very fun to be associated with them."

"Nobody threw us out the door," Gleason said.

But Gleason said the 25-by-30 foot rehearsal room above the hardware store, which an athletic dancer could bound across in about three leaps, is too small to train dancers for professional careers.

'Meant to be a ballet studio'

Jane Harrington Keyes started learning ballet with the Andaházys in 1950. She met her husband at the school and became one of their star dancers and teachers. She still wonders today how as many as 30 dancers would squeeze onto the floor for rehearsals.

"It's always amazing to me that they could stage large ballets in this space," Keyes said.

St. Paul Ballet's Fairview Avenue location has more parking and will be more accessible. Visitors and students won't have to climb a steep flight of stairs to get to the studio.

But there's still a little sadness and nostalgia among dancers both old and young that ballet is coming to an end on Grand Avenue.

"We certainly have outgrown the space, but there's so much history here," said Barbara Weinstine, who started dancing with the Andaházys in 1964 when she was 10 and later performed in the Andaházy Ballet Company.

The ceiling is high in the Grand Avenue studio, good for lifts. The wooden floor was springy, although generations of shoppers in the hardware store have been puzzled about all that pounding above their heads.

"It is amazing that the hardware store has put up with the noise as long as it did," Keyes said. "I used to teach with a stick, and they'd get really mad."

The windows that lined the room were often kept open during the summer, meaning the sound of the live piano accompaniment drifted out to pedestrians on Grand Avenue.

A rich history

The building dates back to the 1890s and originally was built as a grocery store when deliveries were made by horse-drawn wagons, according to Cindy Rasmussen, one of the three sisters who owns the building.

Rasmussen said her great-grandfather and grandparents built the adjoining building on Grand Avenue as a sheet-metal shop. The two buildings were combined by her parents, Donald and Marjorie Smolik, in the 1950s when they started one of the first Ace Hardware stores in the country there.

When Lorand and Anna Andaházy first took over the second floor for their ballet school, they also briefly lived there with two young sons in a section that would later become the men's dressing room.

Lorand Andaházy was part of Hungarian nobility but had to flee the country as a child following World War I. He settled in Cleveland and was a noted gymnast and horseman, according to his son, Marius.

But Lorand turned himself into a ballet dancer after falling in love with a dancer in the Ballet Russe whom Lorand saw performing as "The Girl in Blue."

The girl was named Shirley Bridge when she was born in New York City in 1917. She later changed her name to Anna Adrianova after she became one of the first American dancers invited to dance in the Ballet Russe.

Lorand and Anna toured in Ballet Russe together, working with dance greats like Fokine, Massine and Balanchine. They married in 1941. During World War II, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and fought across Europe, winning a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. She joined the USO Foxhole Ballet and entertained American troops overseas.

They came to St. Paul in 1945 because Lorand knew an Army chaplain from a St. Paul church who suggested that St. Paul would be a good place for Lorand to recover from his war wounds.

The couple first had a dance studio in downtown St. Paul, then later moved to Grand Avenue.

The Andaházys' youngest son, Marius, would go on to a noted career himself, becoming the first American to train with the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets while on tour and becoming a member of the Royal Swedish Ballet.

He directed the Grand Avenue studio after his parents died in the 1980s, drawing on Russian ballet traditions. But finances forced him to close the school in 1996.

"I knelt in the studio and cried when I closed it," Marius Andaházy said.

The space then became the St. Anthony School of Dance, the St. Paul City Ballet and finally the St. Paul Ballet.

A farewell class

For St. Paul Ballet's final week there, Marius Andaházy recently taught a farewell class.

About 30 dancers crowded the floor, including children who wanted to be able to say they took a class from an Andaházy, veterans who haven't danced in years and professionals at the height of their powers. More came just to watch.

"There are people here today who haven't set foot in here for 30, 40 years," Keyes said.

The lesson raised money for Karen Paulson-Rivet, 56, a teacher and former principal dancer for the Andaházy Ballet who has kidney cancer. Paulson-Rivet, who started dancing at the studio when she was 7, watched the lesson from her hospital bed via a tablet computer.

"It was delightful, but extremely emotional," she said.

Linda Peterson said she started dancing with the Andaházys when she was 12. Now 73, she hoped her arthritic feet would cooperate for one last dance on Grand Avenue.

"It's sad to see anything beautiful come to an end," she said. "It was more than dance. It was like going to a church."

As the lesson stretched past the two-hour mark, Marius Andaházy tried to get the dancers to focus on beauty and intention.

"You don't do it because someone is yelling at you," he said. "You do it because it's so beautiful you can't help but do something beautiful."

There were applause and tears when the lesson ended.

"Am I terribly broken up about the closing of this studio? I'd have to say yes," Andaházy said. "I'd like to just kiss the floor here."

But he told the dancers, "what is important is what went on here."

"It's not the building that's holy," he said. "It's you people who made it holy."