Avalon Theater

2473 South Kinnickinnic Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53207

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Showing 51 - 74 of 74 comments

JimRankin on October 8, 2004 at 4:57 am

This just appeared on the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society web site:
“The Avalon Theatre and organ have been separated. Removal of the
organ occurred at the end of September 2004, after the theatre was
vandalized, and the organ damaged.”

JimRankin on April 12, 2004 at 12:47 pm

The March 2, 2004 edition of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran this item:
“Designated the Avalon Theatre, 2469-83 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., as a historic structure. That could protect the closed Bay View movie palace from demolition, but it wouldn’t block owner Craig Ellsworth’s plan to turn the theater into offices.” The saga continues.

tribecafilm on March 27, 2004 at 8:18 pm

This building deserves to be landmarked as a theater.

rso1000 on February 24, 2004 at 6:34 pm

In 1998, Dairyland Society presented a program of Nostalgia Classics featuring Dave Wickerham on the Organ and The Ron Smolen Big Band from Chicago.

I remember our 11 am rehersal that morning. Although we were all tired from a late night performance… the entire Orchestra perked up at the wonderful accoustics that surprised us when we rehersed our first number.

Thanks to the Dairyland Societys hard work.. plus complimentary
advertising on several local radio stations, including 2 nice promos done gratis by the late Jack Baker over WTMJ, the concert was almost a complete sellout !!

More proof that people will return to a Historic building for entertainment.

I hope Milwaukee and Bay View will do all they can to save The Avalon.

We look forward to returning for another performance.

Ron Smolen, Director
The Ron Smolen Orchestra

JimRankin on February 20, 2004 at 12:01 pm

Here is the latest action in the on-going saga of the AVALON. I am not sure how much help it will be, beyond the symbolic, since local landmark law only protects the EXTERIOR of a building, not the INTERIOR, which the owner is still free to gut if the city otherwise must grant the permits. I will probably not be able to be there, so I hope any others nationwaide interested in this fine Spanish atmospheric can attend to at least preserve its facade, though the facade is NOT complete as built in 1929.

“DATE: Thu, 19 Feb 2004 01:30:43
>From: "dokasc” <>
>A resolution designating the Avalon Theater at 2469-83 S.
>Kinnickinnic Ave., a historic structure will be heard before ZND [Zoning And Development/Landmarks committee of the Common Council] on
>Wed. Feb. 25 at 9:00 A.M., room 301-b, [third floor, end of south corridor]City Hall, 200 E. Wells. St.[across the street from the PABST theatre]
>This is Milwaukee’s last remaining example of an atmospheric
>theater. It is the first theater in WI. to be built for the
>new “talking” and “sound” pictures.
>The theater is a major work of a prominent local architect, Russell
>Barr Williamson. Best known for his Prairie Style residential designs
>another prominent commercial work in addition to the theater was the
>Eagles Club on W. Wisconsin Avenue [at 24th St.].
>The owner of this building has objected to the theater being
>preserved in its present state. He has requested the organ society to
>remove the theater organ from the building.
>Your presence is needed to save this theater. If you do not wish to
>speak you are still important [the room has seats for about 30, so come early! It is likely to be televised on the local cable channel 26]. Come and show your support for this
>very significant example of Milwaukee’s history.
>Donna Schlieman

AndrewWillenson on January 13, 2004 at 1:36 pm

This theater must be saved. I patronized this theater a lot when it was open, even though I don’t live near it. (I used to work in nearby Cudahy.) This gem must not be lost.

A serious mistake was made by turning the stage into a 2nd screen; it was a lousy auditorium. (I saw the movie “Twister” there.) It seriously harmed the property, and should be undone.

I favor live stage shows at the Avalon. I favor it getting a liquor license. And I favor it showing movies, possibly first-run. I believe that Bay View is going to be a GREAT neighborhood soon, and the Avalon can have a fine future. If fixed up, there should be high demand for the apartments in the building.

One more thing. If movies are shown there again a better sound system is needed. The best place to see movies is a movie palace,
provided the sound system is at least Dolby, if not digital. The
Avalon did not have a good sound system, unfortunately.


Andrew N. Willenson

Keith on December 28, 2003 at 1:55 am

I am the artist hired by Tony Laporte in 1961 to paint the Day-Glo murals on the topside walls of the Avalon’s auditorium, and I hope critics will forgive me for my naïveté. I was 15 years old and I hope my telling of the tale will make up a little for the deed itself. Ever since childhood, I was mad for the movies. We lived in the suburb of West Allis and I attended the Avalon (or the Pix) when my folks visited an aunt who lived on Homer Street just up from where the Avalon side exit emptied out. Imagine my youthful enthusiasm when Dad bought a house on Dover Street, just two blocks away! And then imagine my complete glee when we moved to yet another house right on Homer, just a half-block from the theater!

I was so mad for the movies that with rare exception I was usually the first person in line at the Avalon box office nearly every Sunday noon from 1953 until 1964 when I graduated from Bay View High. This did not go unnoticed by Tony Laporte, who often arrived to find me standing alone waiting for the box office to open a half-hour hence. There was something about walking into that cavernous emptiness and having my pick of the seats. I always sat about a dozen rows from the screen, the better to be enveloped by the movie experience.

Now you must understand that this majestic alcazar with spiral pillars, life-size statues, crystal lobby chandeliers, and a massive curved staircase leading up to its balconies, had more than one sort of magical grip on my senses. To begin with, my father’s employer, Nordberg Machinery, held a family day at the Avalon nearly every Christmas. The employees and their kids would show up and a party of sorts would ensue with the management distributing door prizes to the wives and candy baskets to the kids. After about an hour of that an amazing thing would happen. The parents would all leave and the kids would be left in the theater for six hours of uninterrupted cartoons! Yippee! Somewhere along the line, I stopped being a kid but I never lost my affection for motion pictures. I had to be there. Every week.

At mezzanine level over the staircase, glass double doors lead from the business office onto a miniature observation balcony overlooking the lobby. From there Tony, the manager, could survey his domain. Tony was a charismatic guy, a great source of conjecture among my friends. We thought Tony dressed like a movie gangster. He was short but stocky. His dark pinstripe suits were imposing. Add to this Tony’s fedora and his stubby cigar, always jutting out of the corner of his mouth.

Then figure in the Dragon Lady! That’s what the older guys called her. She was either Tony’s wife or girlfriend, no one knew, but she was stunning! I thought she was a ringer for Katy Jurado, who played Helen Ramirez in “High Noon.” But I was smitten and nearsighted, so… When she appeared on that little balcony, all eyes turned heavenward. She wore black slinky evening gowns! With her jet black hair and full crimson lips, she was the crown jewel of the Avalon. Guys would actually loiter in the lobby in the hope that she might appear during intermission!

I could not then have predicted that in my fifteenth summer, I would find myself fidgeting in her presence. One Sunday, as I approached the ticket booth a half-hour before opening, Tony drove up and came right over to me. He said, “Hey, kid. You’re here first in line every week for years, right?” I nodded. “One of your pals says you’re an artist, right?” I nodded again. “He says you’re a real good artist. I have a job for you. Come on in. The movie’s free for you tonight.” And there we were in the theater office â€" the artist, the gangster, and the Dragon Lady! I was so intimidated that I could barely focus on the job offer. I was sure they both knew that I was forcing myself not to look at her. On their private observation balcony she was distantly beautiful, but up close she was flawless!

That’s how I got to paint two 75-foots (?) murals on either side of the theater walls above the walkways leading to the private boxes. That job granted my fondest wish many times over. For two weeks I spent every weekday completely alone in the Avalon. It was wonderful. I listened to Paul Glass on a small, portable Victrola and worked on a ladder thirty feet above the floor, slopping fluorescent paint onto the walls just below the arcing curve of the theater’s ceiling, a starry night of blinking lights against a blue-black field. I was Michaelangelo, at least until the clean-up crew arrived.

It was Tony who suggested a floral motif (I chose Narcissus flowers) and he also requested the flourescent paint. Maybe he was influenced by the Hippie movement as someone suggested above, but it would be a few years before I grew into that myself. At the time, I hung with the older beat generation that frequented the Cafe Unique or the Avant Garde, sipping Latte and snapping fingers to Dave Van Ronk or Spider John Koerner. I remember that the “black light paint” was a challenge unto itself, since it required that I first had to apply brilliant white underpaint to everything that was intended to glow. Without a white base the Day-Glo simply would not glow. But this also facilitated the final color paint process because anything that accidentally dripped onto the black wall would not reflect light! During that two weeks the theater’s side lights were left off during projection so as to subdue the odd appearance of the unfinished portions of the work.

I will never forget my first few minutes alone in the theater. It was scary. I had the keys to the boxes over the stage area where I would be storing my painting supplies during the course of the job. I remember unlocking the door and feeling about for a light switch. When I flicked the toggle I was standing face-to-face with a life-size statue of a goddess holding her hand out to me. I just about came out of my skin! I let her hold my brushes during the course of the job!

Perhaps the best thing about that episode in my early career was that it lead directly to my career. Tony allowed a young artist to see how it might be possible to get “there” from “here”. And now I am there. I eschew the Day-Glo paints now in favor of oils, and I have just retired from a three-decade career in graphic design and illustration to return to my original pursuit of fine art. With any luck I may someday catch up with it. See my work online at Hypermodern Realism.

The Avalon holds only fond memories for me and I was disturbed by the newspaper clipping sent to me by a caring aunt who remembered my fondness for the flicks. I stumbled onto this site by entering “avalon theater” and “tony” into Google’s search fields. I’m going to check in here from time to time to follow the ongoing drama and I wish the best to those whose efforts are aimed at restoring the Avalon to some semblance of its original grandeur. In an era when shoebox Bauhaus theater architecture literally screams into the ears of its older attendees, “Get out of here! FLEE! Go home!”, I can only remember the wonderful memories I have of that extraordinary venue. I even remember cuddling a few early girlfriends there, trying to get some extra mileage through boasting about my decorative efforts. The murals looked OK (if eerie) from the theater floor. Up close they were quite the sloppy mess. Before my too-dazzling murals, the standard joke was to point up at the stars and tell your date that, “This theater’s so poor, they can’t afford a ceiling!” Gradually, that poor joke became fact.

darren on November 27, 2003 at 9:14 pm

I am very interested in this theater. There is so much that can be done with this space. I own a theater in northern pa. It was a church that was renovated into entertanment. I put my heart and soul into this business, But now im selling and would like to purchase a new theater. The Avalon looks great and i’m interested in buying it if you have anymore information on the sale of the Avalon Please contact me at Thank you for all your time…

dnieziejko on November 13, 2003 at 2:10 pm

Fact is that the owner never seriously intended to sell the Avalon in the first place. If he was ever interested in doing so, he would have acted in good faith numerous times to take offers that have been given multiple times. He, as well as his friends have a hidden agenda. What he has done is abuse the good people of the community – with the help of others – to politicize this into a issue that he aims to benefit from as well as his partners. Many of these people are interested in the almighty buck and political gain and don the mask of stewardship. Just remember people: if you lie with snakes you’re likely to get bitten.

bayviewer on November 13, 2003 at 1:27 pm

So many are interested in preserving the Avalon except the owners -Many people in the past have volunteered to help preverse the theater – But the current owner has no interest in preserving the theater. If he did he would have never started to rip apart the exterior. Plywood is now nailed to the enterance. The backstage has been ripped out and he put in a second movie screen (without permits). The current owner just had a very good offer that would have saved the theater – yet he turned it down. So my question if the current owner does not care what can be done.

unknown on November 5, 2003 at 8:01 am

I am a lifelong Bay View resident and used to frequent this amazing theater weekly as a kid. As soon as I heard it was going to be turned into office space, I flipped. If anyone is interested, thier is a city hall meeting today at 2 o'clock, 809 N Broadway. The alderwoman and county executives are trying to have the Avalon made a Milwaukee county Historical site and thereby prevent any hasty sale or destruction of it untill a deal can be made. Saving the Avalon is of the utmost importance to the young and old inhabitants of Bay View. Myself and many others are very willing to voulenteer our time in any fashion needed to save the Avalon. If anyone has any ideas or their is anything we can do please call Chris Boziel (414)559-2115 or email me at

bayviewer on October 31, 2003 at 11:50 am

This whole circus about saving the theater is a game. Mr. Ellsworth is black mailing the entire community. His only interest is getting liquor license. A liquor is a privilege. A privilege that Mr. Ellsworth does not deserve. Through the years many interested parties have come forward to purchase and save the property – each time the deal falls through. If saving the theater means giving a liquor license to Ellsworth or any of his associates – I say put in those offices.

gobayview on October 30, 2003 at 7:30 pm

A committee composed of members of the Bay View Business Association (from the Milwaukee neighborhood where the Avalon is located) stepped in to temporarily halt the deconstruction. They have initiated and are mediating discussions between Ellsworth and Jay Hollis, refurbisher of the nearby Rosebud Draughthouse, regarding potential purchase of the property. At a hastily called community meeting to address saving the theater, Alderwoman Susan Breier stated her intent to support future efforts of Hollis to reinvent the venue. It will be interesting to see how this issue develops.

dnieziejko on October 30, 2003 at 4:38 am

Mr. Johnson,
I attended a town hall meeting last night regarding the fate of the Avalon. Jay Hollis, who owns the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse in Wauwatosa is interested in the property. Apparently, they are negotiating with the current owner. I know nothing of the deal aside from it is in the earliest of stages and any sale will probably require help from the city of Milwaukee, as the asking price at this time may be significant. From what I can tell, Mr. Hollis is a very good potential owner and might want to talk with you — I don’t know. Jay Hollis' number is 414-607-9446. You may also want to contact the Bay View Business association president Charles Livermore at 414-481-0868. He is part of a committee to save the theater and may have some better information.

Dan Niedziejko

BobJ on October 29, 2003 at 7:59 pm

I renovated the doomed West Theatre, in Green Bay, in 1987. I called it the West Pitcher Show. I had previously owned and operated 3 theatres and started a new concept for them back in 1977. They were very successful. All of these theatres were closed and given up, by their former owners, all were corporately owned. I was the first in the country, to incorporate a restaurant/bar/cinema concept, in existing theatres. I have never had a violation with my beverage license, the police, or the health dept., in over 20 years of operation. I am interested in talking to anyone that has interest in this Milwaukee project, or any other theatre that can be saved .

dnieziejko on October 29, 2003 at 10:02 am

As a matter of clarification, the present owner did have a sale of this theater for a short time. It was purchased by a group headed by Henry Doane from Madison WI. He’s a partner in the Orpheum theater, the Majestic, as well as the Blue Marlin Restaurant and the Tornado Room Steakhouse. His plans with partners were to renovate the theater to it’s past glory, have a fine dining establishment adjoining and even was granted a liquor license in the corporation’s name. No resistance was given to Mr. Doane who had honorable and legitimate plans — he had a track record. The deal went south shortly after closing though, when significant and extensive repair work which had been contingient in the deal was not completed as promised by the current owner. Mr. Doane and partners consequently bowed out of the land contract as they could not persuade the current owner to comply without an exhaustive legal fight. The neighbors (of which I am one) would be happy for someone legitimate to come in and buy it and make it the gem it could be. Mr. Ellsworth has proven to be an irresponsible property owner, which makes the neighbors concerned. The apartments have been a haven for bad activity (drugs, prostitutes, etc) and the management style on the whole has not abated this trend. As it stands right now, Mr. Ellsworth is holding a gun to the head of the neighbors, saying that unless we give him carte blanche liquor rights he will convert this to offices. Everytime someone approaches him on selling the price goes up. We know of several parties that wanted to buy this property and were given incredible sums. The neighborhood has really improved, we wish the Avalon could also. Many of the people supporting Mr. Ellsworth, it should be noted, are currently running for office and looking for an issue to champion. I plan on being at the meeting on this and will curious to see which Mr. Ellsworth shows up. As it stands now the place needs lots of work after years of neglect. It could be brought back with the right people. Perhaps someone the neighborhood could trust and who has a track record of running a clean operation. I could go ad nauseum about this, but if someone who is capable is reading this PLEASE HELP. The neighbors WANT the theater in the hands of a responsible owner.

Dan Niedziejko

JimRankin on October 29, 2003 at 6:36 am

I have copied my post here from the www.CinemaTour.com site’s FORUM, and believe that it will be of help to any who want to rescue the AVALON, especially Mr. Davidson, for whom I cannot find a contact number in the Directory here.

“It was good of Mike Garay to post the Journal-Sentinel article about the seemingly doomed AVALON, a charming 1600-seater with small balcony, Spanish atmospheric with a large Wurlitzer. I panicked at that article too, but it was not entirely unexpected, since I had attended the city’s common council committee meeting called to grant or refuse a liquor (beer) license to the theatre. A man who turned out to be a surrogate for the owners was applying even though the owners had been refused before. The committee refused again because the neighbors in this older section of Milwaukee, called Bay View, are very nervous about rowdy rock concert goers wandering drunk down the narrow side streets of this 1850s area in search of their cars (there is no parking lot nearby). Now the county supervisor for the area has called a last minute meeting at the Beulah Brinton Community Center not too far from the AVALON. It will be at 7PM on the night of Wednesday, the 29th, at 2555 S. Bay St. (at Russell St.). He and others will speak of some last minute measures under way to forestall the owners already begun conversion of the property (they have removed the name signs above the marquee, as well as removed the box office, but it hadn’t been used for 20 years anyway.) The original single screen was not successful even when a makeshift screening room was created back stage without permit by placing fold-out seats behind the speakers and a plywood partition and punching a hole in the wall of one of the dressing rooms to make it into a backstage projection room. Not a nice place, but the owners were trying to pay the bills. Now, that area’s county supervisor, Tony Zielinski (.com), says that the owners (Craig Ellsworth 1-414-852-3555 and Greg Cepanica) want about a million for the theatre, its 19 second story apartments, and seven store fronts. I personally think that they will settle for a LOT less. The city is considering a Tax Incremental Financing district be set up to aid it, and it is possible that any new owner will be given the coveted ‘liquor’ license if a proposal includes some way to avoid rowdy crowds looking for parked cars. If someone wealthy enough is to step forward, he might be wealthy enough to buy some surrounding property and create a parking lot for around 500-700 cars. These measures have already been discussed with the present owners, but they have not been forthcoming, nor easy to work with! Anyone dealing with them must proceed with tact, patience, caution, and a THICK skin.

The 20-some rank Wurlitzer in there is owned by the Dairyland Theatre Organ Soc., and they would no doubt like to keep it there and present the concerts twice yearly that they used to. I have already mailed three letters of inquiry and a proposal for a ‘Friends-of-the-Avalon’ group to be set up there to construct and replace the artificial foliage that once graced the balustrades above the exit aisle arcades, but got no reply to my detailed package of instructions and samples. It is a nice ‘stars and clouds’ auditorium of great intimacy under the still twinkling ‘stars’, but it needs attention, an owner not too overly concerned about profits in the short term, and a willingness to work with the alderwoman as well as the county supervisor and business leaders there. Certainly a challenge, but also a reward. See the AVALON’s article at cinematreasures.org to get more details. Jim" () member: www.HistoricTheatres.org

dnieziejko on October 28, 2003 at 1:10 pm

Mr. Robert Davidson. Give me a call, I can get you in touch with the right people – 414-482-7259. We need a committed and honorable owner in the neighborhood to revive this theater!

unknown on October 26, 2003 at 8:43 am

As a niece of Anthony Laporte who was an owner of the Avalon from approx. 1951 to 1971, our family is saddened by the potential of losing that treasured space. My grandmother, my mother and my sisters often reminisced about going to see first run pictures like “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” while I was growing up in Bay View. My mother still speaks of her memories of working the ticket booth when she was 15.

unknown on October 24, 2003 at 7:12 am

As a long time resident of Bay View, I am extremely saddened by the stagnation of the Avalon Theater. This beautiful place holds many childhood, teenage, and adulthood memories…here’s a few highlights: we walked for 2 miles from our house (we were in 7th and 8th grade) to see movies at the Avalon in the early to mid 80’s because it was something to do (even if the movie was “Conan”). I was always dazzled by the twinkling stars! Occasionally, they would resurrect the old organ and we’d be treated to a pre-movie concert which facinated us. In the late 80’s a lazer light show accompanied “The Wall” and they opened the balcony just for these performances. In the 90’s, my all-time favorite movie, “The Wizard of Oz” was shown with a touring collection of movie memorabilia (including one of the original pairs of ruby slippers), and one of the last living Munchkins, Fern Formica, signed autographs! Again, for this special show, the balcony was opened :) I love the Avalon and so do many of my friends—we don’t know how to help (nor do we have the funds, or know-how, to buy or renovate)but we sure hope someone does. These were just a few memories, and I’ve seen countless movies there. I’m heartbroken that I may not be able to see anything come of this beloved landmark that is one of the things that made Bay View unique.

unknown on October 15, 2003 at 7:35 am

My earliest movie-going memories were of the Avalon. I was so impressed as a child by the twinkling stars on the ceiling (hey, who am I kidding, I still am). I guess I was lucky to be able to say goodbye on a visit to the area back in ‘98…

JimRankin on December 23, 2002 at 6:04 pm

The AVALON was indeed called the GARDEN cinema in the 1960s and into the early ‘70s. The principal evidence of this, beyond the white plywood panels reading GARDEN affixed over the neon AVALON letters on the marquee, was the replacement of the blue horizon lights in the auditorium with black light fluorescent tubes atop the parapets to make glow the flowers newly painted on the walls – done in fluorescent 'day-glo’ colors. The effect was at least memorable, if not garish, as I recall. That was the Hippie era, after all. No doubt this was occasioned by the building inspector ordering the removal of the glycerin-preserved shrubbery since it could no longer be fireproofed after so many years of drying out up there. Thank goodness the glowing flowers and their black lights were removed, but unfortunately, the shrubbery was never replaced.

As of Oct. 2002, the owner of the theater since 1990, Avalon Investments, has sued the holders of the land contract since last April, Avalon Theatre and Apartments LLC, to void the contract and permit the theater to be sold at auction, saying the land contract’s would-be purchasers had not made monthly payments since July nor paid the utility bills. Anyone want to buy a theatre with six store fronts, and 19 small apartments?