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Genesee unveils grandeur of past;
Cosby will open Waukegan theater
(October 13, 2004, Chicago Tribune)
Comedian Bill Cosby will open the newly restored Genesee Theatre on Dec. 3, kicking off what officials hope will be a new era for Waukegan.
With its massive crystal chandeliers, lushly painted decorative plaster and state-of-the-art sound system, the Genesee was restored—at a cost of $23 million—to attract visitors to downtown.
“This will make people believe Waukegan is on its way back,” Mayor Richard Hyde said Tuesday.
And Cosby as an opening act “is like coming out of the starting blocks,” Hyde said.
City officials are banking on the 2,500-seat Genesee drawing people—and their entertainment dollars—to Waukegan and its lakefront, which the city wants to transform with shops, restaurants and homes. So far, a parking deck and some housing are under construction downtown.
“Things are happening all over the place, and it is an exciting time for Waukegan,” said city spokesman David Motley. “We’re looking at it as a catalyst for change in downtown.”
City officials gave tours Tuesday to reporters and other guests as workers installed red velvet seats and technicians tested the sound system.
“It is a first-class facility,” said David Rovine, general manager of the Genesee for SMG, the Philadelphia arena, theater and convention center manager recently hired to run the Genesee. “There are no limitations because it is so grand.”
Rovine declined to name other acts to follow Cosby or to say how many he expects to book a year.
He said the Genesee will bring something for everyone, from Broadway-style shows to concerts to comedians.
“We will really match the makeup and temperament of the people here,” he said.
In many ways the Genesee, opened in 1927 and closed in 1982, harks back to downtown Waukegan’s heyday when it was a bustling host to several grand theaters and their many patrons.
“There were lines down to Sheridan Road,” said Hyde, remembering the Genesee of the 1930s. “And it cost 15 cents to get in.”
Waukegan native Jack Benny premiered movies at the Genesee, which also put on circuses and musical acts.
But the restoration of the theater has not been without controversy. The project’s cost originally was pegged at $15 million, and it’s also opening a year later than planned.
And some residents still bring up the messy departure of Ray Shepardson, a national theater restoration expert who oversaw the project. Shepardson left earlier this year after quarreling with Friends of the Historic Genesee Theatre, a non-profit group formed to help raise funds for its operation.
Among other things, Shepardson and the non-profit disagreed on his programming strategy, which called for 200 to 300 shows a year. Some city officials and members of the Friends board called that plan unrealistic.
Illinois Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), a member of the board, acknowledged the acrimony.
“We’ve had a lot of bumps in the road, and we have had a lot of peaks and valleys,” Link said. “But the only thing that matters is the peak of Dec. 3.”
Calling the Genesee one of the finest theaters in the country, Shepardson said he was heartbroken over what happened.
“I just think it’s very unfortunate that my approach to programming and operation of the theater has been abandoned,” he said. “Mark my words. Start counting the shows and you won’t need all of your fingers and all of your toes.”
But those thoughts were far from the minds of many who waited outside the Genesee on Tuesday afternoon for the announcement of the opening act. Tickets for Cosby will go on sale at 10 a.m. Oct. 22 through Ticketmaster. Prices haven’t been announced yet.
“Contrary to what Chicago thinks,” said Mike Pasiewicz, a local native with memories of the Genesee before it closed, “there is a Waukegan, and we are moving on up.”
(From host.madison.com )
The vintage Orpheum Theater, with its once-regal presence on State Street, is getting a facelift from the inside out. New co-owner Gus Paras is sprucing up the long-neglected auditorium. Interior artwork and stenciling are being restored with painstaking care. New front doors, resembling those that first swung open in 1927, are coming soon.
So are veiny black granite panels, meant to replace the blond brick that was put on the theater’s facade when it was “remuddled” in the 1960s.
“Remuddled” is the term of architect Arlan Kay, who has restored many a historic building and is overseeing changes to the Orpheum. Those changes are meant to undo alterations made to the movie palace half a century ago in the name of modernization.
The sign we see outside the Orpheum today is from that mid-century period. But oh, you should have seen what she looked like in her glory days.
Lights raced up and down the original sign, crowned with an Art Deco flair. The theater, designed by Chicago architects Rapp and Rapp, had cost a whopping $750,000 to build.
Now scarred with rust, the current sign stays in place because hanging a replacement over the sidewalk would violate city ordinances. City leaders are working on a solution.
It will take time — and many dollars — but one day the sparkling name Orpheum, like the theater itself, could again be a glamorous Downtown star.
(Motion Picture World, July-September 1911)
Kenosha, Wis. — The Orpheum was damaged to the extent of $5,000 by fire. The fire started just after a crowd of people had left.
There are some who consider the former Retlaw Theater a dilapidated, mold-riddled space with a leaky roof and standing water in the basement.
But a group operating mostly online with no ownership rights to the Main Street building sees a gem in the rough. Friends of the Retlaw Theater say the historic downtown building is structurally sound, has only surface mold resulting from malfunctioning roof drains and should be transformed into a usable theater for the community.
Louie Lange, president of Commonwealth Companies, has been granted an option to purchase the property that fronts 23 S. Main St. Once home to a grand theater, the buildings that are part of the theater complex have been vacant and for sale for seven years. Commonwealth intends to close on the property within the month and begin a project to renovate the building into a mix of offices, retail and apartment space. Lange said his project would not be financially viable with the theater.
“In order to develop the apartments that (financially) support the cost of the building, we need windows on the eastern side of the building — the same with the office space,” Lange said.
Parking, he said, is not as important as creating apartments on the eastern portion of the building. If parking were the only issue, he said Tuesday, the theater may have been salvaged.
Friends of the Retlaw Theater has been collecting signatures from people who want to save the theater. The group says it has 1,300 to 1,500 signatures but has largely stopped its petition efforts.
The following is posted online, petitioning Commonwealth Development Corp.:
“Please do not turn our Retlaw Theater into a 32-space parking lot. Utilize the auditorium in your redevelopment plan and be a hero to Fond du Lac citizens, young and old!”
Commonwealth is planning a $2.4 million project at the Retlaw site. The plan calls for creation of first-floor offices for 24 Commonwealth staff members and retail space. The second floor and part of the third floor will become 10 apartments priced at market rate including several two-story lofts. Wempner’s School of Dance may continue as a tenant on the third floor. Portions of the theaters facing Sheboygan and Portland streets will be razed and replaced with a parking lot.
Friends of the Retlaw group held a meeting Tuesday night at Fond du Lac Public Library that was attended by nearly a dozen people. The group invited all “Fond du Lac County residents, Commonwealth friends, Thelma friends, and the media to confirm facts and share ideas and find the common ground we all know exists to SAVE the Historic Fond du Lac Retlaw Theater for Fond du Lac’s Downtown Arts and Entertainment District.”
Fond du Lac resident Christine Clementi, who has been leading the Save the Retlaw Theater charge, said Tuesday she didn’t expect a buyer — any buyer — to have a plan that included demolition of the theater. When she and others learned of Commonwealth’s intentions, “they panicked,” she said, and started an online effort to try and find a way to work with Commonwealth.
Lange said his plan calls for construction of five apartments facing Main Street and five facing Sheboygan Street. The theater, he said, doesn’t fit with the design.
A 32-space parking lot could provide parking for some of his office employees, apartment tenants and retail employees/customers. Lange said he’s already purchased spaces in a nearby parking garage.
The historical character of the Retlaw Theater facade facing Main Street will be maintained. Lange said he will try and salvage architectural aspects of the building’s interior.
“It would be wonderful if we had an economically viable way to preserve that theater,” Lange said.
He said it would take at least $9 million to restore the theater. The Friends of the Retlaw group believe it can be done for a much lower amount.
The Retlaw complex Lange is purchasing is more than a theater — it encompasses the buildings at 17, 19 and 23 S. Main St.
A portion of one theater was made into a kitchen during the time it served as Fusion Restaurant and floors were flattened in another one-third of the building, said Amy Hansen, executive director of the Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership. She said a middle section still has theater seats, but they are covered with mold and can’t be reused.
Retlaw Theater is listed on local, state and national historic registries but it’s the local designation that is the most restrictive, said Dyann Benson, redevelopment planner for the City of Fond du Lac.
Benson said properties on the state and national historic registry are eligible for tax credits and funding for certain types of projects.
Because of the local historic designation, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission was required to vote on demolition and exterior alterations to the building.
“The HPC doesn’t have the authority to negate an accepted offer,” Benson said. An initial motion to delay demolition by three months was amended to allow immediate demolition when the committee questioned what a delay would accomplish.
Lange told them a delay could impact his plans for purchase of the building.
Ann Kelly, owner of Wempner’s Dance Studio, said a commercial cleaning specialist walked through the theater in October 2013 and told her the mold in the dressing rooms under the stage was “surface mold” and could be cleaned up and painted and that wood trim and wood doors should be removed to eliminate continual mold growth. The specialist said the mold was not dangerous black mold and would not require any special kind of cleanup.
Kelly said a structural engineer from a Green Bay firm inspected the theater on April 25 and reported that water damage is due to malfunctioning roof drains, and the building is structurally adequate and does not pose a safety concern.
A preservation architect from the Wisconsin Historical Society, Mark Buechel, who also viewed the property in April, said the theater is “in remarkable condition and a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture.” The architect said the theater could stand another 89 years if roof issues were addressed. He also wasn’t overly concerned about the basement mold.
Lange said Tuesday he is concerned dilapidated areas will “start eating at the rest of” the building.
Kelly has a secondary offer on the property, but Commonwealth’s is the offer accepted by owner Chuck Boyd.
Clementi said she believes the HPC should have voted to postpone demolition of the theater because another proposal (Kelly’s vision for a performing arts center for children) existed. The committee voted unanimously May 21 to allow demolition.
Fond du Lac City Council President Sam Meyer, on a recent online post, said the City of Fond du Lac does not have authority to dictate the terms of the property sale.
“This is a transaction between two private parties about a privately owned property,” he said. “The city can’t stop, alter, negotiate or deny any portion of this transaction because the city doesn’t own the property, nor does it have authority to do so. While some might not like it, if the private owner of this property decides they want to tear part of the property down, then that is their right.”
Meyer said no city taxpayer money was used in the development project/transaction and there isn’t a Council member associated with the seller or the buyer. Council, he added, did not vote to demolish anything related to the Commonwealth project. He said the owner does not need Council approval.
Hansen said she’s looked at the state of Rapp and Rapp theaters — the Chicago architects of the Retlaw Theater and 105 theaters in the U.S. Forty-seven have been demolished, 16 are vacant and still standing and 42 are open.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that not all of these properties can be saved,” Hansen said.
The Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 meeting of the Historical Society of Walworth and Big Foot Prairie featured the former Walworth Theatre and adjacent Showette. Sixty attendees at the 90-minute session saw Jim Jurgensen’s wooden armrest from one of the theater seats during demolition nearly 30 years ago. Society president Nancy Lehman opened the program at Golden Years Retirement Village with the history of the theatre and adjacent Showette soda fountain and lunch counter. Constantine Papas of Chicago built the Walworth Theatre after considering the tourist impact from metropolitan Chicago and northern Illinois spending summers in the area.
Architect Robert Chase of Janesville designed the theater and Showette. His original drawing of the theater was displayed at the meeting, but his rendition little resembled the actual building as shown in a photograph provided by Stan Fairchild. The grand opening was on April 25, 1947 with “Ramrod” starring Don DeFore, who was supposed to appear in person but canceled.
Louis Simonini of the Saunders Theatre in Harvard, Ill. was the first manager, but in 1948 Thomas and Dorothy Finin came from Decatur, Ill. with their children Jean, Carol and Tim. For the next 26 years Tom managed the theater and Dorothy the Showette.
When Papas died, ownership went to John Papas and Spiro Papas, who contracted with Standard Theatres of Milwaukee to operate the theatre. Tom Finin arranged for Standard to provide first-run pictures day and date with Milwaukee. Later, Delavan-area residents Ann and Harlan Seaver owned the Walworth Theatre, which fortunes declined after 1979. After closure, the building fell into disrepair, hastened by a collapsed roof, and was razed.
Past employees told of their experiences. Barb Krohn Nieman of Walworth worked at both places on and off for 14 years, beginning in 1954 at the concession counter for a year as her first job. “It was fun. I popped corn and sold candy and ice cream. The most popular were Jujubes, Juicy Fruit gum and Milk Duds. Then I moved into the Showette, where I was trained by Gloria Nieman, and sold hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and fountain drinks such as cherry vanilla phosphates and Green Rivers.” A pizza oven was added in 1956, selling for 70 cents and $1.50. Sunday nights were busy as tourists passed through on their way back to the Chicago area, as were evenings after local bal-l games.
Among the cashiers were Walworth residents Betty Lou Edgington Austin in 1947-49 and Betty Cunningham Nichols in 1950-56, working in a tiny, unheated box office. Austin’s boyfriend (and later husband) at the time was Leonard “Buster” Church Jr., who worked many years as a movie projectionist and managed the United Artists Cinemas in Kenosha. After work, he drove Betty home to the family farm northwest of Fontana. If they arrived after midnight, they often herded the cows into the barn for her father who later milked them. Betty’s sister Mary Kirkpatrick of Walworth (the historical society secretary) remembered Betty bringing home theatre popcorn and eating it in the bed they shared. She also recalled her Walworth High School senior American history class going to “Gone With the Wind.”
When Betty became bored in the box office, she’d wave at truck drivers passing by. They’d park their trucks around the corner and come to talk to her until Tom Finin intervened and sent the drivers on their way. She met her husband Ken (not a trucker) at the theatre after he moved to Walworth from Peoria, Ill., as part of a business transfer.
Wendy Church, who lives near Burlington, often visited her father Leonard Church Jr. in the small projection booth, which was accessed by a narrow, steep and curved stairway and learned how projectionists switched from one projector to another by watching the upper-right corner of the screen for white circles to cue the transfer. The large projection machines dominated the booth, which also had a counter for splicing and a restroom.
Another cashier was former Fontana resident Debbie Levine Vanderstappen who worked there in the early 1970s and got to know the Finins well, describing Dorothy as “someone who worked hard”. Dennis Janis, rural Burlington, grew up in Walworth and accompanied his father Hank delivering milk from his Walworth Dairy business in the 1950s and ‘60s. “Mrs. Finin was the hardest worker I ever knew,” Janis said. “I learned my work ethic from dad and her. The Finins did not make a lot of money, but she was the most dedicated worker I’ve ever seen. She split a hot dog and cooked it on the grill and toasted the bun. I can still taste it. I also liked the suicide Coke with all the flavors in it. I loved the Showette, and it broke my heart when the theater came down.” Janis was thrown out of a movie after a buddy produced a loud pop by stepping on an inverted paper cup. Tom Finin escorted Renk, Booth and Janis to the door due to guilt by association.
Many in the audience recalled Finin patrolling the two aisles with his flashlight. Finin was helpful to Sue Hoyt and her sister Jeanie McReynolds during a Sunday matinee when the sisters were only 6 or 7 years old. “One of us had to go to the bathroom, and the other was supposed to stay in her seat so we would know where to sit. But when the one came out of the bathroom the other was in the lobby, so we didn’t know where our seats were, which had our new winter coats. Mr. Finin helped us find our seats and our coats.” Jeanie was saddened the day she biked with her son Tommy to see the deteriorating theater. “I remember all the emotion I felt then because it was the end of an era. It was a wonderful little theater, and the Finins were wonderful people who worked hard.”
The steps in front of the theater were a popular place to hang out. Bob Pearce spent noon hours from the nearby high school there with his friends, who occasionally yelled loudly at drivers going the wrong way on the one-way streets around the square. He said one driver stopped and did not move due to the yelling. Stan Fairchild’s late wife Sandy worked at the concession counter in high school, and recalled the Showette parking lot filled with cars after a sporting event. “The Showette was so packed you couldn’t get in. I will never forget the hamburgers made there.”
Patrick Romenesko of Elkhorn as a child visited with Santa Claus, portrayed by Curt Hubertz of Fontana, in the theatre lobby, and remembered the free movies for kids on Saturday afternoons paid for by area businesspeople. Bill Bowie of Delavan solicited donations for the movies, and he ate at the Showette because of the good food.
Richard Rasmussen of Walworth Township went to Big Foot High School. “The Walworth and Fontana kids were in competition. The Walworth kids envied the Fontana kids because they had the lake and beach, but the Fontana kids were more envious of the Walworth kids because we had the theatre.” Dentist Tom Beci and his family moved to Walworth in 1976 because “the theater was a big selling point. We probably went to see a movie every other week.”
A handout at the meeting told about James Marsden of Fontana being arrested for breaking into the theatre and Showette and stealing money in February 1957. Dave Nieman of Walworth related that Marsden was apprehended after Walworth police followed the tire tracks of his car in the snow to his residence.
Jack Cunningham of Walworth drilled a hole in the Showette jukebox and used a wire to select records to play for free. “I don’t think Tom Finin ever found out about it."
Lynn “Gabby” Jensen was stranded at the theatre after a blizzard hit. She spent the night there, and Tom Finin brought her lots of popcorn. When she grew tired of eating it, Dorothy Finin showed up with “an armful of candy,” Jensen said.
Bonnie Cornue met her future husband Dick at the Showette, and told about a high school homecoming celebration featuring a snake dance around the downtown square. The dancers entered the front door of the theater and exited the back door – while a movie was being shown.
As a youngster Steve Schnitcke stopped in the Showette one day to buy a Coke from Dorothy Finin. No one else was there, so he couldn’t resist spinning all the seats of the stools, creating a lot of noise. When he reached the last stool, waiting for him was Finin with his Coke and a firm request to leave.
Mary Kay Nordmeyer recalled the aroma of pizzas cooking in the Showette wafting all the way down to the front of the theatre.
Dave Woodrich of Walworth Township watched the theatre being built from a window of Walworth High School during civics class.
The last movie Harold Bonner of Walworth watched at the theater was “Jaws.”
ANTIOCH THEATRE SEEKS COMMUNITY HELP FOR RENOVATION
(6/20/2014 by Jill Tatge-Rozell, Kenosha News)
ANTIOCH — The owner of the Antioch Theatre and an investor trying to save the iconic movie venue are reaching out to the general public to raise the final $65,000 needed to complete a $750,000 renovation.
Owner Cindy Kottke, faced with deferred maintenance issues and outdated technology, shuttered the theater May 16.
Investor Tim Downey, a member of the founding team behind the Great Wolf Lodge resort chain, said the theater survived prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II. He said he believes, with the right backing, it can also survive the digital age.
“Movie theaters are like heartbeats for small downtowns,” Downey said. “When a downtown theater closes, fewer people visit and other businesses suffer. too. I just didn’t want to see that happen.”
Downey and Kottke said the goal of the renovation project is to preserve the historical character of the building while transforming it into a financially viable, modern theater.
The building dates back to 1919, when it opened as a live performance house called Majestic Theatre. In 1924, it was converted to a single-screen movie theater and was renamed Antioch Theatre. “One of the great things about this theater is it originally opened as a live theater,” Downey said. “So we are going to keep the stage. We will be able to offer live events, such as comedy nights, live performances, speakers and community events and benefits.”
Kottke said they will also preserve the balcony seating. “Moviegoers love the balcony,” Kottke said. “We are going to keep it pretty much the same.”
Downey added that previous renovations did not keep the history, or future, of the theater in mind. The lobby, for example, needs attention, he said. “There are glimpses of what it was,” Downey said. “I don’t want it to have a modern lobby. Hopefully, when it’s done, it will tell the story of what it could have, or should have, looked like in the ‘20s.”
Other upgrades will include:
— The addition of a 29-seat theater room
— All new digital projection and sound
— A new screen in the main theater, new drapery and new seats
— A new marquee and a redesigned facade
— A renovated lobby and heated front sidewalk
— Sprinkler fire protection
Downey said digital projection will allow the theater to show first-run releases and broadcast special events. The smaller theater will allow for the transfer of a movie onto a smaller screen in the latter weeks of its run so a new release can be featured on the larger screen.
“The additional screen is critical for successful operation in the future,” Downey said. “Movie distributors require theaters to hold films for two to four weeks. However, as a movie’s attendance drops during its run, a single-screen theater is burdened with little income while it waits for the next new release.”
Downey and Kottke have energized the community and the village of Antioch to get behind the renovation. Raymond Chevrolet, Something Sweet Confectionery, Great Lakes Credit Union, the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, and an anonymous benefactor have pledged $150,000 toward the project cost.
The village of Antioch will lend the project $200,000, to be repaid by a village-wide movie ticket tax. Another $35,000 will be raised through the sale of granite sidewalk stars and other personalized promotions.
Downey said they are hoping to raise the final $65,000 in pledges with the help of “Kickstart,” a website used by those seeking donations for worthwhile projects. The online pledges will only be accepted if the funding goal is met by the July 31 deadline.
A minimum pledge of $1 can be made through the website, www.kickstarter.com, by searching for Save the Antioch Theatre project. Donations of at least $10 and upwards of $1,000 come with rewards ranging from free movie tickets and popcorn to seat sponsorship plaques and personalized glass wall stars that will hang in the theater.
The pledge drive went live June 16. As of Wednesday afternoon, 59 people had made pledges totaling nearly $5,500.
To make a donation pledge toward the Antioch Theatre renovation project:
— Visit www.antiochtheatre.com and follow the link to the “Kickstarter” website.
— Call Tim Downey or Cindy Kottke at (847) 395-0425
The pledge will only be collected as a donation if the $65,000 fundraising goal is met by July 31.
Renovation plans for the Antioch Downtown Theatre in Antioch, Illinois: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/608543555/save-the-antioch-theatre
Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 January 1914, Page 3
Rhode’s windows undergoing a facelift (Kenosha News, May 23, 2014 by Bill Guida)
“Workmen began a fenestral facelift Friday at the Rhode Center of the Arts, with removal of the steel frames and glass panes from the arched second-floor windows of the vintage theater and opera house overlooking 56th Street.
Lowell Bros. Construction Co., of Kenosha, is doing the removal and is scheduled to install new, updated windows within the next two weeks.
Steve Mattner, a Rhode board member, said the new windows not only will be more energy efficient, but will “show off” to passersby the four original crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling of the ornate lobby inside the downtown Kenosha landmark.
Now home to The Lakeside Players, the original Rhode Opera House was built in 1891 but destroyed by fire in 1896, although it was rebuilt the same year.
The second building was razed by Milwaukee entertainment giants the Saxe Brothers in 1926 to make way for the “modern” building costing a half million dollars — more than $6.5 million in today’s money — and which opened in 1927 as the Gateway Theater.
The third building to stand on the site, the Gateway Theater was leased to another operator in 1963, who renamed it the Lake Theater, which underwent a building makeover in 1976 before closing 12 years later.
In 1987, the Kenosha Lakeshore Business Improvement District (now the Downtown BID) accepted the Rhode family’s request to take title to the property and renamed it once again the Rhode Opera House. In 1989, Lakeside Players, a community theater group, bought the building for the cost of improvements.
In July 2004, with the opening of the Pollard Gallery in the building, which also houses another art gallery in the second floor Madrigrano Mezzanine — Rhode Opera House was renamed Rhode Center for the Arts."
Correction: This was the GALLERY Theatre, built and operated by Henry Landa.
Children stand in line at the ZION Theatre, celebrating the repeal of the blue laws which had prohibited movies to be shown on Sundays. (Chicago Sun-Times photograph, April 11, 1949.)
The architect was G. H. Pridmore of 35 West Dearborn Street, Chicago.
1927 – Rumors circulate about the construction of a new theater next to the Agner Auto Co. garage on Geneva Street.
1928 – The Plaza Theater opens at the Agner site; over 1,200 in attendance. Vaudeville acts added later in the year.
1930 – New sound equipment installed at the Plaza and at the Crystal.
1931 – Kapitan, son of canine movie star Rin Tin Tin, appears live at the Plaza.
1931 – Stink bombs set off at the Crystal and Plaza.
1933 – Cowboy singing legend Gene Autry appears at the Plaza.
1938 – New air conditioning equipment installed at the Plaza.
1951 – Plaza remodeled; new candy counter and mural of Echo Lake are added.
1952 – Presidential candidate Harold E. Stassen speaks at the Plaza.
1953 – Plaza outfitted for three-dimensional films. Later in the year the screen is adjusted to accommodate wide-screen showings.
1989 – Steve and Dana Lind buy Plaza Theater from Mary Jane Faust.
1997 – $1.1 million three-screen addition added to Plaza.
1909 – Fenn Building on Chestnut Street becomes home to the Crystal Theater.
1910 – Owners of Crystal Theater announce plans to build new theater at Pine Street and Geneva Street (Commerce Street and Milwaukee Avenue). It opens in February 1911. The Vandette Theater opens in the Fenn Building, the former home to the Crystal. It closes operation in a month.
1935 – Crystal Theatre becomes the State Theatre.
1953 – City Council votes to buy property where State Theatre is located for construction of a parking lot.
(March 14, 2014, by Richard Ryman, Green Bay Press-Gazette)
GREEN BAY — Gravity, the movie, did well in theaters, but gravity, the law of physics, is not being kind to Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre. Among several maintenance issues requiring attention, the ceiling in the main auditorium is beginning to lose its paint. To be clear, the ceiling isn’t unsafe. Parts aren’t falling on patrons and the acoustics aren’t affected, but at some point the deterioration will need to be addressed.
After more than 80 years, gravity is taking over, said general manager Matt Goebel. “They didn’t clean it to what was needed when they repainted it in the 1930s,” he said, and the paint is beginning to separate from the acoustic material.
In February, the Meyer board launched a $4.5 million capital campaign. Of that, $3 million will be used to renovate and expand the adjacent former Daily Planet building, $1 million will go to doubling the theater’s endowment and $500,000 for major maintenance on the 84-year-old structure.
Fox Theatres Inc. opened a 2,037-seat vaudeville theater and movie house at 117 S. Washington St. on Valentine’s Day 1930. By the time it closed in 1998, it had become a triplex movie theater with most of its Spanish Atmospheric interior — highlighted by heavily textured plaster, decorative columns and intricate painted designs and statues — covered up or removed. A community-based restoration project that returned it to its original 1930s look allowed it to reopen Feb. 27, 2002, as The Robert T. Meyer Theatre.
Theater director Julie Lamine said the 1998-2000 renovation focused on getting the building restored and reopened. “Now we are the next group. It’s our job to leave it in good shape for the group after us,” she said. “This part of the whole three-pronged campaign is very vital.”
Fixing the ceiling is going to be tricky and won’t be done soon. A lot of scaffolding will have to be built and the theater closed for six to eight weeks. The material will have to be lightly sanded or washed by hand and repainted. The work likely will be done in summer, either in 2015 or 2016, said Mike Karcz, head of the theater’s building committee. It’s the slowest time of the year and continuing shows, such as those by Let Me Be Frank Productions, might be able to perform in the new Backstage at the Meyer space, as the renovated Daily Planet will be called. Karcz said they’ll also look for a way to make track-lights accessible, perhaps by allowing them to be pulled up into the ceiling, which has a work space above it.
Also, the theater entrance will receive an upgrade. The front of the Meyer has several issues, including an uneven sidewalk and a terrazzo surface near its front doors that was not originally intended to be outside. It easily gets slippery.
The curb in front of the theater is not handicap accessible, and for certain events cars are lined up in the street as people wait to unload and navigate to the sidewalk, Karcz said.
The front of the theater is not deep enough for a vestibule, so it’s difficult to keep that area warm on cold days. Goebel said a revolving door in the middle of the glass entrance and handicap-access doors on each side might be an improvement. Another possibility is heating elements above the doors, Karcz said. “We are working with the historical part of the building — the lobby — so we are limited to what we can do,” he said. It will help that Backstage at the Meyer also will provide an entrance to the main theater. Outside, the east wall needs brick work; pointing and capping. Some of that work was done earlier, but more remains. Karcz said roof work might also be done as part of the Backstage at the Meyer project.
Maintenance of this sort will be an ongoing requirement. The building committee meets monthly to review the theater’s needs. “It’s 84 years old. The challenge is you’re trying to keep the characteristics of the old building,” Karcz said.
The theater’s offices and dressing rooms recently received an upgrade from VerHalen Inc. of Ashwaubenon, which donated the labor and material, Karcz said. The rooms received new carpets, furniture, paint and lighting.
A new traditionally-styled 24-by-24-foot aluminum marquee and vertical sign is planned by owner Lee Barczak for his Avalon Theatre, expected to reopen this summer after a 14-year dark spell.
The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission says the bronze-toned vertical will spell AVALON in large red letters trimmed in frosted gold and was designed by Ascend Design in Muskego, Wisconsin. Though not a replica of the original vertical sign, it honors the theatre’s era and heritage. Energy-saving electronic LED lighting will be used on attraction boards, “Not features found on historic theater signs, but increasingly necessary to meet the needs of the movie theater business today,” according to a MHPC spokesman.
Ascend Design’s goal with the vertical: “glorif(y) the existing architecture while paying homage to both the aesthetics and principles of the atmospheric type movie theaters of the 1920s…combining elements of the existing design with the use of modern materials and technological components,” according to the plan, and will cost about $50,000 out of the project’s total $1.8 million cost.
Opening night at the new 41 Twin Outdoor Theatre in Franklin, Wisconsin on July 1, 1948.
Commonwealth Companies' boutique-hotel plans in the Retlaw Theater have been replaced by a plan for office/ retail space and 10 apartments. Louie Lange III is president of The Commonwealth Companies. The Retlaw auditorium facing Sheboygan and Portland streets would be razed for parking. Commonwealth says it intends to renovate the Retlaw facade facing Main Street “in a way that would complement the historic nature of Main Street”.
Wempner’s School of Dance owner Ann Kelly has been opposed to demolition of the Retlaw Theater and is unsure if she would stay in the building. Her lease continues through 2016. Kelly said a group of people interested in preserving the historic theater has no imminent plans for action. Still, Kelly would like to see the theater brought to life. “Is it not worth a chance to make it work?” she said. Lange says the theatre portion of the building has “lost its viability” and questioned whether more theater space is needed in Fond du Lac. “Are there groups out there that right now don’t have theater space to operate?” he asked.
City of Fond du Lac Community Development Director Wayne Rollin said the condition of the buildings has worsened “alarmingly” over the past several years. He said the roof leaks badly, the basement floor is under water, mold is an issue and electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems need to be replaced, the elevator hasn’t been working since fall, and “it would cost millions to restore the theater”, Rollin said, adding “If this proposal doesn’t work out the community will face the probability of condemnation and complete demolition of the entire complex in the near future, at public expense,” in a memo to Fond du Lac City Manager Joe Moore.
Dyann Benson, the city’s redevelopment planner, said the Retlaw theater property has been for sale for about five years. No one has proposed restoring the theater during that time. “In order to really invest in restoration, you have to have a return on the investment on the back end,” she said, adding that there would continue to be operating and maintenance costs and other expenses.
Hundreds say goodbye to fallen firefighter Jamison Kampmeyer (Fri 6:40 PM, Mar 09, 2012, WEAU-TV, by Aaron Dimick)
COLBY, Wis. (WEAU) — Hundreds of people came out Friday morning to say goodbye to a hero. Jamison Kampmeyer, a firefighter and sheriff’s deputy was laid to rest in his hometown of Colby. The 34-year-old father of three was one of five local firefighters injured while trying to save the Abbey Theater in Abbotsford from a devastating fire.
Kampmeyer passed away from those injuries Sunday night.
His funeral was held at Colby High School followed by a massive final tribute. Flags flew at half staff outside the school and across Wisconsin, following Governor Scott Walker’s order to honor Jamison Kampmeyer. “He was a hero and a good leader. He was a good friend of mine and was very active and great in the community,” said friend Jeff Sobpa.
Friends and family of Kampmayer who came to the funeral were supported by hundreds of firefighters, police officers, sheriff deputies and people from all around.
Megan Arrias of Abbotsford said she feels for Kampmeyer’s wife. “Having three kids myself, I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now. Did they get to say goodbye? You never know what will be their last moment; they put their life on the line everyday,” Arrias said.
Although cameras weren’t allowed inside Colby High, we know the school’s gym was packed with mourners. Two overflow rooms with video screens were also filled to capacity. Mourners told WEAU 13 News that the funeral mass started with kind words about the Colby Volunteer Firefighter and Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Some of those words came from Governor Scott Walker, who spoke at the funeral.
“He also did a really neat thing at the end when he thanked his parents and wife and told everyone that it’s their responsibility to let his kids know that he was a hero,” said Jenn Rassett, a friend of Jamison Kampmeyer.
Firefighters who came to show unity said Kampmeyer had a passion for law enforcement and firefighting. “He was one of those guys that you could count on for anything. You’d call and he’d be there,” said Jay Thums, a friend from the Rib Lake Fire Department.
A massive procession of emergency vehicles escorted Kampmeyer to his final resting place. One firefighters told WEAU that about 250 emergency vehicles from several neighboring states were in the procession. Local kids crafted signs along the route to show their gratitude.
“He was a great guy. It’s a loss. I’m glad I got to know him,” Rassett said.
That History Column: ‘’‘’ ‘Kenosha Theater was one of first in the world to screen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ ‘’‘’ (Kenosha News, February 2, 2013, by Diane Giles)
“We’re not in Kansas anymore” is a phrase that slipped into our vernacular in 1939, along with a number of other gems from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”
The phrase could have just as well been “We’re not in Kenosha anymore,” as Kenosha was one of two locales that were the first in the world to show the movie on the big screen.
The film was shown to the public on Friday, Aug. 11, 1939, right here at The Gateway Theater (now known as the Rhode Center for the Arts) in Kenosha, and at the Cape Cinema on Cape Cod in Dennis, Mass.
You heard right. Forget Oconomowoc, who has claimed that honor for more than 30 years — it showed the film the day after we did in Kenosha.
(For the record, the movie was shown at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc and at the Venetian Theatre in Racine on Aug. 12.)
For Joe Cardamone, the stage and music director of Lakeside Players’ production of the “The Wizard of Oz” on stage this month at the Rhode, it’s an exciting little piece of trivia.
“It’s sort of odd to think that it would have played at some of these smaller venues before opening in a big city,” Cardamone said. “To think that it not only played in Kenosha first, but at this very theater.”
Newspaper advertisements show that as of Aug. 9, Gateway Theater manager T.R. Reilly planned on opening the film Saturday, Aug. 12, but the Aug. 10 ad announced the Wizard would be shown “Tomorrow.”
The Kenosha crowds got their first glimpse of the yellow brick road at the Friday matinee.
Why did Reilly jump the gun?
“They may have gotten the print early; they may have been doing lousy business with the films they had showing in the latter part of that week,” suggested John Fricke, one of the authors of “Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History,” in a 1991 interview.
Or it could have been because Aug. 11 was the last day a patron could obtain Volume One of the Standard American Encyclopedia, the promotion offered at the Gateway at that time.
Theater promotions of the day enticed people back to the movies to collect a set of dishes — one piece per admission — and other household items.
If people didn’t get that first volume of this encyclopedia, chances are they wouldn’t be interested in the remaining 14 volumes. And the theater owner might have been stuck with the books.
By Aug. 11, “Over the Rainbow” was No. 4 on the list of the top 10 sheet-music sellers, a measure comparable to the to 40 songs of today.
The Kenosha Evening News in conjunction with the theater ran a coloring contest depicting Oz characters, so the excitement for the film was building.
“The Wizard of Oz” played at the Gateway for six days. After just four days of showing, the theater claimed that 8,000 patrons had seen the feature.
Showing the film at all these small-town theater venues does seem a bit weird when you consider that the movie had its West Coast premiere in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Aug. 15, and it opened in New York two days later on Aug. 17.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on Oconomowoc.
The movie was advertised there as a world premiere, as the Milwaukee film distributor advised the Strand owners Harley and Ruth Huebner that they were the first to exhibit the film.
Someone just forgot to tell that to Mr. Reilly.
If there isn’t room for the main column and at least two photos, don’t run this sidebar. It’s interesting, but not essential. DG
Oddly enough, MGM lost nearly $1 million on the first release of “The Wizard of Oz.” The production, distribution, prints and advertising costs did not offset the gross of $3,335,000 the picture took in.
Author and “Wizard of Oz” expert John Fricke explained that there were three reasons for this:
— The glut of incoming film product. A picture couldn’t be held over for more than a day or two because Hollywood was cranking out too many films.
— Even though the theaters were filled for each showing, as much as half of the audience were children who were admitted at cut rate prices.
(Antioch News; May 25, 1961)
Funeral services were held at 1:30 p.m. yesterday in Joliet for Fred B. Swanson, 71, of 479 Naber, prominent resident, who died Friday in Victory Memorial Hospital, Waukegan.
Fellow Masons, business acquaintances and friends paid tribute to the movie theater executive and prominent member of Masonic organizations, who lay in state at Strang’s in Antioch Saturday and Sunday, at a chapel in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday, and at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Chicago from Wednesday morning until final
Mr. Swanson had undergone surgery last June to have a battery-powered heart-pumping device installed in his body. He died of a heart ailment.
He was born Dec, 15, 1889 in Stockholm, Sweden, and was
brought by his parents to this country the next year. The family settled In Joliet. He had lived in Gary, Ind. before moving to Antioch 36 years ago.
Before his retirement he had owned theaters In Antioch, Savanna, Joliet, McHenry, Evanston and Gary.
He was a 33d Degree Mason and member of Gary Lodge 677 F & AM; Gary Chapter 139 Royal Arch Masons;; Waukegan Commandery 12; Red Cross Constantine Premier 1; Scottish Rite Body, Valley of Chicago; board of directors, Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of Chicago.
He was a life member, Medinah Temple, Chicago; Royal Order of Justice, Court 48; honorary member Sequoit Lodge 827 AF & AM; Siloam Council 53, Royal and Select Masters of State of Illinois; Lake County Shrine Club; honorary Legion of Honor, International Supreme Council of “Order of DeMolay; Millburn Booster Club, DeMolay; Waukegan Swedish Glee Club; life member Gary Elks Lodge.
He held other high posts in Masonic organizations and was active in activities of the Order of the Rainbow for Girls.
Surviving are his widow, Alma; two brothers, William N., Joliet, and Oscar T., Lockport; and a sister, Mrs. John Harrington, Birmingham, Ala.
The Rev. Wallace Anderson conducted religious services at Strang’s on Sunday evening.
Interment was in Elmhurst cemetery, Joliet.
(Oshkosh Northwestern, June 7, 1936:
ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STILL IS BESIEGED
Milwaukee — The six sitting Atanasoffs, who have besieged the city attorney’s office since Friday, were reduced to five today. Andon Atanasoff was in court answering a divorce summons served by his wife, Florence. Andon’s three brothers, Joseph IsMiir and Angel, and the latter’s two wives remained in the office demanding a rehearing of grievances by the common council judiciary committee, which was to meet this afternoon. They charge they lost the World theater last February as the result of a conspiracy and ask that the council pass a resolution they have submitted asking speed in a federal inquiry into their charge. Members of the city attorney’s staff said the brothers apparently had shaved yesterday but that the group looked weary after sleeping three nights on hard benches.
(Oshkosh Northwestern, Sept. 8, 1937) ATANASOFF HAS NO FEAR, NOT EVEN JAIL, SO JUDGE GIVES HIM 4-MONTH TERM Milwaukee: – Sit-downer Andon Atanasoff today faced a four-month sit-down — in the house of correction. Andon, who with his five brothers staged a sit-down in the city attorney’s office in protest against foreclosure on their theater, was sentenced for failure to pay alimony to his divorced wife, Florence. When Andon told Circuit Judge William F. Shaughnessy that he was unable to pay back alimony, Mrs. Atanasoff’s attorney told the court that Andon was “afraid of nothing but jail.” That nettled Andon. “Ha, I am afraid of nothing,” he snorted. “Bring on your jailer.” The judge did.
(Film Daily, May 25, 1936) The Northern Lakes theater, Phelps, has opened for the season and will play pictures every night starting June 13. The house is installing a new cooling system.
(Film Daily, May 12, 1936) The CAMEO Theater, opened recently by Standard Theater Co., and operated for several weeks as a first-run, is again dark.