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Local photographer John Hartman, a member of the Fox group board, put two panoramic photos of the interior of the theater as it exists on display next to the theater entrance in downtown Stevens Point. The photos show the green and red seats and walls that decorate the theater and the current condition of the ceiling and floors.
January 20, 2014: Members of the Fox on Main committee have preliminary results to a study that found the theater is in better shape than many had originally thought. A structural study of the historic Fox theater on Main Street exceeded expectations of both Fox board president Greg Wright and members of the Minneapolis-based structural engineering firm Meyer Borgman Johnson, who conducted the study.
Wright said although the structural study that started in November isn’t completed yet, initial results are that the theater, which closed its doors in 1986, is in better shape than anyone anticipated.
“When the structural engineer came here, his initial investigations implied that the building was well taken care of,” Wright said. “The Sanders family … although (the theater) hasn’t been used for over 30 years … did a good job of taking care of the building so that it is not like a building that’s been vacant for 30 years should be.”
In August, the title to the theater transferred from the theater’s most recent owners, the Sanders family, which had owned the theater when it closed, to the newly created Fox on Main LLC, giving city leaders and downtown business owners hope that the theater is one step closer to returning to its former glory.
Wright said the theater still needs substantial rehabilitation before anything can be done with the building. The Fox group was given $5,000 from the city of Stevens Point in November for the structural study of the over 100-year-old building and has started raising money it plans to use to get the theater open for business.
Local photographer John Hartman, who also is a member of the Fox group board, recently put two panoramic photos of the interior of the theater as it exists on display next to the theater entrance in downtown Stevens Point. The photos show the green and red seats and walls that decorate the theater and the current condition of the ceiling and floors.
“Chances are, if you are under 40, you’ve never seen the inside of the Fox,” Hartman said. “These photographs are the first views the public has seen in over a quarter century, and hopefully will become part of the storied history of the Fox as this project moves forward.”
Wright said the group also is looking into ways to get the community involved as the structural study comes to a close.
“We’re in the process of trying to create some community forums both with specific targeted members of the community, like the arts groups in the community, and then some open forums with those who have an interest in giving input,” he said.
The group recently adopted an action plan to begin studying how the theater could be used and function as a business. The group also is looking for volunteers and someone interested in becoming a board member as it works toward opening the theater.
The See-More Theatre building was constructed in the World War I period by a Mr. Martin. It immediately became the community’s center for film entertainment and other community functions including school functions, as they lacked facilities for extra-curricular activities; students would haul a piano from the school to the See-More Theater stage. Talent shows and touring entertainers shared the stage with films and high school programs. Charles Winninger of Wausau and his family brought their plays to the See-More periodically. Minstrel shows were always popular and Everett McBain frequently was the interlocutor.
When the See-More was purchased by Charles Warwick, the manager was Joseph Decker and the projectionist was Ray Decker, assisted by the young Marvin Babbitt who later became a county board vice-chairman. Other owners included Frank Lubinski, Arwin Otto, Frank Ebert and Otto Settele. Ebert extensively remodeled the theater and installed a wide screen. Settele continued to book first-run features but was forced to curtail screenings in the See-More’s later years due to the influence of television. He and Mrs. Settele also owned the theatre in Clintonville.
The community hall was a center for the high school’s basketball team. There were dances, and forensics were popular with the school administration. Eventually the Community Players took over the See-More for rehearsals, and discovered that the titles of plays and names of cast members were written on backstage walls, telling a story of many high school productions there. Many were faded but recalled school plays dating to 1929 including “Honor Bright”, “A Friend in Court”, “Mystery of Third Gables,” “Shirt Sleeves”, “Unexpected Debut”, “A Prince in Rags”, and “Dulcy”.
The Community Players constructed a track on which the theatre’s wide screen could be moved to the stage wall while a play was in progress. Later the stage set could be moved back as the screen was rolled to the front. Dressing rooms were below a portion of the stage; lighting was often borrowed from the high school.
REEDSBURG – Elmer V. Krueger, age 92, of Reedsburg, died on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005, in his home. He was born July 17, 1913, in Princeton, Wis., the son of Emil and Pauline (Radtke) Krueger. Elmer was a 1933 graduate of Princeton High School. He then farmed the family farm for 25 years until becoming involved in the theater business. He will be remembered for showing free outdoor movies for many years. Elmer operated movie theaters in Princeton, Muscoda, Viroqua, Edgerton, Plainfield and Reedsburg. He operated the Badger Theatre in Reedsburg from November 1960 until his retirement in 2000. Elmer was always willing to reach out and help others whenever possible. He will also be remembered as a Christian mentor and friend to many. He was also the author of his trilogy: “Timeless Treasures,” “Endless Echoes,” and “Eternal Embers”, and was a faithful member of Faith Lutheran Church in Reedsburg.
The Riviera Theatre opened one month after the Rivoli Theatre, and both were designed by the La Crosse architectural firm of Parkinson & Dockendorff with interiors designed by Odin Oyen of La Crosse. The Riviera was managed by the Cooper Amusement Company.
Both the nearby Dreamland Theatre, across the street from the Riviera at 1202 Caledonia Street, and the Dome Theatre (later renamed the Rialto) at 815 Rose Street closed when the Riviera opened on October 17, 1920 with “Homer Comes Home”, starring Charles Ray.
Adult admission was 22 cents; children got in for 11 cents. Synchronized music was provided by the Obrecht Sisters Orchestra of La Crosse. The Riviera was extensively remodeled in 1941-42 and remained open until 1967. In 2010, the Caledonia Street Antique Mall occupied the building.
The Rivoli, La Crosse’s well-known downtown theatre, had its grand opening on September 19, 1920. The Rivoli’s sister theater, the Riviera, opened one month later at 1207-1215 Caledonia St. Both were designed by the La Crosse architectural firm of Parkinson & Dockendorff with interiors designed by Odin Oyen of La Crosse. Each had its own management: the Rivoli by the La Crosse Theater Co., the Riviera by the Cooper Amusement Co.
Kenosha Theatre manager Bill Exton, center (1938).
Dan Kelliher built and opened the Sprague Theatre in May of 1928 with 1300 opening-night patrons in attendance. Public-school superintendent Charles Jahr Sr. was the master of ceremonies and Yonk’s Burlington Orchestra in the pit, and the Princess Quartet vocal group (Kelliher, Ken Goodrich, Victor Johnson and Paul Hughes) offered selections.
Elkhorn Mayor E. T. Ridgway and Attorney E. H. Sprague – for whom the theatre was named – addressed the audience. (Sprague had built his opera house just to the west on the footprint where the Municipal Building now stands, but a fire destroyed it in 1925.)
The opening feature was Mack Sennett’s “Good-Bye Kiss” in its premier screening, and the Sprague’s first Vitaphone feature was “Broadway Melody” in May 1929, with sound provided by a phonograph turntable in the projection booth.
On August 6, 1941, the Sprague Theatre screened a three-evening world premiere of the “Tillie the Toiler” series featuring hometown actress Kay Harris to packed houses.
The Sprague also housed high school plays and commencement exercises, vaudeville acts, appearances by radio and movie personalities, and service-club fundraisers.
It’s said that Dan and Luella Kelliher ran a quality operation at the Sprague for 46 years under their 1928 pledge: “We will never permit anything shoddy or cheap within these walls.”
Arlene Wilkinson was the longtime cashier. The usual program began with a few advertising slides followed by Movietone News, a cartoon and/or a short subject, and then the feature. There were also several free-admission events each year, including a Christmas-holiday program with a bag of candy and another on Halloween plus a program after the parade of high-school students downtown after a bonfire the night before the homecoming football game.
At some time after the Kellihers retired the Sprague Theatre began to show signs of neglect, until the local Lakeland Players theatre group purchased it in 1990.
I’ve posted some rare photos of the PABST wearing its late lamented vertical sign.
From Real Estate, Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Renovation work finally begins for Avalon Theater
A $1.8 million project to renovate and reopen the long-closed Avalon Theater in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood began recently. The project, which has been planned for years, could be completed in time for the theater to open in May. “We’ve started work on the exterior,” said Lee Barczak, the owner of the Avalon Theater. The work that is under way includes roof and exterior masonry work, he said. Barczak, who is also the president and founder of Greendale-based Morgan Kenwood Advisors LLC, also said he is in the process of signing contracts with contractors to do the interior work for the project.
Barczak bought the theater in 2005. His plans to remodel and reopen the theater, which closed in 2001, were delayed when funding sources dried up during the Great Recession. “We had a project ready to go before (the Great Recession),” he said. “That put everything on hold.”
The building, located at 2469-83 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., was built in 1928. “It’s actually in quite good shape as far as the structure goes,” Barczak said. But it needs significant interior upgrades. The redevelopment project will create two movie theaters, one with 240 seats and the other with 70.
All of the interior infrastructure and utilities will be replaced. The project will also include a new kitchen, new concession stands and new bathrooms. The theater will have a bar that will serve food that movie-goers can have served at their seats. Tables will be built into the seat rows. The Avalon Theater will show first-run films, Barczak said.
Last year Barczak formed the Neighborhood Theater Group and acquired the Times Cinema at 5906 W. Vliet St. in Milwaukee and the Rosebud Cinema at 6823 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa, after those theaters had financial problems in 2011 and were closed after Madison-based AnchorBank foreclosed on the properties.
Barczak said he has worked to improve the relationship between the Times and the Rosebud and Hollywood and is now showing first-run movies at those theaters. “We hired a professional booking agency,” he said. “They’ve worked with us to reestablish our position and credibility.”
The Majestic Theatre Song (by Ray Tutaj): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWPq579xaCM
I worked for nearby WLUV radio in 1970 and it had already been renamed the PARK ART Theatre with an adult format. Its management insisted on sponsoring WLUV’s Noon News, but the station refused to announce anything but the double-entendre film titles and times. In an attempt to assuade community objections, the PARK ART offered G-rated matinees on weekends.
FOND DU LAC — A local developer wants to turn the historic Retlaw Theater into a boutique hotel. Commonwealth Construction Co. has a purchase option and is evaluating repurposing it into an upscale boutique hotel in the recently created Arts and Entertainment District with 34 rooms and retail space, to open in spring 2015. The Retlaw Theatre, opened in 1925 and closed in 1998, for a time served as home to a theater company and Fusion restaurant but has stood vacant for several years. It’s owned by Boyd Partnership. Commonwealth would restore the Retlaw’s primary façade on Main Street.
Streator’s Majestic Theatre in the movie business again
By Steve Smedley, Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Nov. 4, 2007
STREATOR – A chance meeting nearly 30 years ago led to the summer reopening of Streator’s 100-year-old Majestic Theatre.
It was 1979, and a young man from Streator, fresh out of high school, was chasing a dream to work in Hollywood. But 18-year-old Tim Burke ran out of money in Arizona. His journey stalled.
Burke, who worked as a projectionist for his grandfather at the Majestic during high school, found a job at a small two-screen theater in Phoenix.
There, he met Kyle Mitchell, a 16-year-old who would buy the Majestic in Burke’s hometown 28 years later.
“I thought it was incredible,” Mitchell recalled. “None of us thought we could be a projectionist. That was the highest paying job in the theater. Then along comes this teenager who knows what he’s doing. He had years of training.”
Burke only stayed in Phoenix one year, continuing his pursuit to Hollywood, where he works today at Paramount Studios. But he worked in Phoenix long enough to make an impression on Mitchell, who would take a long, jagged journey that eventually steered the Arizona native to Burke’s childhood home, to Streator, to the Majestic.
Two years after Burke left Arizona, Mitchell, now 44, moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California.
He stayed in California for three years, before moving back to Arizona to manage properties for Mann Theatres. The theater chain relocated Mitchell to Colorado, and six months later, he decided to open his own theater-servicing company back in Arizona. That lasted about 15 years.
Throughout Mitchell’s journeys, he and Burke kept in touch.
Then Burke received a letter from a hometown friend. The small envelope contained a 1995 news article clipped out of the Streator Times. The city wanted to demolish the Majestic, located at 119 N. Vermillion St.
Burke didn’t let it happen, and two years later, the sale was final. Burke owned the Majestic, the place his grandfather taught him his craft.
Mitchell remembers flying to Illinois in those days to meet Burke at the Majestic. In those days, Burke would often sleep in the projection room.
But because of contractual obligations, Burke couldn’t show first-run movies at the time. Profit was hard to find when showing classic films, and the Majestic closed.
But Burke maintained ownership of the building.
Mitchell, meanwhile, no longer had the private business. He had been operating a small theater at a shopping mall in Arizona with his wife, Cindy. He wanted to remodel. The mall wanted a large multiplex theater. The Mitchells decided it was time for a change.
They wanted to live in a small town, and Mitchell fondly remembered his trips to Streator. He and Burke began to brainstorm, but they had a mountain ahead of them.
The building was in rough shape from years of neglect. When they first walked in to assess the damage, an icicle hung from the ceiling to the floor in the 525-seat auditorium. But Burke invested a lot of money in repairs. Mitchell invested a lot of time.
“I just donated to the good of the Majestic,” said Mitchell, who now owns and manages the theater business, while Burke maintains ownership of the building.
And for the first time in at least a decade, the Majestic showed a first-run movie earlier this year, just in time for its 100th anniversary. Nearly 750 people attended the opening weekend.
Here’s a brief look at 100 years of Streator’s Majestic Theatre:
The Majestic opened July 29, 1907, as a vaudeville house with live theater and music. That year, the theater even hosted a wedding in a den of lions, according to records with the Streatorland Historical Society Museum.
It was once part of a bustling entertainment industry in a small town with at least four other theaters: the Bijou, the Granada, the Plumb and the Lyric, according to files at the museum. The Bijou, which opened in 1903, only lasted a few years. A fire destroyed the Granada in 1963, and the Plumb was demolished in 1980.
In 1995, the city considered demolishing the building. That never happened, and in 1997, Streator native Tim Burke purchased the building. But due to contractual obligations, Burke couldn’t show first-run movies at the time and the theater wasn’t profitable.
This spring, Arizona native Kyle Mitchell leased the building from Burke to reopen the theater. For the first time in at least a decade, the Majestic showed a first-run movie.
(Bloomington Pantagraph, June 8, 2008)
End of vaudeville spelled doom for Majestic Theatre
Opened in 1910, the Majestic Theatre fell to the wrecking ball in April 1956. Today, the Government Center building occupies the corner.
By Bill Kemp, Archivist/Librarian, McLean County Museum of History
During the height of the vaudeville era, troupes of comedians, musicians, acrobats and actors arrived in Bloomington by train twice weekly, bringing with them carloads of sketch props, scenery, absurdly garish costumes, and trained animals. Vaudeville, it was said, was “big businesses with a bounce.”
The Majestic Theatre, located at the southwest corner of East and Washington streets, was Bloomington’s largest and most successful vaudeville house. Notable entertainers who performed on its stage included Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Roy Rogers and Mae West.
The theater opened on April 18, 1910, and its inaugural bill – though it included no household names – had plenty of vaudeville punch. Opening night performers included Carl Emmy’s “$5,000 animal act” and the Holmen Brothers and their “European sensational comedy act on the horizontal bars.”
Built of red vitrified brick, the Majestic could hold 1,400 on the main floor and two balconies. Its opening represented nothing less than “a great epoch in the histrionic phase of the city’s life,” declared owner Maj. Max Goldberg. The interior frescoing featured “delicate pea greens, gold and old rose tints.” The “ladies' retiring room” (with “maids in attendance”) and “gentlemen’s smoking room” were on the mezzanine.
The extravagance, though, could not hide one ugly aspect of life in Bloomington: Blacks were seated separately from whites in specially designated, segregated rows.
In an age of horrific theater fires (in 1903, the Iroquois Theater tragedy in Chicago claimed more than 600 lives), Maj. Goldberg stressed the Majestic’s “modern and up-to-date” design that offered “utter freedom from fire, danger and panic.” There were six ground floor exits, and the balconies emptied by separate stairs and exits, with a fire escape on the exposed wall along East Street.
By 1910, vaudeville cards often included short films, and the Majestic included a “moving picture machine” (dubbed the Majesticscope) to show “animated photography.”
During its early years, Majestic tickets ranged from a high of 25 cents for reserved boxes to a low of 10 cents for the cheap seats in the balcony (or about $5.50 and $2.20 today, adjusted for inflation). In 1911, acts included King & Brown, described as “two men and a pair of legs,” or “comedy monopede acrobats.” There also was Harry Thriller, “the lad on the tables and the chairs,” and Hector, the mind-reading dog.
The history of the Majestic includes sublime observations of life on the vaudeville stage. To save money, the Marx Brothers ate in their dressing room, preparing a dinner of goulash cooked over a Sterno-type stove. And there was the time when an overzealous stagehand turned a too-bright spotlight on fan dancer Sally Rand, leaving little to the imagination. The next day (or so the story goes), the line for tickets stretched from the box office all the way to Front and Main streets.
Even in its earliest days, the Majestic faced an uphill battle against the increasing popularity of movies. By 1915, there were several small nickelodeon-type theaters in downtown Bloomington, such as the Princess at 412 N. Main St. and the Scenic at 304 N. Madison St. That year also marked the opening of the Irvin Theater in the 200 block of East Jefferson Street. This “modern photo play house,” with its impressive screen and 1,000 seats, was the largest movie theater in town. By the mid-1920s, the Majestic was the only place in town to see regularly scheduled live entertainment.
In November 1937, the Majestic played host to Blackstone, billed as “the world’s most mystifying magician.” His roll call of tricks included “The Spanish Fantasy” and “Girl in the Auto Tires.” Interviewed by a local news reporter, the magician also recalled an appearance 15 years earlier when Jim Tucker, a veteran Majestic stagehand, misread a lighting cue and illuminated the “vanishing horse” before it had rightly “vanished.”
What had vanished by the late 1930s, though, was vaudeville, which was unable to compete against movies and radio. By the late 1940s to early 1950s, the Majestic stood empty and forlorn. “Darkened with the passing of vaudeville and grown ugly out of disuse,” observed The Pantagraph in 1955.
The theater finally fell to the wrecking ball in April 1956. Crowds gathered to watch the old vaudeville house come down in a shower of bricks.
“The pigeons have lost a good home,” cracked one sidewalk wit.
“The old vaudevillians lost theirs a long time ago,” was the comeback from Pantagraph reporter Bill Harris.
Fun of Seeing Movies in Grand Old Theaters Can’t Be Duplicated
By BOB SWIFT (The Ledger, Wednesday, July 19, 2006)
I suffer from the old-age syndrome that makes me constitutionally unable to believe that a hot dog should cost more than 10 cents, a Coke more than a nickel, a bag of popcorn, a dime or a movie more than a quarter.
Movies cost a dime when I was a little kid, a quarter when I was a bit bigger. Actually, I recall a time when the price of a ticket was 9 cents, and when it was a dime, the manager bumped it up to 12 cents.
Today, you’d stand in line to see a flick that cost 12 cents.
I’ve seen people stand in line for two hours, in the hot sun, waiting to buy a movie ticket. They did when “Star Wars” came out.
I wanted to see the movie but I hated standing in line. It’s a thing about ex-GIs. I can’t recall ever standing in line for a movie when I was a kid, except when I went to the Ritz Theatre with my mother to see “Gone With the Wind,” or perhaps at a Saturday matinee at the Grand Theater when they showed a double feature: Gene Autry AND Roy Rogers on the same bill. Wow! Heaven can wait.
The Grand Theater was what they called the second-run theater. It was “across the tracks,” that is, a little bit west of the old Atlantic Coast Line railroad tracks that ran from north to south through the middle of the park.
It was on Winter Haven’s Fifth Street Northwest, just before it angled off toward Lake Howard as Grand Avenue, which is now called Pope Avenue.
The Grand Theater was at the end of a block which included the A&P, the Whiter Haven Pharmacy, George Kalogridis’s beer joint and pool room, and the wood-floored newsstand that later became Charlie’s News, when Charles Goshorn left the News-Chief (there was a hyphen in it then) and bought the newsstand.
I knew about the newsstand and the A&P, but until I was a senior in high school and a member of John’s Mob, I never got into the pool room.
But in 1945 and ‘46, Tony Kalogridis, also in John’s Mob, would take us to shoot pool on Sundays when the pool room was closed and his dad blissfully ignorant of his offspring’s adventures.
The Ritz Theatre was on Central Avenue, flanked by clothing stores, across the street from Roby’s Book Store, the W.W. Mac 5 and 10, and the Seaboard Air Line ticket office.
The Ritz was the first-run theater. It had cushioned seats, whereas the Grand had bent plywood seats. The Ritz had carpeting in the lobby. The Grand’s lobby was floored with gum.
You went to the Ritz to see Linda Darnell or Joan Crawford emote in all-white rooms, wearing white satin pajamas, talking on white French telephones with 20-foot cords.
You went to the Grand to see Adele Jergens in harem pants.
You went to the Ritz to see William Powell and Franchot Tone, wearing tuxedos and tapping cigarettes on silver cigarette cases.
You went to the Grand to see the Bowery Boys, with Leo Gorcey’s malapropisms and Huntz Hall’s slapstick.
You went to the Ritz with your parents. You went to the Grand with your rowdy pals.
The Ritz showed what they called “A” movies: Betty Grable musicals, Errol Flynn pirate pictures, Shirley Temple’s bouncing curls, Wallace Beery’s expressive face, Lana Turner’s sweater, Humphrey Bogart’s sneer.
The Grand showed “B” movies: Chester Morris as Boston Blackie and Tom Conway as The Falcon, The Three Stooges twisting noses, Dennis O'Keefe sailing a copra schooner, Maria Montez charming a cobra, Ann Sothern as a wise-cracking reporter.
Sometimes, after an “A” movie had played the Ritz, it would return to the Grand for a “second run.”
If you were patient, you could see the “A” movies at the Grand, much cheaper, plus the other half of a double feature, which might be something like “Invasion of the Crab People.”
On Saturday afternoons, the Grand was bedlam, full of kids brandishing cap pistols and sticky candy, cheering Lash LaRue or Charles Starrett. The audience often got into the spirit of things (“Look out, Gene! He’s in the hayloft!”).
On Saturdays you got to see a western or two, Chapter 7 of the “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” serial, Woody Woodpecker cartoons and a musical short featuring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
The Ritz offered a lot for your money, too. Besides the feature, you might see previews of coming attractions, a Donald Duck cartoon, a March of Time or John Nesbitt’s “Passing Parade,” a Movietone newsreel (war clouds over Ethiopia), the latest hi chapeaux from Paris, water skiers at Cypress Gardens and chimpanzees riding tricycles while Lew Lehr intoned “Monkeys is the kwaziest people …”, a Traveltalk (and so, as the sun sinks slowly in the West, we say a fond farewell to the beautiful island of …), a Pete Smith Specialty, an Andy Clyde two-reeler, a short featuring Horace Heidt or Xavier Cugat … and the theater manager, who came on stage to ask your indulgence when the film broke.
Not only that, but you could see it all again by just remaining in your seat. You could see it all a half dozen times for the same ticket. Some parents used to park their kids in the movie house in lieu of a baby sitter. All for a dime, kids.
When I’m in a modern movie theater, I can’t help wishing I was in one of the old-time movie palaces instead. And I don’t mean just New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the queen of them all.
Going to the movies in any good-sized town was a class act. In the first place, a movie theater was big. You had the feeling that you had been transported outside your mundane surroundings to a fairy tale land of magic and illusion.
You see, you didn’t have television at home, or air-conditioning. The theater had the air-conditioning (a banner ran around the marquee, depicting blue icicles and the legend, “Twenty degrees cooler inside.”).
It’s rather depressing, to me at least, to pay top dollar and then sit in a theater modeled after a Thorn McCann shoebox.
I know, the sound is first class and there’s “stadium seating,” which is quite comfortable. There just isn’t the sense of adventure, or a sense that you’re really doing something wonderful when you go to the movies.
Not so back then. Most theaters in the old days (I’m talking 1930s, '40s and '50s here, folks), had real balconies, where, after your hormones had grown into their teens, you could shyly, or slyly, slip your arm around Mary Sue’s shoulders. If you were in the very last row you might try a more complicated move.
If Mary Sue’s wit and coordination were in tune, what you would grasp was her floating rib.
Many theaters, such as the Polk in Lakeland, had lofty, vaulted ceilings and ornately plastered walls.
The walls, especially those flanking the screen, bore fake balconies and arches of Moorish or Spanish design. These were back lighted with glowing red and orange. Carved sconces lighted up elaborate draperies and cast triangular shadows.
You had the impression you were in the courtyard of a mansion or castle. Gazing about, munching on popcorn flavored with real butter, you expected Ronald Colman to swing from a balcony on a string of onions, rapier in hand.
The entire theater, lobby, corridors, stairways to the balconies, even the rest rooms, carried out the same romantic theme.
And there was an extra special touch that the real, true, deluxe movie palaces possessed. I remember some examples: the Fox Theater in Atlanta, the Olympia hi Miami (now Gusman Hall), and the Polk in Lakeland.
Each had a soaring ceiling that, wondrous to behold, was covered with twinkling lights and cloud effects. When you looked up, you felt as though you were gazing into a star-filled sky that stretched into infinity.
The Polk in Lakeland has been restored to its former glory and they’re trying to restore the Ritz. Alas, the Ritz was ruined, as a theater, when they turned it into a teen hangout years ago.
It isn’t the only building that’s been ruined or torn down. As Pete Hamill says of Henry James, “… he mourns those buildings of his childhood that had been replaced, for vulgar commercial reasons, by structures of inferior quality.”
So do I. I speak of Winter Haven High School, for instance, or the old City Hall. Some have been remodeled badly: the First Baptist Church, the Publix Supermarket across from the church, the Roseart Hotel on Third Street at Avenue B.
Or the Ritz Theatre.
Ah, well. I was speaking of movie palaces. In the poshest of the posh, such as the big New York movie houses, the mighty Wurlitzer organ held sway, booming out before and between shows. Was it actually a Wurlitzer? I don’t know. But it made a mighty roar! O, glorious sound!
The Ritz in Winter Haven wasn’t quite elegant enough to have a booming organ, although it was elegant enough.
When I was about 2, my father was a sign painter. A few years later he would become director of exhibits for the Florida Orange Festival, and later a drugstore owner and real estate broker.
But one of the things he did as a sign painter was make showcards for the Ritz, when Byron Cooper was the manager.
A perquisite of the job was that my Dad and his family got into the movies for free, so I grew up seeing many, many movies at both the Ritz and Grand theaters.
And in later years, when Frank Sparrow was manager, my best friend was a ticket taker at the Ritz so I often (don’t tell anyone) got in free.
All in all, the air-conditioning, the added attractions, the decor (I guess I’m not talking about the Grand, here) added up to … what? … an experience, a romantic outing.
You really got your money’s worth in romance in those theaters of the past, even before munching your Good 'n’ Plentys or seeing the movie.
Seeing the movie? Heck, for the price of a ticket you got much more than a movie. You even got uniformed ushers with discreetly dimmed flashlights, who escorted you to your seat, found errant children after they had seen the movie twice, and warned rowdies to be quiet or else.
And all for one thin dime, or a quarter … or …
I guess the price kept going up all the time and we didn’t realize it. Or perhaps we didn’t notice because we were looking at the starry ceilings, or Woody Woodpecker, or Mary Sue’s blue eyes.
Nowadays, it’s big bucks. The popcorn costs a fortune. The soft drinks come in large, extra large and super colossal large. You have your choice of movies, but all you get to see is the film you chose, previews of coming attractions and a lot of advertising.
No Porky Pig. No water skiers. No Pete Smith Specialty. No March of Time.
Besides, the management throws you out when the film is over.
(Bob Swift is a resident of Winter Haven.)
WAUKEGAN NEWS-SUN, Thursday, August 10, 1950.
August 27, 1950: Seventeen days after its grand opening, the HI-WAY OUTDOOR Theatre adjusts its adult-admission prices.
Remarkably, research shows that after its opening at 7:30 pm CDT on Thursday, August 10, 1950 with Ray Milland and Rosalind Russell in “A Woman of Distinction”, the Hi-Way Outdoor Theatre near Wadsworth, Illinois was only open for a total of fifty-one days before it closed forever on Saturday, September 30, 1950 and fell into decades of disrepair. This may be some sort of a record in the realm of theatre failures. A guess as to the reason: the Hi-Way was then far removed from population centers. Its promoters may have made the assumption that enough cars on busy US 41 would spot the Hi-Way and make a quick decision to pull in for a double feature and that IL 173 would supply patrons from the east and west. Still, the immediate area was then lightly populated and the incorporated communities on 173 were somewhat distant. Also a time difference with Wisconsin – two miles north – may have mattered. Wisconsin didn’t then observe Daylight Saving Time and for Wisconsinites the Hi-Way opened at 6:30 PM CST. The far more deluxe Keno Family Outdoor Theatre was between Kenosha – ten miles distant – and the Hi-Way, which few Kenoshans knew of as the Hi-Way didn’t advertise in Kenosha.
The economic realities must have set in rather quickly. In a move to stay afloat, a new adult admission price of 55 cents was announced for Sunday, August 27, 1950. Children were still admitted free. The double feature that night was “Bride for Sale” with Claudette Colbert, Robert Young and George Brent plus “Singing Guns” with Vaughn Monroe.
It all ended on Saturday, September 30, 1950. “Three Came Home” with Claudette Colbert and “Sand” with Mark Stevens made up the final program. There’s no record on how many of the Hi-Way’s 500 parking spaces (some sources say 628) were occupied. The Hi-Way’s final ad in the Waukegan News-Sun in announcing what was called its “final performance of the 1950 season” thanked all its patrons for their past patronage and that they were “looking forward to seeing you all in the spring."
Some facts on the Hi-Way Outdoor Theatre:
Eugene Regenauer of 148 Fulton Ave. in Waukegan was the general contractor. The Hi-Way’s Magnascreen tower was 44 by 60 feet in size; the water-cooled projectors had 4-inch lenses and were elevated to avoid keystoning. Special emphasis was made on food service; Hi-Way patrons were handed menus upon entering the theatre and employees pushing insulated carts would deliver meals to the parked cars. In the Hi-Way’s main "Restaurant Building” one could order full dinners of Southern-fried chicken, barbecued baby pork spareribs, fish-and-chips or chopped steak at prices from 85 cents to $1.10. Children were always admitted free.
All throughout its too-short 51-day life the theatre’s motto was “Drive Over and Drive In”. Today that sounds like a tacit admission that even at its opening the unfortunate Hi-Way Outdoor Theatre was a bit isolated. Too distant to attract enough of those patrons who otherwise could have enjoyed its amenities and made it a lasting success.
From the Venetian Theatre website:
“Until recently, the Venetian property was composed of two separate buildings. The theater portion (not including the auditorium) was originally built in 1888 to house the First National Bank of Hillsboro. In 1911, the bank moved to the Cady building on the southwest corner of Third and Main Streets. J.W. Shute, the President of the bank at that time, encouraged Orange Phelps, who was operating the 108-seat Arcade Theater directly across the street from the vacant bank building, to purchase the property. Phelps purchased the old bank building and opened the 200 seat Grand Theater there the same year. In 1916, 300 more seats were added and the Grand became the Liberty. A fire closed the Liberty in 1925. After the subsequent remodel and addition of the auditorium, it was reopened as the Venetian. The Venetian burned due to a faulty curtain motor in 1956, and the newly refurbished Town theater opened in 1957.
Phelps sold the Town to Tom Moyer Luxury Theaters in 1978. Films continued to be shown there until 1996, when the City purchased it for $1,500. It has since remained vacant until purchased by Denzil Scheller in August, 2007.
The second building on the eastern portion of the current Venetian property was constructed originally in 1887. It first was occupied by a general merchandise store at street level with a printing shop and office above. It has generally housed retail operations including grocery and flour storage, hardware, music, and most recently Faro’s clothing store. The City of Hillsboro purchased this address in 2001 from Wayne Holmes in order to facilitate redevelopment of the theater.
On November 10, 1921, Trags Theater, Neillsville’s new $35,000 motion picture house, opened at 7:30 p.m. with Mary Pickford in “Through the Back Door,” the next-to-last Pickford release, with four showings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and a Sunday afternoon matinee at 2:30.
Trags Theater was the culmination of months of planning on the part of a Neilsville resident William E. Tragsdorf. The theatre was 30 feet wide and 126 feet deep, with an arcade on Sixth Street. The main entrance was on Hewett Street and the front of the house is two stories and of red ornamental brick. The show house is absolutely fire proof throughout, the floor being of concrete and the projection room, well lined. The lobby was on Hewett Street with a glass enamel box office, French doors in front and two large gilt poster frames. Delays made it impossible to complete the lobby by the opening show. Patrons exited the theater through the arcade, which was later fitted with a confectionery and cigar store.
The seating capacity was 402 seats on the main floor and two loggias with ten wicker chairs in each reserved for box parties. Restrooms and the theatre office were on the second floor. The ceiling of the auditorium was thirty feet in height. There were six ornamental lights on each side wall and four indirect lighting bowls in the ceiling. Two Torrid Zone furnaces and ten large fans were installed.
The main floor of the house will seat 402 persons. The concrete floor slopes to the front and is easily cleaned from back to the front.
There were two Simplex motor-driven projectors with music by an American Fotoplayer piano with pipe organ effects. The stage was large enough for vaudeville with a dressing room at one side. The scenery was painted by Universal Scenic of St. Paul and the drop curtain had a scene of the bridge from Old Panama, painted from a photo by Will Tragsdorf while he was located in Panama.
All the construction work was by local workmen including the architects, Balch & Lippert of Madison. The masonry was by Van Wagner, Owens & Van Wagner, the heating and ventilating by P. M. Warlum, the decorating by Jack Schueing, the carpeting by Otto Roessler.
Originally, the theater lot had been the site for a hardware business which started in 1879, owned by Denis Tourigny who, after 40 years in business, sold out in 1919. Tragsdorf owned and managed the theater atb the beginning, then Darrell Gotschlin managed it until resigning in 1934. Wilmer G. Meier then came from Waupaca to accept the managerial position and remained until the theater’s closing. .
Drive-In Near Waukegan Forced Into Receivership (Boxoffice, March 10, 1951)
George May has been named receiver for the Highway Amusement Enterprises, Inc., operators of the Highway (sic) Outdoor Theatre here, and four other defendants in a mechanics lien proceeding.
Listed as co-defendants in the $65,000 mechanics lien proceedings are the Midwest Theatre Service and Equipment Co., Irving S. Karlin, architect and secretary of the operating corporation; John Selby, screen erection engineer; and Staben and Hooper, consulting engineers. May will safeguard the assets of the firms bringing liens against the theatre property which was constructed last fall.
(From Boxoffice, October 29, 1938:) William Exton posted $10 to be given any man over 21 years who would remain two full days and one whole night in the lobby of the Kenosha Theatre in a coffin during the two-day engagement of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula”.
Orpheum to open two stadium theaters
(April 23, 1998, by CHRISTOPHER PFAU, Racine Journal Times)
Downtown Kenosha’s Orpheum Theatre will open two new movie theaters featuring stadium-style seating on Friday night.
“We think this is the direction downtown Kenosha wants to go as far as bringing people to the downtown area,“ Jeff Maher, president and owner of the Orpheum at 5819 6th Ave., said of the theaters.
The stadium-style theaters, which cost about $500,000 to put in, include state-of-the-art sound systems, Maher said.
The addition brings to four the number of theaters in the Orpheum, a discount movie house.
Ticket prices are $2 everyday, except on Tuesdays, when tickets cost $1.
Maher said he believes moviegoers are calling for the stadium-style seating which ensure unobstructed views of the screen.
“In order for the discount theaters to compete, (the theaters) have to go to stadium-style seating,“ Maher said.