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(Wayne Independent) – Lyric Theater fire recalled
The 1961 Lyric Theater blaze was one of the costliest fires to hit Honesdale’s business district.By Kevin ZwickMar. 31, 2011 @ 1:14 am
On March 25, 1961, eight-year-old Gerry Dunne and his buddies made their way to the Lyric Theatre to see the screening of the British monster flick “Gorgo,” a U.K.-based film similar to Godzilla. But Dunne and his friends never saw the film that day. Instead, they witnessed a monstrous blaze tear through the theatre, one of the costliest fires to hit Honesdale’s business district.
The fire, which began around 6 p.m. near the theatre’s candy counter, set the entire building ablaze. The building was home to the theatre, Jack Martin’s Pharmacy, the Wayne County Democratic Committee office, and also housed a tax consulting business owned by Gerry’s grandmother, Isabel Dunne.
At the time Gerry didn’t know that his grandmother and her associate Robert Adams were trapped on the second floor of the burning building. Apparently, neither did the fire fighters.
According to a report by The Scranton Times, Isabel and Robert were working in the second floor office when they discovered the fire. As Isabel started into the hallway, she became overcome by the dense smoke. Finally, they climbed out of their second floor office window, and jumped five feet onto the building marquee. Neither had the strength to climb to the rim to signal or call for help, but Robert was able to throw his jacket to the ground to try to signal fire fighters. Then-Fire Chief Vincent Martone scaled a ladder to place a hose in the second floor window and spotted the two on the marquee and called for help to remove them. Isabel, who was unconscious, was given artificial respiration by off-duty state trooper William Bluff, who was a volunteer with the Honesdale Fire Company.
Gerry said he remembered crews pushing onlookers “further and further away” from the blaze because Willard Matthews’ Sunoco Service station, which was located near the north side of the Lyric building, had massive gas tanks which could have caught fire.
Isabel was transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital, treated for smoke inhalation and shock, and was released a few days later.
The Lyric building, located on 1050 Main Street, is now occupied by the Turkey Hill gas station. “We all loved that theatre,” Jerry said. He noted the spectacular interior of the theater, which included a balcony, as well as box seats on each side of the theater.
According to the Wayne Independent report, the total damage estimates were not available, but Jack Martin said he lost nearly $25,000 on stock of drugs, furniture and fixtures. Luckily, the brunt of his loss was mostly covered by insurance. Nearby buildings included a loss of about $2,500 to $3,000 from a smoke and water estimate to Paul Matter’s garage on the building’s southern side. Minor damage was suffered by Willard Matthews’ Sunoco Service station on the north side of the building.
The Ritz Theatre in Hawley opened its doors seven nights a week to compensate for the loss of the Lyric immediately after the blaze.
The Lyric Theater first opened in 1907, with a showing of the stage play “The Lion and the Mouse.” Tickets for that show were $2.25. At the time of the blaze, The Wayne Independent interviewed older borough residents who said that before the building was built in early 1900s, an enclosed pony lot was located on the plot of land.
First responders were Honesdale, Seelyville, White Mills, Hawley, Pleasant Mount, Narrowsburg, Crystal Fire of Jermyn and Carbondale. The Civil Defense and Civil Air Patrol handled traffic during the fire, and Honesdale Police Chief Nicholas Stapleton ordered all patrolmen on duty once the fire started.
The HART Theatre was originally the AMUSE Theatre.
You’re both correct, as some of the historic material I researched seems to be optimistic puffery (Zeigler’s street system seems only to be a basic standard sort of a radial design of a type favored by L'Enfant and others), and other addresses from that same source don’t jibe either. All that’s known for certain is that there were at least two theatres in Zeigler, and the RITZ above seems to adjoin the earlier EMPIRE. Thanks for following through …
WGN-TV’s ( www.wgntv.com/ ) live News at Nine (PM) on Tuesday May 14 will take its cameras inside the UPTOWN Theatre to see how it looks today. Then on Wednesday, May 15’s News at Nine reports on plans for a planned music district centered around the theatre. And then on May 15 at 10 pm, CLTV will broadcast a live half-hour special “Creating a Music District” with theatre owner Jerry Mickelson, Alderman James Cappleman and the Green Mill Lounge owner Dave Jemilo with host Randi Belisomo to discuss plans and take viewers' questions, which can be submitted in advance to the CLTV Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/cltvnews?ref=tn_tnmn ) or by phone to 877-358-CLTV. Follow the discussion on Twitter with @CLTVNews and use the hashtag #Uptown. All of the stories will be posted on www.wgntv.com and www.cltv.com.
Thank you for your research, Joe, and though this vintage postcard view gives the location as East Main Street, either the street was later renamed or it’s an error of source as there’s currently no Main Street in Barron.
The theatre was the BURKE between 1914 and 1925 and was renamed the CAMEO after the 1925 fire, then closed again in 1928. In 1934 it reopened as the CAMEO, then after 1937 it seems to have periodically opened and closed as the CAMEO, CHIEF and KEN before finally closing in 1945.
Banquet hall returns theater building to glory
(4/17/2013 by Melinda Tichelaar, Kenosha News)
For decades, 4902 Seventh Ave. was home to the Polish Legion of American Veterans. Before that, it was the Hollywood Theater. And long before that, it was the Butterfly Theater. Now it’s the new home of “Circa on Seventh,” a banquet hall operated by the owners of L&M Meats and Catering. L&M’s owners, Kathy and Keith Meyer, are also re-branding their formal catering business as “Culinary Infusion.”
“We love being here,” Kathy Meyer said.
PLAV bought the Hollywood Theater in the 1960s and filled in the slanted theater floor to create a banquet hall. The theater’s 22-foot ceilings were dropped down to lower heating costs. When Circa’s contractors ripped out the drop ceiling, they exposed an old movie theater balcony.
“Anyone who had been in there since the 1960s didn’t know this balcony existed,” said Hanni Gould, general manager.
Over the decades, the building’s many transformations eliminated most of the period details, but a smattering of architectural treasures have been saved. The movie theater box office that stretched to the left of the current entrance is gone now, but if you lift up the floor mats in the doorway, you can see old tiles spelling out “Butterfly.” A decorative glass holder on the bar contains dozens of ceramic insulators taken out of the walls when the old knob-and-tube electrical system was removed. And they’re still trying to figure out what to with a “corbel” (decorative molding cap) shaped like a woman’s face that was one of a dozen mounted around the theater.
The chandeliers and light fixtures are all new, but the Meyers found old pieces of the original light fixtures in storage that strongly resemble the ones they chose.
“It’s uncanny how similar they are,” Kathy Meyer said. “When people ask us if things are original, that’s when we feel the most pride.”
They also choose to install some “Edison lights,” with flickering filaments that give the space a retro feel. The women’s bathroom has a “blingy” chandelier, while the men’s restroom is a bit darker, with a large Edison light.
“We wanted it to look original without being dated,” Gould said.
The building to the south, which had been purchased by PLAV for storage, is now Circa’s banquet room. An exposed brick wall along the north side of the room is actually the exterior of the movie theater.
Since the building was originally a movie theater, it did not have windows, so the Meyers had several windows built into the second floor to bring in natural light. They installed a new, dark wood dance floor and bar. Upstairs, there’s a private “Bride’s Room” with a long makeup table, large restroom, full-length mirror and built-in refrigerator. It’s a cozy, well-lit space that allows brides and their bridesmaids a place to freshen up and escape. The window has a view of the lake.
Circa on Seventh already has hosted several private events and will be open to the public on Thursday for the Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After 5” networking event (admission $5). Gould said the price range for private, formal, catered dinners is $14 to $29, with other options available.
(From the LODI NEWS, July 2, 2011)
When it opened on Jan. 20, 1950, the Sunset Theater was a state-of-the-art 1,000-seat theater that was billed as “California’s most modern motion picture house.”
Its opening day attracted 2,000 people, a Marine color guard, high school marching band, extra police and congratulatory telegrams from John Wayne, Forrest Tucker and other actors.
Today, however, the once grand theater’s peeling paint and lonely, neglected appearance are telling signs of the building’s sad emptiness for the past 13 years. Closed in 1998, 48 years after its grand opening, the foreclosed building at 1110 W. Lodi Ave. was finally put up for auction this week. No one made a bid, and the building still sits unwanted. But in its day, the Sunset was the big attraction in Lodi. The first movie theater in Lodi was the New Ideal Motion Picture Theater, which opened on March 5, 1908 on North School Street. Over the next decade, several small theaters opened to show silent movies accompanied by piano players, but many closed quickly.
By 1928, Lodi had two well-established, popular movie theaters that played new movies with sound. The T & D Theater, later called the Lodi Theater, was on School Street, and the Tokay Theater, later called the State Theater, was located on Elm Street. By the 1940s, both theaters were owned by T & D Enterprises.
After World War II ended in 1945, Lodi grew quickly. The population expanded into new neighborhoods to the west. Businesses, once centered in the Downtown blocks, slowly began building the new innovation of the time: shopping centers. After the war, people loved their cars and wanted to park close to where they shopped. Parking Downtown was limited, so markets and other businesses began moving away from Downtown and closer to where people lived.
Just as grocery stores and other businesses were relocating, T & D Enterprises wanted to build a new theater away from Downtown.
On November 1, 1948, construction on a new theater started at 1110 W. Lodi Ave., next to the parking lot of Sunset Market, a sister store to Turnage Market located Downtown at Pine and Church streets.
The theater was built to be “one of the finest in the San Joaquin Valley,” according to the Jan. 13, 1950 Lodi News-Sentinel. It had 1,000 comfortable seats, all with a good view of the screen behind the “most modern curtain in the state.” The interior of the theater was treated with acoustic plaster to enhance the sound. The projection room featured E7 Simplex equipment, Altex Lansin Simplex Mirrophonic sound and high intensity arc lamps. The theater cost $150,000 to build.
A week before the grand opening, Don Nichols was named the Sunset Theater manager. Nichols was a Lodi native who served in the army and had been working in theaters in Merced, Lindsay and Turlock.
The grand opening was set for Friday, Jan. 20, 1950. T & D Jr. Enterprises, the company that owned all three theaters in Lodi, ran big newspaper advertisements for the Sunset’s grand opening and for movies playing Downtown at the Lodi Theater on School Street and the State Theater on Elm Street.
The gala opening of the Sunset was an event of theatrical proportions. The new Spudnut Shop, located at the theater, also held its grand opening that day. Owner Hassen Mosri gave away free coffee and Spudnuts, a kind of pastry made from dehydrated potatoes, from 2 to 4 p.m.
By the time the Sunset Theater doors opened at 6:15 p.m., there were 2,000 people gathered. Of that number, about 1,250 were in line to see the first movie, “Sands of Iwo Jima.” The crowd included executives from T & D Enterprises and city officials.
In a salute to the U.S. Marine Corps portrayed in the epic World War II battle movie, the opening had a military flair. A 14-ton amphibious tractor like the ones shown in the Republic Pictures movie was on display in front of the theater. The Marine Corps Color Guard started off the function with the flag presentation, headed by 1st Lt. Joe B. Crownover, inspector/instructor at the Naval Supply Annex in Stockton.
The Lodi Union High School Band, led by Sydney Halsey, marched down West Lodi Avenue shortly after 6:15 p.m. to begin a short concert of mostly military music, including the Marine Corps hymn.
Lodi Mayor Robert H. Rinn had the honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon for a new business. In this case, however, Rinn cut a symbolic ribbon of motion picture film to open the theater. Accompanying Rinn were City Manager H. D. Weller and Don Dickey, secretary-manager of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce. With the ceremony complete, theater patrons took their seats and watched the curtain open at 7 p.m. for the first-run movie starring John Wayne.
For more than a decade, Lodi had three movie theaters. The Sunset and the Lodi Theatre showed first-run movies, and the State specialized in westerns, foreign and older films.
In the early 1960s, however, Downtown Lodi lost its vintage movie theaters.
In November 1961, Jerry Dean converted the State into a dancing hall. On June 30, 1962, the Lodi Theatre caught on fire. The theater was demolished and never rebuilt, ending a long run of 54 years of movies in Downtown Lodi.
In 1998, the Sunset Theater closed when the owner failed to make mortgage payments, and it remained empty from that time to today. Three years later, Lodi Stadium 12 Cinemas opened Downtown.
(From Vintage Lodi, a local history column that appears the first and third Saturday of the month.)
Another citizen-motivated theatre success story. Opened in December, 1935 the Art Deco RITZ Theatre was built by local attorney Calvin Poole with seats for 500 on the orchestra floor with a hardwood stage and wool carpeting from Belgium. By the 1980s, however, the geometric patterns on the walls had been covered in acoustic burlap which had begun to sag. The seats were worn, the carpeting had been removed, and the moldings and accents were covered in monochrome paint. Local citizens moved forward to restore the RITZ. Greenville bought the theatre in 1982 with the Greenville Area Arts Council promising to put sweat equity into restoration. Original monochrome photos were used, and period books suggested appropriate colors. Three months later, a stage show was produced. Then the City reroofed the RITZ and built new dressing rooms under the stage and a nine-foot extension of the stagehouse.
With a combination of grants, fundraising and city support, a new heating/cooling system and new ceiling went in over the next eight years, and then the project expanded to the two buildings flanking the RITZ for a Deco reception room with a kitchen and additional restrooms, a conference room, hardwood floors and new Art Deco light fixtures and furnishings.
The RITZ hosts several GAAC productions each season, plus recitals, school plays and similar programs in its born-again role as a civic auditorium.
The Orpheum Theatre Building is architecturally and historically significant under Standards 1, 3 and 4 of Section 15.04 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance because it exemplifies or reflects the City’s cultural and social history as Kenosha’s first movie palace, structures which represent a distinctive era in the growth and development of one of the most important elements of mass popular culture, the motion picture.
The Orpheum Theatre Building “embodies the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type
or specimen…” or “is representative of the notable work of a master architect.” This Theatre is a fine example of a modern early twentieth-century commercial building designed by the Milwaukee master architectural firm of Martin Tullgren & Sons, popular designers of hotels, commercial buildings and apartment houses during the early twentieth century. The firm designed the Orpheum like many other “movie palaces” of the 1920s, with a simple exterior in favor of an elaborate interior.
It’s a four-story commercial block building constructed in the modern Twentieth Century Commercial style with brown brick walls and little ornamentation. The windows of the upper three (3) stories are single-light double-hung sashes that are undecorated. The first story is made up of several storefronts and the theatre entrance. The storefronts consist primarily of large show windows with transoms separated by simple brick pilasters. The main entrance to the commercial upper level commercial space is decorated with large sidelights and transom panels topped with a simple cornice.
The theatre entrance is recessed and sits under a replica of the original theatre sign. At the rear of the building is the raised theatre section. The south wall is decorated with Classical Revival details including a cornice with pediment and modillions, arched reveals, and decorative brickwork.
The building has recently undergone renovation and parts of the building are still being worked on, but the effort was to restore the historic character of the building while adapting it to a multiscreen
theatre with office, commercial space and apartments.
In the 1920s, the showing of movies became more elaborate than the nickelodeon or opera house productions. The movies were longer, and often accompanied by vaudeville acts. These movie palaces featured elaborately, and often exotically, decorated interiors with large auditoriums, big stages, and fine organs and organists who provided musical accompaniment to the silent pictures.
In movie palaces, people not only saw a movie but an elaborate show where the movie was only part of the entertainment. The movie palaces were meant to transport people briefly into a fantasy world, and soon movie palaces dominated the theatre trade in most communities.
The Orpheum, like many movie palaces, was hidden
behind a very simple commercial building. In 1927, the Kenosha Theatre was completed, becoming the second movie palace downtown. In that same year, the old Rhode Opera House was replaced with the Gateway Theatre, making it the third movie palace in Kenosha’s downtown. The Orpheum Theatre operated into the 1970s,
but closed when multiscreen suburban theatres began to take business away from large, downtown theatres. The building retained its commercial use until the 1980s when the building stood vacant for a number of years.
After much controversy and threat to raze the building, a developer came forward with a plan to renovate the building into a multiscreen theatre,
apartments, and remodeled commercial space. This effort is partially completed, but the building has yet to become fully occupied with upstairs commercial businesses or any residential apartments. Currently, the Orpheum houses a toy store and an ice cream
parlor at the street level.
The Orpheum Theatre Building is a good example of modern 1920s commercial building. Many movie palaces were constructed within plain commercial buildings, often presenting a very small facade at the street level, with the bulk of the building hidden behind
the commercial streetscape. The Orpheum is typical in that the bulk of the theatre is hidden at the back, but it also features a large commercial front of offices and stores at the street level.
Martin Tullgren was a Swedish immigrant who established an architectural practice in Chicago in 1881. In 1902 the firm moved to Milwaukee. Martin’s sons Minard and Herbert trained in their father’s firm and the sons became partners in 1909. Martin Tullgren & Sons specialized in large projects like hotels, commercial buildings and apartment houses. In 1922 Martin died, and his sons continued the firm until 1928, when Minard died. Herbert Tullgren continued to practice under the firm name until 1936, when he changed it to Herbert Tullgren, Architect. In the 1930s, Herbert Tullgren was one of the foremost architects practicing in the progressive Art Deco and Art Moderne styles in Milwaukee, and three of his
apartment designs made important contributions to the development of twentieth-century apartment-house construction.
The Orpheum Theatre Building is typical of the modern buildings designed by Martin Tullgren & Sons. Because the building was constructed in 1922, the year Martin died, it is probably more the work of his sons Minard and Herbert than of himself.
The interior of the Orpheum was designed in the French Renaissance style and the decorative details included rich rugs, gold pendants, mirrored lights, polychromed baskets, silk-beaded upholstery, velvet drapes and curtains, and silk wallpaper in red, blue, orange and gold tones. The result was a theatre that dramatically contrasted with the plain commercial exterior of
the building. Because the Orpheum Theatre is a fine example of a 1920s movie palace designed by a master architectural firm, it is a significant landmark in downtown Kenosha.
The Orpheum Theatre is also significant because the movies have had a profound effect on American culture, and going to the movies was an important ritual in American towns and cities that still exists today. This form of mass popular culture was particularly important in the City, making Kenosha movie palaces historically significant and important historical landmarks. (From City documents.)
Alexandria theater a dying breed
By BRANDI WATTERS (Herald Times, April 13, 2008)
ALEXANDRIA — When Applewood movie theater in Anderson closed its doors for good recently, it was the end of paying $3 for your choice of second-run movies. It was not, however, the end of the $3 movie.
The Alex Theatre in Alexandria has been serving Madison County bargain-hunting movie-goers for the better part of 50 years with $3 ticket prices and a unique concession stand.
While the theater shows just one movie a week on its massive screen, the historic location is a big draw for area families looking for a cheap night out.
Elwood sisters Terina (Decker) Ball and Christy (Decker) Bashum bought the location in 2000 from Jim McClary. He’d owned the theater since 1988 and brought it back to life after it had been closed by its original owners, according to Ball.
The Alex Theatre was opened in 1950 by Rowell and Hope Weilert. Over the years, it was leased out to a handful of optimistic parties but soon closed down in the 1980s.
McClary saw potential in the red brick building and reopened the theater in 1988 with a classic red-carpet affair featuring the area’s most prominent residents. The first showing at the revamped theater was the animated Disney classic “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
The sisters have a collection of newspaper clippings detailing the theater’s fairy-tale opening. The historical evidence is kept in the theater to detail its evolution.
The Alex has been preserved over the years, reflecting its original 1950s style and size. Its only screen is wider and taller than any other screen in the area, according to the sisters. Bashum believes IMAX theaters are the only ones with screens bigger than the one at Alexandria.
More than 500 classic red velvet seats line up before the screen. They are the originals installed 50 years ago, Ball said. The chairs rock back and forth, as most did in those days.
The walls of the theater are detailed with romantic sloping drapes, heavy with time, and Renaissance-style painting. The thick, burgundy lines of paint arch and dive toward the back of the theater, making it seem more like an opera house than a small-town theater.
Just behind the 500-plus chairs, a small room speaks to a simpler time when common courtesy was highly regarded. The “Cry Room” is a secluded, sound-proof area where parents can take noisy children. The walls of the room are splashed with original 1950s cartoon characters, including Warner Bros.’ Sylvester the cat.
The room contains a large glass window through which the parents can view the movie while speakers pump its sounds into the small room. Ball says most old theaters still have the unique rooms but crowd them with storage rather than allowing the public to use the resource.
When McClary brought the theater back to life, he changed little about the place. He did, however, begin an unusual policy at the concession stand which remains today.
Instead of charging outrageous amounts for a bucket of popcorn like most theaters do today, the Alex allows its movie lovers to bring their own one-gallon containers for filling. It costs just $2 to fill the bucket and one free refill is included in the price.
The same policy applies for soft drinks. Customers may bring a 32-ounce cup into the theater to have it filled for $2. A drink of the same size typically costs at least $4 in run-of-the-mill movie theaters.
The sisters have dedicated the theater as a family venue and aim to show kid-friendly movies on a weekly basis. Last week, the movie version of the Dr. Seuss classic “Horton Hears a Who” premiered on the big screen.
While the Alex cannot offer multiple movie selections as Applewood Theater once did, the women believe the historic location provides a unique alternative to movie theaters that charge $8 per ticket and $6 per bucket of popcorn.
The Decker sisters have kept prices low over the years, offering candy for half the price of other theaters as well. The move is a risky one, since theater owners depend on concession sales to operate.
“The biggest part of the ticket money goes back to the film company,” Bashum explained. “The ticket money is kind of a wash.”
Because the film company’s take is based on a percentage, the sisters see no reason to raise ticket prices. If they did so, the film company would get more money and they would still see little profit.
This, Ball says, is why concession sales are crucial. Other than the two sisters, the theater employs only one full-time employee and a handful of part-time teenage workers. The operating cost of the ancient theater includes heating and cooling its decades-old walls and procuring movies each week. “We also have delivery and pick-up of films and buying posters,” Ball said.
As long as customers continue to frequent the concession stand, the sisters are confident that the location will remain open and prices will stay low. “We’ve tried desperately not to raise prices,” Ball said.
The key to keeping the theater from facing Applewood’s fate is at the concessions stand, Bashum said. “Buying them (concessions) from us is what’s going to keep us from doing that.”
The actual address of the LLANO Theatre is given as 114 East Rail Road in Plains, Montana.
Note that the USA (or U.S.A.) Theatre was also known as the FOX.
Today, Sunday, March 24, 2013, marks the Centennial anniversary of New York’s PALACE Theatre.
St. Ignatius Girls drum and bugle corps of Hicksville, New York.
(CHICAGO READER www.chicagoreader.com Aug. 1, 1996)
Swimming With Sharks
The latest chapter in the battle for control of the Uptown Theater involves shady landlords, pie-eyed restorationists, and a mysterious buyer who vanished overnight.
By Ben Joravsky
From time to time over the last few years one reporter or another has written the sad story of the Uptown Theater, a great old movie palace caught in the clutches of penny-pinching land scavengers who don’t care if it lives or dies.
As the refrain goes, a band of restorationists nobly strives to keep the building functional – making repairs out of their own pockets – while desperately trying to raise enough money from city or private backers to meet owner Lou Wolf’s purchase price of over $1 million.
The story was retold last month by newspapers coast to coast, after the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Uptown on its list of the country’s 11 most endangered historic places. “It needs at least $150,000 in basic repairs, not to mention millions to restore it to its grandeur,” says Ron Emrich, executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. “If the building doesn’t fall into good hands very soon, I’m afraid it could simply implode.”
But what the stories didn’t report – because most of the people involved didn’t know – is that the Uptown was available for purchase at the county’s last two scavenger sales of tax-delinquent property. In other words, restorationists could have pulled the property from Wolf’s control for a few thousand dollars had they, city officials, or local politicians been just a little savvier about how land deals in Chicago really work.
“I’ve never seen a project that’s had more sad, bad luck than the Uptown,” says Curt Mangel, a restorationist who has spent 12 years trying to revive the theater. “The scavenger sale is just another example of this poor theater’s sad fate. Not being an expert at scavenger sales, we got screwed. We were swimming with sharks, and yet we were naive.”
The confusing, often seesaw battle for control of the Uptown goes back at least 16 years, when Wolf and his partner Ken Goldberg picked it up from the Plitt movie chain. They showed little interest in operating it as a theater, allowing it to stand shuttered and vacant – a hideous boarded-up scab blocking development at Broadway and Lawrence, one of Uptown’s most important commercial intersections.
In 1984 Mangel was allowed access to the building. What he saw both blew his mind and broke his heart. It was one of the grandest theaters he had ever seen, an eight-story structure with a 40-foot-high front lobby, ornately painted ceilings, opulently embellished fixtures mixing Spanish baroque and Renaissance styles, and more than 4,000 seats – reportedly more than any other movie theater in the country. But it was in horrid disrepair.
“I walked in there and saw six inches of ice coming down the grand stairs,” says Mangel. “The boiler was broken and the pipes had burst. There were 48,000 square feet [of space] in the basement and it was all under four feet of water. The place was just piled high with junk – sinks, pipes, stoves – someone was using it as a storage warehouse for kitchen equipment, of all things. I keep saying that God must have a good sense of humor to give the Uptown to these guys.”
Over the next few months an odd but mutually beneficial relationship developed between Wolf and Mangel. Wolf, a convicted arsonist, is one of the city’s most notorious landlords, known for buying property cheap, sitting on it without paying taxes or making repairs, and selling it years later for top dollar.
Mangel, in contrast, admits he’s helpless at wheeling and dealing. He is, instead, a brilliant tinkerer, able to take apart and put together the intricate innards of watches, pipe organs, boilers, and other machines. He persuaded Wolf to give him a key to the Uptown in return for making repairs on some of the landlord’s other properties.
“I always believe in being fair with people, and for all his faults with his other buildings, Mr. Wolf’s not half bad with the Uptown,” says Mangel. “At least he let me in to fix it up, and he even paid for some of the repairs. I think he was fond of me because he thought I was full of piss and vinegar. Personally, I don’t care for Ken Goldberg. But I feel fortunate to say that I’ve seen the real Mr. Wolf, as opposed to the caricature created by the press. If you met with him you’d think he was a grandfather, that’s how quiet and nondescript he is. And I can say this: If he says he’s going to do something, consider it done. He’s very honorable in his own way.”
By the late 1980s Mangel had joined forces with a local developer named Larry Mandell in an effort to buy the Uptown and reopen it as a theater. “I love that building,” says Mandell. “I was willing to put years and years of my life into it.”
For a few years they had backing from a developer in Milwaukee; after that deal fell through they detected interest on the part of Disney, Mike Ilitch—who owns Little Caesars and renovated the Fox Theatre, one of Detroit’s grand movie palaces—and Garth Drabinsky, the chairperson of Livent Incorporated, a Toronto-based entertainment conglomerate.
But these prospects also died. Mandell says the city refused to commit the necessary funds. “The problem going back to the Washington administration is that the city never wanted to make an investment that it thought would compete with the downtown theater market,” says Mandell. “I understand State Street is integral, but there can be two great theaters. The city kept telling me about the Chicago Theatre, and I kept telling them to look out for Rosemont. I said there’s enough business for two big theaters. Sure enough, Rosemont built a big theater, and now we’re seeing the 6 percent amusement tax going out there instead of staying here.”
City planning officials say they would have been interested in funding the Uptown’s restoration, but the project would have cost millions, and they were never presented with a specific deal to consider.
For whatever reason, Mandell and Mangel’s many proposals never came together, even as they and their backers sunk thousands into the Uptown. “We paid all the bills on the Uptown from 1986 to 1991,” says Mandell. “We put a lot of money into that building – maybe $300,000 – and that doesn’t include the hours and hours of labor that Curt put into it. For a while we paid Wolf and Goldberg $10,000 every month for an option to buy.”
Last summer they formed a not-for-profit group and intended to buy the building with money raised through donations. “We worked out a deal where we would buy the building from Wolf and Goldberg under a five-year mortgage for $1.6 million,” says Mandell. “For the first two years we don’t have to pay anything while we try to round up our money. It was a very good deal for everyone. It would have taken the building out of Wolf and Goldberg’s hands and given us time to find our backers.”
The deal was signed last September 1, but even then the building wasn’t theirs. City officials told Mangel he couldn’t claim title until he had paid a $40,000 outstanding water bill. Mandell countered that the bill must be erroneous, since the Uptown hadn’t had water service in many years. Days and weeks passed, and in December Mandell found himself in City Hall haggling with a lawyer from the water department.
“I blew up,” says Mandell. “I said, "I don’t care if this building was owned by Cardinal Bernardin or Lou Wolf, if the money’s not due to the city we shouldn’t have to pay it.‘ The lawyer for the city kind of agreed, but he said he wanted to make sure that we weren’t in collusion with Wolf and Goldberg. I said, "Are you crazy? We’ve been trying to get that building from them for years.”’
The city finally realized its mistake and canceled the water bill, leaving Mandell and Mangel ready to claim the title on the Uptown. That’s when the bad news broke. “I got a call from Goldberg’s attorney, and he told me that the building had been sold at a county scavenger sale,” says Mandell.
In short, Wolf and Goldberg had agreed to sell them a building that they couldn’t really sell. It turns out that more than $400,000 in property taxes had accumulated over at least a half-dozen years, making it one of thousands of tax-delinquent properties auctioned off at the August scavenger sale.
On August 27, just a few days before Mangel and Mandell were set to consummate their long-awaited deal, a fellow by the name of David Harper bought the Uptown and its surrounding parcels of vacant land for about $23,000, according to the county treasurer’s office, which oversees scavenger sales.
Wolf and Goldberg were notified that unless they paid their property taxes by May 1 they’d lose the property, but they let that deadline pass.
The sale, says Mandell, caught him by surprise, since he was expecting the local alderman, Mary Ann Smith (48th), to keep him abreast of potential obstacles.
But Greg Harris, Smith’s chief of staff, says his office assumed no one would bid on the Uptown since it had such a huge delinquent tax bill.
In fact, buyers are excused from paying back taxes on property acquired at auctions. “It’s a tax reactivation sale—the whole point is to get property in the hands of people who will pay future taxes,” says an official with the treasurer’s office. “You’re bidding on the tax lien of delinquent property. The county then goes to court to have the sale confirmed. If the previous owner doesn’t pay his delinquent bill after a minimum of six months, a new deed is awarded, and the old taxes are expunged from the record.”
This was not even the first time someone bought the tax lien to the Uptown at a scavenger sale, according to the treasurer’s records. In 1993 someone named Gene Ware purchased the lien to the property for $3,500. But Ware never followed up on his bid by appearing in court to obtain the deed, so the property remained with Wolf and Goldberg. As hard as it is to swallow, the very Uptown for which Mandell and Mangel were willing to spend $1.6 million might have been theirs for as little as $3,600. At the very least, they could have attempted to purchase the property in August by outbidding Harper.
Mangel says he wasn’t aware that they could have purchased the Uptown in 1993 or last August. Mandell says he was. “You have to remember that we were negotiating with Wolf and Goldberg in good faith,” says Mandell. “It wouldn’t have been illegal to buy the Uptown at the scavenger sale, but it would have been immoral. And that’s not the way you should do business. And we wanted to do everything honorable with Wolf because, as I have said, Louie Wolf was always honorable with us.”
Besides, Mandell continues, the Uptown actually includes three parcels of tax-delinquent land near Broadway and Lawrence. “Anytime he wanted, Louie could have retained ownership to at least one parcel by paying the back taxes, and we still would have had to deal with him. With twenty-twenty hindsight, yes, we could have bought the property at the scavenger sale. But it’s really the city and county’s fault for letting that parcel go up for sale when they knew we were working on a deal for it.”
In any event, attention now turns to the buyers: Harper and Howard Weitzman, who’s listed as one of Harper’s “authorized bidders” on forms filed with the treasurer.
Mandell says he and Mangel met with Weitzman a few months ago and offered him $150,000 for the property. “Weitzman was a nice man,” says Mandell. “He seems knowledgeable. He said make me an offer. And we did. He agreed to that offer. Since then he’s stopped talking to us, and we haven’t been able to reach him by phone. It doesn’t make any sense.”
According to Harris, Alderman Smith, who had been unable to persuade Wolf to maintain his property, insists it will be different with Weitzman. Harris recounts a conversation between Smith and Weitzman: “She said, "If you do anything to that building we will hold you to the highest standards.‘ He assured the alderman that he would.”
Meanwhile, Smith has pledged to use her connections with Mayor Daley to win the city money needed to save the Uptown or at least to convert it into some sort of mixed-use development. “We would not want to see it converted into a 20-screen multiplex bringing 4,000 cars into the neighborhood,” says Harris. “But we would like something that’s true to the architectural integrity. Maybe some retail and theaters. We talked to an architect who has done this kind of renovation work, and he said the key is not to compete with the Chicago Theatre. There are only so many touring Broadway shows.”
But Mangel, Emrich, and other restorationists hold out hope that the building will be restored, a multimillion-dollar effort that would require a huge investment by the city to build more parking.
In the fall the National Trust will hold its convention in Chicago. There are plans to hold a reception at the Aragon Ballroom. Afterward, Emrich and others plan to lead tours of the nearby Uptown to build support for restoration and to find investors. “I take so many people on tours of the Uptown, and no one fails to be impressed,” says Emrich. “People stand in the front entrance, look up at that ceiling, and say, "My God, we can’t let this die.‘ I keep thinking we have to get Maggie Daley here. She is a lover of art and architecture, and with someone like that on our side a lot can be done.”
Emrich hopes that Weitzman will accept an offer for the building – or at the very least that he won’t pay his property taxes, and the restorationists can buy it in the summer of 1997 at the next scavenger sale.
For his part, Mandell says he can’t wait that long, and will move on to other projects, but Mangel vows to persevere. “I have a friend who calls me the keeper of lost dreams because I’m always taking on projects that other people wouldn’t touch,” he says. “The Uptown’s the only one not finished yet. It’s heartbreaking to think that we could have bought it at a scavenger sale, but I can’t look back. It’s been worth the 12-year effort. And I still say the day will come when I get it done.”
This was a George Eichenlaub-designed theatre.
Wisconsin Theater destroyed by fire 57 years ago today
(La Crosse Tribune, December 28, 2009)
During the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 1952, the Wisconsin Theater at 514-520 Main St. in La Crosse was destroyed by a spectacular fire. Thanks to the efforts of the La Crosse Fire Department and a firewall in the theater’s auditorium, the offices and apartments that occupied the front of the building were spared extensive damage and no lives were lost. Two firemen had to be hospitalized during the blaze.
The Wisconsin Theater was originally known as the Majestic Theater when it opened Jan. 3, 1910, as a vaudeville house. Frank Schwalbe and Peter Newburg were the original owners.
The Majestic had a seating capacity of 800, with 700 seats on the main floor and 100 in the balcony. Steel and asbestos was used in the construction of the theater for fireproofing. The massive stage curtain was also laced with asbestos.
The interior design work was done by the Odin J. Oyen Co. of La Crosse. Alex Soderberg, an artist working for Oyen, painted a large mural in the theater that symbolized a comedy, tragedy and musical stage performance.
The basement of the Majestic Theater contained a large four-boiler steam heating system. Each chair in the theater had a small heating vent beneath it.
In the early 1920s, the majestic began showing the new silent movies. By the late 1920s, the theater was showing motion pictures with sound.
It wasn’t long before the La Crosse Theater Company, which managed the Majestic, realized that motion pictures were replacing vaudeville as entertainment for the masses.
So a significant remodeling of the Majestic began in early 1936 under the direction of Minneapolis architect Perry E. Crosier. It was soon decided that the name of the theater would be changed to the Wisconsin Theater.
Among the improvements made in the 1936 remodel was an increase in seating capacity from 800 to 1,100. A firewall was also installed at this time. A brand new marquee was installed and featured a 58-foot tall “Wisconsin” sign, which was built by the Electrolite Sign Co. of Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Theater opened on Sept. 19, 1936, with the Warner Brothers motion picture “Anthony Adverse,” starring Fredric March and Olivia DeHavilland. Theater manager Frank Koppel-berger received many congratulatory notes on the theater opening from several Hollywood luminaries, including Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and the Marx Brothers.
The former site of the theater is now occupied by a parking lot located just west of St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral.
(Source: La Crosse Public Library Archives.
(Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1996)
Sign Of The Times
State Street Is Losing Its Brightest Light, But Only For A Short While.
Chicago Theatre Getting A Brand-new Old Look
By Sabrina L. Miller, Tribune Staff Writer.
Aging stars don’t burn out—they get replaced. After 75 illuminating years, the towering Chicago Theatre sign, State Street’s brightest star and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, is coming down this week. The 76-foot-high steel sign, with 2,534 lights screaming “Chicago” for all to see, is corroded beyond repair and must be removed, said Chicago Theatre Executive Director Wendy Heimann-Nunes.
“We are ensuring that the sign will look as it did when it was first put up,” he said.
Theater officials discovered the sign’s deterioration during a routine inspection last March, after the Civic Preservation Foundation assumed management of the theater. The sign appeared fine on the outside, but 75 years of Chicago’s harsh weather had taken its toll on the inside.
“It had to be close to falling, the steel was so rusted,” said Steve Kieffer, owner of Kieffer & Co., the Sheboygan, Wis., firm that is manufacturing the replica for $500,000.
“If it was at all possible to keep the original, we would have done it,” said Heimann-Nunes. “But it would have cost us two to three times as much to repair than to replace.”
So, how does one go about replicating a national landmark? Painstakingly, said Kieffer. Everything must be identical, from the seams between the metal pieces and obsolete maintenance ladders inside the top of the sign to intricate scrollwork.
The entire project will take about 860 hours of work, he said. The sign will be made in Sheboygan, then shipped to the Kieffer firm’s Buffalo Grove office, where an installation team will take it to Chicago.
The replica will be constructed from aluminum, which weighs about one-third less than the current steel sign and will ease stress on the building, Kieffer said. There will be a modern wiring system and “chaser” lights around the perimeter will be reconnected.
“We’ve gone to the nth degree to replicate it,” Heimann-Nunes said. “I don’t think anybody will know the difference.”
The art-deco MITCHELL Theatre was built and opened on May 10, 1938 from remnants of the neoclassic NATIONAL Theatre, which opened on March 8, 1923 and was damaged in a January, 1928 fire. The MITCHELL was destroyed in a fire on October 17, 1984.
This theatre became the HOO-HOO in 1940; previously it was the WRIGHT.
The Westgate Theater opened near the corner of Sunnyside and France Avenue in 1935. The owner, Carl Fust, a retired life insurance salesman who once traveled Europe as a professional violinist with the Minneapolis Symphony, conducted the orchestra that night.
Although the Westgate stood less than a mile away from the successful Edina Theater, which opened just the year before at 50th and France, Fust had no worries about the competition because like Fust, people went to the movies every Friday night. Admission was 25 cents. Movies were America’s most popular form of entertainment.
Fust’s “retirement project” used architect Perry Crosier of Liebenberg and Kaplan, the same architectural firm that designed the Edina Theater, to create an Art Deco streamlined design. Although much smaller (seating 500 compared to the Edina’s 1000), the Westgate included air conditioning, high fidelity sound, modern décor, and a club and bridge room with catering service.
Unfortunately, Fust learned he couldn’t compete with Edina Theater’s monopoly on high-rated movies so “our attendance was not very good,” wrote his daughter Margaret Delin in her memoirs.
Fust didn’t have the chance to fight the system. After what seemed to be a minor car crash in the fall of 1937, his health failed due to undiagnosed internal bleeding, and he died in March 1938, and the Edina Theater owners Issie and Ben Friedman bought the Westgate.
For some, the big attraction wasn’t the main features but the weekly serials, installments of Charlie Chan, Batman and Buck Rogers. One young fan worked as an usher at the Westgate for 35 cents an hour, including a uniform and free admission, popcorn and candy. John Hurley, top manager for both theaters, offered him work at the Edina as well as the Westgate and, during World War II, took on more responsibility as his male co-workers shipped out for military duty.
Newsreels updated moviegoers on the war before every feature, and Westgate manager Howard Hinton chain-smoked as he worried about keeping his 16-year-old son out of the war, and sold war bonds and emceed raffles for dishes, cigarettes and bank nights, a raffle drawing for a check.
He delivered weekend cash receipts for both theaters by streetcar to the Lake and Hennepin Northwestern National Bank in brown paper lunch bags with thousands of dollars in bills and coins.
In the late 1940s, the library saw more customers than the theater did on many days, recalled a former manager who was used to bigger theater crowds in his native Pittsburgh, and was surprised to see no one in the audience on New Year’s Eve 1946, his first night on the job. Only he and his new wife, and her parents sat in the audience minutes before the first show.
“Should we cancel?” he asked the projectionist. The projectionist urged him to wait, and perhaps nine people eventually showed.
The theater provided a quiet haven for Morningside’s lone police officer, who patrolled the streets until he retired at age 83. When he needed a rest, he’d sit in the darkened theater and told the manager to get him if his wife (who answered police calls at home) wanted him.
The Westgate Theater continued on, but didn’t achieve big audiences until the 1970s with “Harold and Maude”. The dark comedy opened in mid-1972 at the Westgate Theater, and no one in the audience suspected that they’d have another 1,956 opportunities to see the popular film that achieved a cult following. For over two years, “Harold and Maude” played at the Westgate.
By the beginning of the third year, disgruntled neighborhood residents picketed the theater with signs reading “Our plea to Westgate. Your neighbors want variety” and “Two Years Too Much.”
The record-breaking run of “Harold and Maude” brought it and the stars Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort national acclaim. Cort said later that the Minnesota run would boost his career.
Both stars visited the Westgate Theater. Ruth Gordon attended the first anniversary showing, and both came for the second anniversary, as picketing continued.
The movie played for a total of 1,957 showings from mid-1972 until June 1974, setting a new record for number of showings for any movies in the Twin Cities.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” would break that record in the late 1970s, but the Westgate began the strategy of finding a market to stay alive in a time when multiplex theaters took most of the movie business from small single-screen operations like Westgate.
The Westgate experienced several reports that it was closing after “Harold and Maude” ended. An Edina Sun headline on August 10, 1977 read “Was W
estgate’s ‘death’ greatly exaggerated?”
“The Westgate Theater, scheduled to close in July ‘is open and running,’ said the General Cinema Corp. division manager in Minneapolis. He and a Boston-based General Cinema Corp. official denied earlier reports of the proposed closing.
Eventually, he said he theater’s future was in doubt.
Soon, though, the Westgate, though playing such top billings as ‘Silver Streak’ and ‘Annie Hall’ was scheduled to close along with the Suburban World and two of St. Paul’s three downtown theatres, apparently due to lack of profits. In fact, the theater did close later in 1977.
Today, the theater building is home to the Edina Cleaners & Launderers. The marquee is gone, and the building has been remodeled and expanded, but the lines of the original building still can be seen.
Former Riant box office worker has star qualities
(Published Wednesday, February 28, 2007)
By: M. English
Back then, the borough had its own movie theater. The Riant was an Art Deco-inspired picture house on the southwest corner of West First Avenue and Fayette Street, and during most of the ‘30s Cahill manned its box office.
The 850-seat theater fell to the wrecking ball in the mid-1970s, and the site is now occupied by the Keystone Building and a tenant roster that includes Conshohocken’s municipal offices. But Cahill can still picture the restless queue of kids waiting to push through the Riant’s front door as she approached – keys in hand – from her home on nearby West Elm Street.
“Saturday afternoons they’d have a matinee, and the kids lined up for blocks,” remembers Cahill, whose father appeared on area vaudeville stages. “They couldn’t wait to get in. They all had their 11 cents to buy their tickets. They were so excited, and when they saw me coming, they’d cheer ‘Hurray … here she comes.’ To tell you the truth, I was just a young girl, and that was always so embarrassing.
“But I loved working there. The manager was a wonderful man. And it was beautiful inside. I remember even in the ladies room there was always a bouquet of flowers … and a hostess … Kay, I think her name was … to make sure everything was alright.
“I was the second youngest of nine – I had one sister and seven brothers – so, as a kid, I never had much money for going to the movies. But working there, I got to see the movies for free. So, working there was more like a pleasure than a job.”
Cahill was “disappointed” by the recent 2007 Academy Awards. “Most of the girls [at the Oscars] looked like they needed a good hair-combing.”
Back in the day, Cahill was a big Jean Harlow fan. The draw for the kids who awaited her arrival at the Riant?
“Oh, they were there to see people like Hoot Gibson or Gene Autry,” she says. “There was lots of cowboy stuff back then. And they were always double, even triple features. Of course, you always had the kids who tried to sneak in without paying … by one of the other doors. But once they were in, they could spend all afternoon in the movies.”
According to borough history buff and businessman Jack Coll, the Riant opened Nov. 11, 1921, the same Saturday Conshohocken and West Conshohocken co-hosted a “massive” parade and celebration to dedicate the new concrete bridge that linked the neighboring Schuylkill-side boroughs. Coll’s research indicates the theater property was previously occupied by a “candy-ice cream store” and took “nearly two years to construct … (with workers using) hand-built wood scaffolding and horse and wagon to haul away debris.” “The name for the theatre was chosen in a public contest,” Coll says. “The name Riant was submitted by the late George Chell Sr., who resided [on]…West Fifth Avenue. Riant is a French word meaning ‘laughing, smiling, pleasant and cheerful.’ Mr. Chell received a year’s free pass to all performances for submitting the winning name.”
The theater’s first movie “The Sign on the Door” starring Norma Talmadge had a two-night run, followed by “The Old Nest” on Nov. 14 and 15. The latter featured Dwight T. Crittenden, Mary Alden and Nick Cogley, advertised in the local press (contemporary celebs, take note) as “the greatest star cast ever assembled.”
Adult admission was 25 cents plus a three-cent war tax (17 cents total for non-holiday matinees). Children’s tickets cost 15 cents plus a two-cent war tax (11 cents total for non-holiday matinees), and fancy lodge seats were 36 cents plus a four-cent war tax. Of course, the Riant showed nothing but silent films until 1928.
In those days, Coll notes, Conshohocken actually had its share of movie theaters, among them, Little’s Opera House, the Gem and the Forrest. “An Uptown movie theater that Nicholas Talone had proposed at the northwest corner of Ninth and Fayette street never developed,” he adds.
The proprietor of Coll’s Custom Framing as well as a current borough councilman, Coll says the Riant was part of the H. Fried Enterprises theater group during the 1930s and ‘40s. The chain also included the borough’s Forrest, Wayne’s Anthony Wayne, Ardmore’s Suburban Theatre and Bryn Mawr’s Seville – today’s restored Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
Coll figures the Riant stopped showing films in the early 1970s. The property was purchased by Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority in 1975 and demolished in 1976. “And contrary to what a lot of people think, ‘Mash’ wasn’t the last movie that played at the Riant,” he says. “‘Mash’ is on the marquee in some of the pictures you see today, so people make that assumption. What happened, though, somebody was making a movie in town and wanted something up on the marquee and ‘Mash’ was what they came up with.”
Here’s a memorial tribute to Mr. Alex Kouvalis, who I was fortunate to meet shortly after he took over the PATIO. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pi&GRid=104918232 Comments and tributes are welcome.