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That History Column: ‘’‘’ ‘Kenosha Theater was one of first in the world to screen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ ‘’‘’ (Kenosha News, February 2, 2013, by Diane Giles)
“We’re not in Kansas anymore” is a phrase that slipped into our vernacular in 1939, along with a number of other gems from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”
The phrase could have just as well been “We’re not in Kenosha anymore,” as Kenosha was one of two locales that were the first in the world to show the movie on the big screen.
The film was shown to the public on Friday, Aug. 11, 1939, right here at The Gateway Theater (now known as the Rhode Center for the Arts) in Kenosha, and at the Cape Cinema on Cape Cod in Dennis, Mass.
You heard right. Forget Oconomowoc, who has claimed that honor for more than 30 years — it showed the film the day after we did in Kenosha.
(For the record, the movie was shown at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc and at the Venetian Theatre in Racine on Aug. 12.)
For Joe Cardamone, the stage and music director of Lakeside Players’ production of the “The Wizard of Oz” on stage this month at the Rhode, it’s an exciting little piece of trivia.
“It’s sort of odd to think that it would have played at some of these smaller venues before opening in a big city,” Cardamone said. “To think that it not only played in Kenosha first, but at this very theater.”
Newspaper advertisements show that as of Aug. 9, Gateway Theater manager T.R. Reilly planned on opening the film Saturday, Aug. 12, but the Aug. 10 ad announced the Wizard would be shown “Tomorrow.”
The Kenosha crowds got their first glimpse of the yellow brick road at the Friday matinee.
Why did Reilly jump the gun?
“They may have gotten the print early; they may have been doing lousy business with the films they had showing in the latter part of that week,” suggested John Fricke, one of the authors of “Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History,” in a 1991 interview.
Or it could have been because Aug. 11 was the last day a patron could obtain Volume One of the Standard American Encyclopedia, the promotion offered at the Gateway at that time.
Theater promotions of the day enticed people back to the movies to collect a set of dishes — one piece per admission — and other household items.
If people didn’t get that first volume of this encyclopedia, chances are they wouldn’t be interested in the remaining 14 volumes. And the theater owner might have been stuck with the books.
By Aug. 11, “Over the Rainbow” was No. 4 on the list of the top 10 sheet-music sellers, a measure comparable to the to 40 songs of today.
The Kenosha Evening News in conjunction with the theater ran a coloring contest depicting Oz characters, so the excitement for the film was building.
“The Wizard of Oz” played at the Gateway for six days. After just four days of showing, the theater claimed that 8,000 patrons had seen the feature.
Showing the film at all these small-town theater venues does seem a bit weird when you consider that the movie had its West Coast premiere in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Aug. 15, and it opened in New York two days later on Aug. 17.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on Oconomowoc.
The movie was advertised there as a world premiere, as the Milwaukee film distributor advised the Strand owners Harley and Ruth Huebner that they were the first to exhibit the film.
Someone just forgot to tell that to Mr. Reilly.
If there isn’t room for the main column and at least two photos, don’t run this sidebar. It’s interesting, but not essential. DG
Oddly enough, MGM lost nearly $1 million on the first release of “The Wizard of Oz.” The production, distribution, prints and advertising costs did not offset the gross of $3,335,000 the picture took in.
Author and “Wizard of Oz” expert John Fricke explained that there were three reasons for this:
— The glut of incoming film product. A picture couldn’t be held over for more than a day or two because Hollywood was cranking out too many films.
— Even though the theaters were filled for each showing, as much as half of the audience were children who were admitted at cut rate prices.
(Antioch News; May 25, 1961)
Funeral services were held at 1:30 p.m. yesterday in Joliet for Fred B. Swanson, 71, of 479 Naber, prominent resident, who died Friday in Victory Memorial Hospital, Waukegan.
Fellow Masons, business acquaintances and friends paid tribute to the movie theater executive and prominent member of Masonic organizations, who lay in state at Strang’s in Antioch Saturday and Sunday, at a chapel in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday, and at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Chicago from Wednesday morning until final
Mr. Swanson had undergone surgery last June to have a battery-powered heart-pumping device installed in his body. He died of a heart ailment.
He was born Dec, 15, 1889 in Stockholm, Sweden, and was
brought by his parents to this country the next year. The family settled In Joliet. He had lived in Gary, Ind. before moving to Antioch 36 years ago.
Before his retirement he had owned theaters In Antioch, Savanna, Joliet, McHenry, Evanston and Gary.
He was a 33d Degree Mason and member of Gary Lodge 677 F & AM; Gary Chapter 139 Royal Arch Masons;; Waukegan Commandery 12; Red Cross Constantine Premier 1; Scottish Rite Body, Valley of Chicago; board of directors, Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of Chicago.
He was a life member, Medinah Temple, Chicago; Royal Order of Justice, Court 48; honorary member Sequoit Lodge 827 AF & AM; Siloam Council 53, Royal and Select Masters of State of Illinois; Lake County Shrine Club; honorary Legion of Honor, International Supreme Council of “Order of DeMolay; Millburn Booster Club, DeMolay; Waukegan Swedish Glee Club; life member Gary Elks Lodge.
He held other high posts in Masonic organizations and was active in activities of the Order of the Rainbow for Girls.
Surviving are his widow, Alma; two brothers, William N., Joliet, and Oscar T., Lockport; and a sister, Mrs. John Harrington, Birmingham, Ala.
The Rev. Wallace Anderson conducted religious services at Strang’s on Sunday evening.
Interment was in Elmhurst cemetery, Joliet.
(Oshkosh Northwestern, June 7, 1936:
ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STILL IS BESIEGED
Milwaukee — The six sitting Atanasoffs, who have besieged the city attorney’s office since Friday, were reduced to five today. Andon Atanasoff was in court answering a divorce summons served by his wife, Florence. Andon’s three brothers, Joseph IsMiir and Angel, and the latter’s two wives remained in the office demanding a rehearing of grievances by the common council judiciary committee, which was to meet this afternoon. They charge they lost the World theater last February as the result of a conspiracy and ask that the council pass a resolution they have submitted asking speed in a federal inquiry into their charge. Members of the city attorney’s staff said the brothers apparently had shaved yesterday but that the group looked weary after sleeping three nights on hard benches.
(Oshkosh Northwestern, Sept. 8, 1937) ATANASOFF HAS NO FEAR, NOT EVEN JAIL, SO JUDGE GIVES HIM 4-MONTH TERM Milwaukee: – Sit-downer Andon Atanasoff today faced a four-month sit-down — in the house of correction. Andon, who with his five brothers staged a sit-down in the city attorney’s office in protest against foreclosure on their theater, was sentenced for failure to pay alimony to his divorced wife, Florence. When Andon told Circuit Judge William F. Shaughnessy that he was unable to pay back alimony, Mrs. Atanasoff’s attorney told the court that Andon was “afraid of nothing but jail.” That nettled Andon. “Ha, I am afraid of nothing,” he snorted. “Bring on your jailer.” The judge did.
(Film Daily, May 25, 1936) The Northern Lakes theater, Phelps, has opened for the season and will play pictures every night starting June 13. The house is installing a new cooling system.
(Film Daily, May 12, 1936) The CAMEO Theater, opened recently by Standard Theater Co., and operated for several weeks as a first-run, is again dark.
(Antioch News; May 1, 1919)
The Majestic Theater Moved to New Location
The Majestic theater was moved to its new location last Sunday afternoon.
The Naber store has been completely remodeled and is now as moddern and up to date a show house as will be found in much larger places.
The seating capacity is one hundred and seventy-five. A new gold fiber curtain has been purchased and was
installed Wednesday afternoon by an expert from Chicago. Many changes have been made in the equipment and every effort will be made to give only first class shows.
The first play to be given in the new location is “The Greatest Thing In Life.” This is a Griffith production,
and is something you can’t afford to miss. The first show starts at 7:00 o'clock sharp.
April 17, 1936: Car Upsets and Lands in Ditch; Driver Hurt
When Francis Schlax, 4815 Twentieth avenue, Kenosha, lost control of his auto on Highway 38 near Seven Mile road yesterday afternoon it darted across the roadway, struck a guywire, crashed into a pile of rocks and bounded 60 feet into a ditch. Mr. Schlax suffered a fractured arm and lacerations of the head. He is at St. Mary’s hospital. The car rolled over three or four times, it was reported to Undersheriff Roscoe Pease and Deputy Allen Healy, and came to a stop with the front end of the auto buried in the ground.
On March 9, 2012, the National Response Team (NRT) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) along with agents from the ATF St. Paul Field Division and State of Wisconsin-Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigation-State Fire Marshal’s Office completed the investigation into the cause of fire at the Abby Theatre, 216 N. 1st St., Abbotsford, Wis. One firefighter was killed and four injured during fire suppression efforts.
The cause of the fire was ruled to be accidental, announced Wisconsin State Fire Marshal Director Tina R. Virgil and John Schmidt, Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC), St. Paul Field Division. Investigators said the fire started in the lobby area of the theatre and was accidental in nature.
Schmidt said “Over the past six days investigators have taken countless photographs, inspected and examined artifacts recovered from the scene and conducted more than 60 interviews. The information developed was reviewed and analyzed to assist in determining the cause of the fire.”
On that Sunday at approximately 12:16 p.m., the Abbotsford Fire Department (AFD) received a call of a report of fire at the Abby Theatre. Abbotsford immediately requested mutual aid from the Colby, Owen-Withee-Curtis and Dorchester Fire Departments. Three Colby firefighters inside the theatre suppressing the fire became trapped following a partial roof collapse. Two firefighters were rescued and the third firefighter was recovered and subsequently died.
Due to the loss of life and injuries to the firefighters, the Abbotsford Fire Department requested assistance from the Wisconsin DOJ-DCI-State Fire Marshal’s Office and the ATF NRT. The investigators worked together as a team over the course of the investigation to determine the origin and cause of the fire. Damage estimates: approximately $300,000.
ATF’s NRT personnel from across the country responded to the scene to work alongside state and local investigators, including a canine team, certified fire investigators, forensic chemist, electrical and fire protection engineers, and additional specialists, the 5th that fiscal year and the 726th since the team was created. http://www.atf.gov.
(Information courtesy Special Agent Robert Schmidt, PIO-ATF –(651) 726-0316)
It currently houses a clinic. The address is 104 East Market Street, McLeansboro, Illinois 62859.
The Harnois Theatre, Missoula’s premier opera house, was designed for Charles Harnois by architect A.J. Gibson with the interior décor completed by the Twin City Scenic Studio. There were three floors with nine exits and a 58-foot wide, 35-foot deep and 65-foot high stage. Shortly after it opened, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Jack Jones of the IWW (the “Wobblies”) rented the Harnois' basement for rallies. Charles Harnois sold the Harnois Theatre in 1914, it was renamed the Missoula Theatre, and at some time between 1922 and 1925 the name was changed to the Liberty Theatre. By 1929, the Liberty was listed as a “Hanson-Simons Co.” property. By 1932, the Fox interests became involved with the Liberty and the Wilma and Rialto as well. At some point between 1938 and 1941, the Liberty Theatre closed, and by 1943, the building was listed as the Liberty Bowling Center in the city directory and to Liberty Lanes in the 1950s. When Liberty Lanes moved to another location in the 1960s, the building was razed for a parking lot. The remains of the brick eastern wall of the theatre are still visible on the east side of the parking lot at 211 E. Main.
April 29, 2010.
Illinois Institute of Technology photo.
I’ve posted a photo of an early theatre at 804 Main Street within the 1903 Schuchart Building in Ashton.
Anonymous comment, July 21, 2007: “I remember a very funny production a couple of years ago where each time a train would go by the entire cast would stop and yell “TRAIN”!! It is missed, even by newcomers like me.”
Linda Brassfield, July 21, 2007: “My memories of the TIME Theater are inextricably associated with my family. Built in 1946, my grandparents (Doug & Merle Ingalls) had assumed ownership by the time I was born (or shortly thereafter) so it was a huge part of my life. My grandparents moved into the tiny upstairs apartment and provided many a meal to me and my family, especially summertime lunches when my mother was working. There were also whole family events — like Christmas which we celebrated in the lobby. As kids, my brother, my cousins, and I enjoyed helping clean the theater after the show. It seemed such fun to pop the seats back up. We also threw crushed popcorn boxes and other debris into the cans that were pulled down the aisles and, when we were older, got to sweep the popcorn kernels out into the aisles where my grandfather scooped them up by running a snow shovel up the aisle. The popcorn was the best ever. It was popped in what we called ‘grease’ – actually lard, I think, which came in 5 gallon bright yellow cans. These cans along with bags of corn were kept on the landing up a small flight of stairs to the left (east) exit.
“I probably saw every movie ever shown there – at least through 1965 -and many of them more than once, though sometimes I’d just sit outside the east exit and listen with a friend. After my grandparents, my parents ran the theater along with my aunt and uncle and the family tradition continued until they sold it in the ‘70s. I was delighted when, after many years, the theater was reborn as the Hovde-Allen Theater, home to the Lake Pepin Players which provided the community with many fine live performances. I feel a great sadness at the loss of this community landmark and regret the manner in which we lost it, but I know that many, many people will continue to tell theater stories about it for a long, long time.”
Mary Seymour, August 1, 2007: “Grandma Thompson always bought me my favorite birthday present as a child – A WHOLE BUNCH OF TICKETS TO THE THEATER! During the Christmas season, when Santa came to give rides and candy, Santa also gave the wonderful popcorn from the theater. Better yet, the movie that was shown on that day for the children was not a movie at all. IT WAS ALL CARTOONS, AND I THINK IT WAS FREE. My favorite movies as a child were the scary movies like “The Fall of the House of Usher” or “The Body Snatchers”. For me, the scariest one was “The Sea Creature”. Just before the creature would come out of the water, you could hear the waves but not see the water. In those days, we lived on Front Street (k/n/a First Street), and I had to walk home alone. I would cut through Steve Breitung’s back yard, which had a lot of trees and no neighbors except us. I could hear the waves but could not see the water. I still think of that movie when I can hear the waves late at night.”
Kitty Latane: “I wrote an article about the theater which appeared in the ‘Notes from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society,’ and a more recent version in the “Courier-Wedge.” Several women have commented to me that their first dates with their husbands had been at the Time Theater.”
This photo was taken 61 years after the LINCOLN became a church and faces away from the stage.
April 19, 1952: Purchase of the former Lincoln Theater, 6923 14th Ave., by the Lake Shore Tabernacle was announced by the Rev. O.F. Broker.
Highland Park Theater up for sale
The City of Highland Park won’t help to preserve the Highland Park Theatre and is offering the theatre for sale without restrictions and may throw in an adjoining parking lot to sweeten the deal. Monday the city learned that the non-profit Alcyon Foundation can’t raise the capital needed to restore and reopen the theatre for live performances, film festivals and private events.
Mayor Nancy Rotering told reporters after a closed session “The city has exhausted numerous efforts to redevelop the property in a way that meets the goals and desires of the community, reduces the financial burden placed on residents, and complements the business community.”
There was a two-year effort to preserve the theatre, and the city was dealing with a developer on a combined condo, retail and theatre, but the agreement lapsed last February over cost concerns.
The city bought the struggling theatre for $2.1 million in 2009 in part for concerns about preservation and for the possibility for larger redevelopments. It abruptly closed in summer of 2012 after code violations came to light. It’s zoned for commercial use and has been divided into four theatres ranging from 130 to 410 seats. The city invited anyone interested, or with questions about the council’s action, to call the city manager’s office at 847-926-1000.
The Valley Square 6 theatre closed in mid-December of 2013 following the failure of Carmike Cinemas and the Valley View Mall to agree on terms of the lease renewal, according to Jeff Odom, general manager at the Valley View Mall. Last summer’s remodeling projects there including the installation of new high-back seats with cup holders in all six auditoriums plus digital concession signs.
The VS6 employed Manager Jackie Speropulos and nine regular workers, two seasonal workers and custodians.
Mall officials say they were searching for a new lessee and hoped to make an announcement soon.
Carmike gift card holders could receive refunds by calling the corporate headquarters in Columbus, GA at 706-576-3400.
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.