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The popular Kimball theatre organ played its final show in the iconic Milwaukee movie palace last weekend. The Kimball Theatre Organ Society owned and maintained the organ since 1979 and moved it into the Oriental in 1991, but last year the KTOS unanimously decided it would transfer ownership of the Kimball organ into new hands. Months later a new owner took over and in July 2017, the KTOS has been removing the Kimball organ from the Oriental Theatre for safe storage while the new, unnamed owner determines its next destination. Simon Gledhill is a UK-based representative for the new owner and was a KTOS member himself and a semi-professional organist who performed three times over the years on the Oriental’s Kimball organ.
The Kimball was first installed in the former Warner Grand Theatre for the venue’s opening in 1931. In 1973, when the Warner was twinned, the Kimball was donated to the Milwaukee Trade & Technical High School (now Bradley Tech) Auditorium but was too large for the space, so KTOS was formed to protect and restore the instrument. After its installation within the Oriental, it almost doubled in size with vintage Kimball parts in a sensitive manner to which the manufacturer would not have objected.
Sources say the new owner is searching for a new organ to take the Kimball’s place. When the Oriental first opened in 1927, it used a Barton organ, which was removed in 1959. (Milwaukee theatres once had more Barton organs than any other make.)
(Racine Journal News, May 1, 1928) Majestic Theater Opens at 2:00 P. M. Tomorrow – J Ernst Klinkert, Owner, Praised for Supplying Needed Playhouse. Frank E. Wolcott, Lessee, is Managing Director, and B. Wade Denham the Building Engineer success much as he did the old the- views of the interior, the artist de ater which filled, for many years, picting truthfully the grandeur of the amusement need for that thriving section of the city.
When the doors of the new Majestic in “Uptown—the Heart of Racine” swing open tomorrow afternoon there will he revealed one of the most beautiful of sights. Artists and artisans have for weeks worked on this most gorgeous place of amusement, bruin ideas and effects which were woven into t: Most complete will be the realization of Ernst Klinkert, owner, a man to elevate the tone of moving pictures in ti us has invested a large amount of rn *nev ii v project, one which will stand as a memorial to his spiriting enterprise, but he can sit back and view with just pride his most worthy accomplishment.
Active in the life of “Uptown—the Heart of Racine,” and directly connected with the history of the old Majestic theater, is Frank K. Wolcott, veteran amusement house man of this city and section of the state. No man is better fitted to continue in the conduct of “Uptown’s” theater than is Mr. Wolcott. For many years he has had his finger on the public’s requisite for a theater. They endeavor to show their appreciation tomorrow by attending the opening performance and in various other ways as shown in this special edition. As as the tenths and years pass in procession they will continue in that role and consider the interest of builder and lessee of the new theater as their personal interest, ever ready to do their share in the still greater development of “Uptown-the Heart of Racine".
Unqualified charm of design embellished by exquisite decorative treatment which accentuates its architectural features, elevates the new Majestic from the ordinary theaters. Done in pure Gothic style with daring employment of detail, the creation might well be epitomized in the words of William Jenning Bryan when he characterized a “frozen music the beauties encountered on a tour of the fine old European examples of this enchanting type of construction.“ The treatment of the entrance is unusually fine. Three columns carrying Gothic arches give access to the permanent open vestibule. There is a deep ceiling in gold and bronze, curved down in an interesting way to rest upon a beading of grotesque Gothic heads. The 82 foot long lobby is in English Gothic overspread with a delicately hued blue ceiling into which a series of arches have been groined.
(May 1, 1928) – ART WORK – The three mural windows at the head of the grand stairs in the new Majestic, which depict comedy, tragedy and music, were furnished by the Industrial Art Service. The 150 tons of cast stone used in the exterior construction of the Majestic, aa well as in the finish of the lobby are of what is known as “Granitex" trim. This product was supplied by the Chrlstoffel Art Stone company of Milwaukee. The texture used is white with black. It is composed of white medusa cement with pulverized marble granite aggregate which gives it life and strength. A weather proofing of about two per cent is also used to prevent water absorption. The material is used for all exterior work. Including entrances window and door sills, coping; the roof, general ornamental trim, brackets, urns and lamps. The firm operates one of the largest stone factories in the state and is in a position to give service because of the fact that it has all moulds on hand thereby saving time ordinarily consumed in making.
The Majestic theater, the one which did service for many years at “Uptown—the Heart of Racine,” led the way for the new playhouse which now adorns the same site. It grew into popularity with the years, surrounded by the most prosperous business institutions of which Racine can boast. The new Majestic, its successor, starts out under far more encouraging conditions than did its predecessor, however. This wonderful theater will follow the policy laid down by Manager Frank Walcott when he took charge of the old playhouse. The same type of entertainment which made the old house popular will not be discarded but adhere to it even more closely.
LARGE ORGAN BIG FEATURE – Expert Voicers Produced Instrument Heard in Majestic – Of the equipment provided in the new Majestic for the entertainment of the theater going public, the Marr and Colton organ is an outstanding feature. It is a 10-stop, three-manual organ and possesses all of the equipment necessary for theatrical musical reproduction. Its installation was personally supervised by Mr. Colton, a member of the firm who was greatly interested in the opportunity given his firm by the theater management to demonstrate its organ whenever it wished to do so. The Marr and Colton organ is built at Wausau, and is the product of a company organized by two expert organ voicers who were dissatisfied with the restrictions placed upon them by the company for which they formerly employed their skill. In order to voice an organ as they wished to, they founded the firm which bears their names and when they launched their first product, have become rationally known. Their organs ore among the finest manufactured in America and have special tonal qualities peculiar to the artists who conceived and built them. Matching in with the general scheme of things in the new Majestic theater is the comfortable and conveniently arranged furniture which is to be found in the foyers, lobby men’s smoker and women’s rest room. All of this, together with that in the theater offices was furnished by the Junction Furniture company. Mr. Wolcott, the manager of the playhouse, relied very much upon the judgment of the company’s personnel in making selections for the furnishing of the theater. The furniture is all in good taste and adds muoh to the comforts provided for the patrons.
TICKET BOOTH – An exquisite bit of craftsmanship is portrayed by the mahogany and marble ticket booth which commands the entrance to the Majestic, a gem of creative workmanship. possessing a quiet elegance. (Racine Journal)
This photo is reportedly from its final night in 2010.
Thank you for your suggestion, JamesD, but we’ve lost too much rare information over the years because of links that went inactive without warning.
(Motion Picture World, 1915): H. C. Luedtke, former owner of the Star theater, Waukegan, Ill., purchased the Columbia theater in Kenosha, Wis. about a month ago from Charles Staehle. The Columbia seats 550 people and charges 5 and 10 cents admission for programs of four and six reels of Mutual service. Mr. Luedtke stated that he is running “The Diamond from the Sky” to very good business. “The Christian” was shown recently for 10 cents to capacity houses. Mr. Luedtke is figuring on installing a balcony soon.
A labor dispute closed the KENOSHA Theatre from March 25 to April 15, 1932, when differences were settled at a day and night conference in Milwaukee. The employees agreed to another cut of 43%.
Duke Ellington and his orchestra played the KENOSHA on May 8, 1941.
At the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway in Uptown, the massive, once-grand Uptown Theatre, a shuttered movie palace that has awaited restoration for nearly 40 years, is slowly deteriorating. Its reopening—an expensive proposition that would require public and private funds—is key to the neighborhood’s vitality and could make it a premier destination for live entertainment.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed. Shortly after his first election victory, in 2011, Emanuel spoke publicly, on WXRT and elsewhere, of wanting to create an Uptown music district anchored by the Riviera Theatre, the Aragon Ballroom, the Green Mill lounge and the Uptown. His Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a nonprofit he founded to create public-private infrastructure projects for the city, made the Uptown one of its priority projects.
And that’s the last anyone heard about it. Until now.
Documents recently obtained by Crain’s show that in 2015, a deal to make the theater a multipurpose entertainment complex was brokered by CIT but eventually fell apart.
According to internal CIT documents, the organization arranged a purchasing agreement in January 2015 to buy the Uptown from owner Jam Productions for $5.6 million and turn the theater into a nonprofit, making it easier to secure city, state and federal funding. The $120 million restoration would uphold its historic elements but transform it into a multipurpose entertainment complex offering concerts, movies, dining and more. With tenants identified and a financing model in place, it was the closest the Uptown, once one of the largest movie palaces in the world, had ever come to a genuine resurrection.
The deal’s closing, however, was dependent on CIT board approval and financing. That became impossible when that summer, Emanuel replaced the entire CIT staff and the plan was sacked. “I went through a state of depression. I was very disappointed,” says Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, who has advocated for the Uptown’s reopening since taking office in 2011.
Preservationists say that because of its decrepitude, something needs to happen fast to save the theater from permanent ruin. “If this isn’t resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate,” says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.
A reopened Uptown would, at 4,500 seats, have the largest theater capacity north of downtown (the Auditorium in the Loop has nearly 4,000). Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, shares Emanuel’s vision that the Uptown would solidify the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway as a destination for live entertainment. “What would be most desirable is we get a mix of these awesome performance venues at a very high level to accommodate a lot of people,” Kelly says. “Then it’s a real entertainment district.”
So far, Cappleman has been heading an effort to beautify the area with the expectation that if you build it, they will come. A $6 million streetscape project kicked off in August with new sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks and a pedestrian plaza in front of the Riviera, all set for completion next summer. The second phase of the street renovations has started along Broadway; a $203 million renovation of the Wilson el station is complete.
In 2019 the city will start a five-year project to rebuild the nearby Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations and adjacent support structures so they’ll feature what riders now see at Wilson—wider platforms, better lighting—plus a new track and new bridges and viaducts. Next to the Lawrence stop, steps from the Uptown, the city is studying the potential for an upscale hotel, says Deputy Planning Commissioner Eleanor Gorski.
Cappleman considers the Uptown’s comeback his personal passion. “We’re doing this, not just for the Uptown community, but for the nation. It is going to attract people from all over the world,” he says. Cappleman says he has been working with Emanuel and Uptown Theatre co-owner Jerry Mickelson for years to create a viable path to get the doors open, which includes pushing for a business plan to court investors. A mix of private and public money is the only way it will happen, Cappleman says. “It’s going to be expensive, but it is doable.”
A COMEBACK LIKE KINGS?
The 92-year-old theater’s saga involves multiple owners, court battles, malfeasance, political infighting and more. Designed by Rapp & Rapp, its size and many flourishes—a grand staircase and lobby, 140-foot ceiling, 70-foot-wide stage, lounges, vestibules, balconies and even a nursery—made it thrilling. The theater transported people from their everyday lives through movies, a live orchestra, vaudeville shows and, tailored for sizzling Chicago summers, air conditioning.
The costs of maintaining such grandeur, however, were a burden. “We soon found out that was a really expensive idea to maintain,” says Preservation Chicago’s Miller.
The neglect dates to the 1970s, when the Uptown was used primarily for closed-circuit boxing matches and rock concerts by acts including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Accelerating its demise was co-owner Lou Wolf, a notorious Chicago slumlord and felon who purchased the theater in 1980 and shuttered it the following year. Unoccupied and uncared for for more than three decades, the building suffered water damage after the heat was turned off. In 1982, 6 inches of ice covered the grand stairway and 4 feet of water rose in the basement. Broken windows, animal infestation, vandalism and plaster-killing summer humidity followed, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.
But despite its unlucky history, reviving the Uptown is possible. The Kings Theatre in New York offers up a model.
The Kings was another architectural fever dream of Rapp & Rapp. Opening in 1929, it entertained Brooklynites along Flatbush Avenue for decades until it, too, fell into decline, closing its doors in 1977. In late 2011, Neil Heyman found 3-foot piles of fallen plaster; water leeched into the walls; mold; ornamental pieces and bronze handrails plundered by vandals; rusted steel support elements; and a large section of the roof blown away courtesy of Superstorm Sandy. “When people put eyes on it, they all said, ‘This is an incomprehensible task to overcome,’ ” says Heyman, vice president of Gilbane Building in New York, which provided construction management services.
But what made the Kings' rebirth feasible was political will. In 2008, the New York City Economic Development Corp. and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz requested proposals for the site, and in 2010 the city selected Houston-based theater developer Ace Theatrical Group to take charge of the restoration and then operate it under a 55-year lease. The $95 million needed to get the job done came from the state, city and private stakeholders.
Accounting for $50 million of the total, the city of New York was the largest investor in the Kings because it saw the theater as the linchpin to rebuild Brooklyn. “It took the city years to get the right developer with the right vision and the right economic program in place to make this all work, but it did,” Heyman says. The Kings opened in 2015. It is now the third-largest theater in the New York City area and hosts 200 to 250 live performances a year. The Kings helped revive Flatbush as a destination with major retailers like Nike and Gap opening outlets nearby and, as the New York Times has reported, a seven-story, 69-room boutique hotel set to open soon.
SHOW UPTOWN THE MONEY. OR NOT.
But Chicago is not New York. For one, state funding is zero. The Illinois Legislature passed a bill in 2015 allocating a $10 million grant for the Uptown restoration, but that money went away under Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Second, the Uptown is under private ownership, unlike the Kings, which New York City purchased in 1983 after it became a tax-delinquent property. The city of Chicago had the same opportunity with the Uptown at that time. It did allocate more than $1.4 million in tax-increment financing to stabilize the building in 2008, which included removing, tagging and storing the building’s terra cotta for its protection.
Which brings us to Mickelson and Chicago-based Jam Productions, one of the nation’s largest concert promoters. Through UTA II, a separate company, Mickelson and partner Arny Granat purchased the Uptown in 2008 for $3.2 million at a court-ordered foreclosure sale. (Neither Mickelson nor Granat would comment for this story.) Two years later, the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, released a report saying the Uptown would be the “crown jewel” to a potential entertainment district.
Behind closed doors, CIT vigorously pursued Emanuel’s wish to bring back the Uptown. According to internal documents, a two-year planning process involved more than $1 million in pro bono work from dozens of leading architecture, real estate and legal firms. The result was an ambitious plan that called for a major film chain as a tenant that would present world premieres, Imax films and specialty programming for children in what the documents describe as “the world’s largest movie theater.” Jam was chosen to exclusively book concerts, and an unspecified restaurant group was to offer premium food service. The plan also called for simulcasts of sporting events from around the world on the big screen. Documents show CIT’s historic restoration part of the plan earned preliminary support from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the Chicago Landmarks Commission and the National Park Service.
The documents also show CIT sold the project as a public-private partnership that would drive traffic to Uptown and create more than 600 jobs. Buying the property from Jam and turning it into a nonprofit would make it a public works project and eligible for public money, namely a $10 million state grant and $20 million in TIF funds. CIT estimated that, after operating expenses, the Uptown would generate $4.1 million for the city in its first year.
To get the ball rolling, CIT asked for an immediate $500,000 upfront and then $3 million to secure tenant leases and produce schematic drawings. The organization had secured interest from Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Cinemas, Austin, Texas-based Alamo Draft House and other chains. Documents called for leases to go out the third quarter of 2015 and to be signed by late that year. Construction was set to start in 2017. Using the Kings as a model, the plan started to look feasible. Cappleman says he was ready to make an announcement in August 2014. “I was very, very excited about it. It was a dream come true,” he says.
But unlike in Brooklyn, the plan died on arrival. Emanuel asked CIT CEO Stephen Beitler to resign in July 2015, along with the staff who worked on the project. They were replaced with a staff headed by Leslie Darling, a city lawyer. Under Darling, CIT changed its mission. Darling said its new goal was to reduce reliance on city funding and replace it with state, federal and philanthropic grants, which deviated from Emanuel’s original plan to have corporate investments fuel projects.
The mayor was unwilling to free up money for the Uptown out of fear it would come back to haunt him if the plan failed, according to a source familiar with the project who asked to remain anonymous. Emanuel had already taken heat for using TIF money to acquire land for a hotel and a DePaul University basketball arena in the South Loop amid criticism the public money was not being used for schools and neighborhoods. Walking away from the plan “was political risk aversion,” says the source.
Emanuel spokesman Grant Klinzman says the proposal “didn’t work or even fit into CIT’s mission” because the trust’s vision “has always been to work on public infrastructure. The development of a private property was not contemplated as part of CIT’s mission. This was an exploratory project that ultimately did not pan out for the CIT.”
A source at City Hall who does not want to be named says the project failed because CIT didn’t name a tenant. “The key financing element was finding a major movie exhibitor who would sign a lease, and then you could finance against that lease. But it turned out (CIT) couldn’t find a movie exhibitor who was willing.”
But another person familiar with the CIT project disputes that account. “The notion that this wasn’t in line with the vision and mission of the trust is false on its merits. The whole point of the (CIT) was to pursue transformative infrastructure projects using public and private partnerships.” He adds that long-term leases were not yet signed because they were dependent on the mayor’s approval of the plan.
Cappleman concedes that the amount of public money required “was a big, tough ask. I couldn’t argue that was not the case. Given our budget crisis, it would ask a lot of my colleagues to support me while there are a lot of demanding issues in their wards,” he says.
WILL THE CURTAIN EVER RISE?
Klinzman says opening the Uptown “is still a priority for the city.” Mickelson is pursuing other development partners, says Gorski, the city’s deputy planning commissioner. Gorski says the city has not required Mickelson to submit a timetable, but she says “he is in very close discussions” with a partner. Cappleman says Mickelson turned in a business plan in April 2016. It, too, will depend on TIF funding, but it won’t be as high as the $20 million requested in the CIT plan. “This one is scaled back quite a bit in terms of scope,” Cappleman says. It awaits approval by the city finance committee.
In the meantime, there are hazards in keeping the building intact, though in 2016 the Uptown Square District, which includes the theater, was given landmark status, ensuring that none of the buildings within it can be demolished. The CIT documents describe the Uptown as “a blight and safety hazard” and says that as of 2015, Mickelson owed more than “$3 million in liens to the city and has no viable plan."
In 2014, six years after UTA II purchased the Uptown, the company turned off the building’s heat in the thick of winter, which caused a 30-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide icicle to grow in the basement, according to the Chicago Tribune. Mickelson told the Tribune the water was turned off except in one bathroom on the main floor. He disputed the size of the icicle, which he said was only 5 inches. His attorney, current Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th, says UTA II shut off the heat because it was in the midst of converting the system from oil to natural gas.
Next year will be the 10th that the Uptown has been in new hands and the 37th it has remained dark.
Cappleman acknowledges that "there have been a lot of false promises given to the public” over the years. But he says that one day the mighty Uptown Theatre will rise. “It is not a guarantee. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we’re going to make it happen.”
(Elgin Daily Herald, 1998) – CROCKER DEVELOPER HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS By Brad Hahn Daily Herald Staff Writer
Five months after unveiling his plan to transform Elgin’s Crocker Theater into a thriving downtown mecca, a Chicago-area developer is having second thoughts. Jeff Maher said he’s frustrated by the lack of progress in turning the abandoned landmark into a discount movie house. A tentative agreement to purchase the Crocker expires today, and the developer said he’s unsure if he’ll continue pursuing the building. “I don’t know if I’ll accept or not,” said Maher of an opportunity to extend the agreement. “I don’t know if anyone wants to play ball.“ Specifically, Maher is looking for a response to a preliminary plan he submitted to the Elgin Chamber of Commerce months ago. In that proposal, the developer said it would cost between $2 million and $2.4 million to rehabilitate the gutted auditorium. But to be successful, Maher said, he needed the city’s help. Exactly how much Elgin would have to pitch in was not specified. That detail was left out on purpose, said the developer, who made a success of a similar project in Kenosha, Wis. “Nothing was engraved in stone for price,” he said. “I wanted to see what they’re willing to do and go from there.” But the omission has caused the project to stall, said Jim McConoughey, vice president for economic development at the chamber. After a series of meetings with Maher, McConoughey reviewed the preliminary report and asked for more specifics. Serving as a conduit between developers and the government, McConoughey said he wants to make sure any plan submitted is complete and practical. “A project scope has to come from the developer with details of what his project would be and what the city’s role would be,” McConoughey said. Underlying the discussion is Maher’s tentative pledge to buy the Crocker from current owner Dominic Buttita for $800,000. Some officials at city hall believe the price is too high, given Buttita paid about half that amount for the building two years ago. They’re wary of taxpayer money being used for the owner to make a profit. But Buttita said improvements to the building — including a new roof — bring his investment to more than $1 million. “I think they think I’m making money on this deal and I’m not — I’m going to be losing money,” he said. If Maher can work out financing, a discount movie theater is in line with the city’s plan for downtown, McConoughey said. The question now — as it was months ago — is whether the city and developer can reach a consensus. “I think it would be something people would go to,” McConoughey said. “It would bring folks downtown that historically have not gone downtown.”
March 21, 1992. See text on overview page.
(Kenosha News, Saturday, March 21, 1992)
RAZE ORDER LIKELY FOR ORPHEUM By Dave Backmann, Staff Writer
Fed up with an eyesore and magnet for vandalism, city officials have started the process to raze the 70-year-old Orpheum Theater in downtown Kenosha. A city ordinance states that a raze order can be issued if the cost of bringing a structure into compliance with municipal building codes exceeds 50 percent of the equalized value of the property. James M. Schultz, director of the city Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development, estimated necessary repairs to the Orpheum at “well over” $100,000. The Kenosha County Assessor’s office lists the 1991 value of the property at $57,000. “Issue of orders to raze are pending,” Schultz said. “The owner is aware of the possibility it could be razed. That building has been a sore spot for the downtown for many years now. Downtown retailers and property owners have registered many complaints with my office. The matter of razing it is being reviewed by the city attorney’s office at this time. I imagine it’s something we’re going to proceed on in the very near future.” Schultz said his office brought a recommendation for demolition to the city attorney after inspectors determined within the last year that the building needs substantial repairs to meet code requirements. City Attorney James Conway said, “I believe it’s (a raze order) going to go forward.” Schultz said he has met with building owner Bernard W. Chulew, Milwaukee, several times. Chulew took action to keep vandals from entering, but has not proposed steps to rehabilitate the building, Schultz said. “We’d rather see the building rehabilitated and rescued, but no proposals are pending,” Schultz said.
Chulew said he will fight a raze order. “I think I’m being singled out,” he said. “There are a lot of buildings downtown in worse shape than mine. My building is not falling down.” Chulew said he pays $800 monthly for a mortgage and real estate taxes on the building. An empty space created by the demolition will lead to more crime problems than a standing, vacant building, he said. The four-story, 16,184-square-foot building has been totally vacant for approximately two years. Chulew bought the property at 5819-5831 Sixth Ave. from the original owner, 20th Century Fox Studios, about 16 years ago. In September 1990, the city hired a contractor to remove the exterior overhead marquee to make the building a less inviting target for vandalism.
Schultz said the building has no future. “There is no market for a theater. “If you divided it up for offices, you would need major structural improvements. It is not structurally unsound. But the exterior needs quite a bit of work to be used again, like painting and tuck-pointing and you’d have to modify the entrance. There are quite a few problems with the mechanical systems, too.” Schultz said he hasn’t determined the cost of razing and cleanup. Chulew could ask a judge for a temporary injunction to block the demolition, said Assistant City Attorney Ed Antaramian. A judge’s options include ordering repairs to bring the building into compliance with city codes or allowing the demolition to proceed. The owner has the option to pay outright for the demolition. lf the city has to hire a demolition contractor, the cost would be added to the owner’s property taxes. Since October when the city began a systematic inspection of building exteriors downtown, 62 properties have been checked and code compliance orders have been written on all 62. “Mostly orders have been written for minor things like peeling paint on doors and windows,” said James M. Schultz, director of the city Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development. “People by and large are cooperating with the inspector’s orders to bring the buildings up to code.” While the exterior maintenance code for commercial properties has been part of city ordinances for years, the Lakeshore Business Improvement District last year complained of lax enforcement, resulting in blighted conditions. At a BID meeting in October, 50 businessmen/property owners from the district welcomed the hiring of another city inspector to concentrate on the downtown. Mike Lorberter said this week he has inspected 62 of the approximately 200 properties in the district. Lorberter has worked by first issuing complimentary cleanup orders which give a property owner 30 days to respond to him on how code violations will be corrected. If a property owner doesn’t respond during that period, a formal order is issued which states violations must be corrected in 30 days or a meeting arranged with Lorberter on how to correct the problems. “A formal order is to get your attention,” he said. “It usually works.” Schultz said a recommended order to raze the Orpheum Theater building is not related directly to Lorberter’s work, but is part of an overall attempt by the city to upgrade the appearance of the district. He said the Orpheum has been an eyesore and target of vandals for years.
(Kenosha News, September 14, 1964)
In movies 52 years, Ernst Nicolazzo pictures career as projectionist
It was almost exactly 52 years ago when Ernst Nicolazzo walked into the Majestic Theater on Main St. in downtown Kenosha to repair 10 fans which didn’t work. The theater manager, surprised at Nicolazzo’s mechanical ability, asked him if he knew how to run a projection machine. Nick said he did. That affirmative answer started Italian-born Nick on a lifelong career. With but two major interruptions, he’s been a movie grinder ever since. Ernst Nicolazzo is the only surviving charter member of Local 361 of the projection operators' union. The union’s name is longer than most three movies put together — International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada. Whew!
After being in on the formation of the local in 1913, Nick helped charter it in 1914. Recently, he was guest of honor at a dinner honoring his 50 years in the local. Nick wears a ring given to him for his 50 years of service. Nicolazzo worked at the Majestic Theater in Kenosha until 1918 when he enlisted in the Army. After a year’s duty, he returned here to work as a projectionist in the Butterfly Theater until 1923, then back to the Majestic for five more years. For 27 years, from 1923 until 1955, Nick worked at the Kenosha Theater. Then a bout with tuberculosis kept him away from theaters for 18 months. He came through this ordeal (“but did lose four ribs and a lung”, he said) and wanted to get back into the projection business. His physician recommended he not climb the 76 steps to the projection booth of the Kenosha Theater every day, so in August of 1957 Nicolazzo took a job as projectionist at the Mid City Outdoor Theater.
How long does he hope to continue in the projection business? As long as he’s able to do the job. he said. “Right now, I feel like I could go till I’m 100”, he said. “I can remember when movies cost a nickel,” Nick said. "Later the price went up to 18 cents, but a bag of popcorn was thrown in with the admission price,” he added. “People in the old days were more cost-conscious about admission prices than they are now,” Nick continued. "If the price went up, people were more likely not to come inside,” he said. Projection techniques are different today than years back, too, Nick said. "Before we had ‘talkies’, if the crowd was too big, we’d just grind the movie through a little faster. Now the movies feed through the projector at an even 90 feet per minute,” he added. Whereas breaks in film and splices were big problems for the projectionist years back, today he must worry more about electrical and sound difficulties.
There are fewer members in Local 361 today than there were back in 1914. The 25 members of 50 years ago has shrunk to about half that number today. “There used to be two projectionists for every theater, but now there’s only one,” Nick explained. Then too, such ‘homes’ for actors as the Rhode Opera House have long since disappeared.
Nicolazzo, who never married, lives with the Harvey Ewings at Paddock Lake. He drives into town twice a day, works five hours a day at his job at Mid City. One of these five hours each day is spent getting the film ready for showing. Nicolazzo likes children, and the way he treats them, it’s little wonder the opposite is true, too. He takes them to the show, buys them ice cream or other goodies, and invites them to spend weekends with him at Paddock Lake. His principal hobby is his garden. “I grow everything people say you can’t grow,” he said. Nick says his specialty is tomatoes, but he doesn’t do too bad with corn, either. “Back in 1962. my corn was 10 feet tall. I got lost in it,“ Nick said with a grin. Nick admits his interest in mechanics dates far back. He’s certainly expanded on that interest since he went to fix those fans 52 years ago.
A VUE patron died in a freak accident after getting his head stuck in a seat footrest on March 9, 2018. Reportedly the man had dropped his phone in between two seats, bent down to pick it up and the electric seat’s footrest clamped down on his head. His friend called for help. Theatre staff and other patrons struggled to set him free immediately, with staff finally breaking the chair to free the man, who then suffered from cardiac arrest and was taken to Heartlands Hospital where paramedics restarted his heart but the man died on Friday, March 16.
January 1929: Phelps Amateur Night Held. Amateur night at the Northern Lakes theater was another success. The first number was by James Mindy and his daughter, Margaret, of Rhinelander. Mr. Mindy was at his best and gave the patrons what they liked, real comedy, while his little daughter was undoubtedly the main attraction of the evening, with her dance numbers. The crowd repeatedly called her back for more, and each time she gave the audience a new and graceful step. Mrs. Tony Tietzol, a woman 61 years of age, gave two song and dance numbers pf her own compositions that won the hearts of the parked theater. Alvin Wenzel, the last one on the card, played the part of a small country town boy and his act was one of the best of the evening.
March 06, 2018: iPic Entertainment will close the Bayshore Town Center Theatre and bowling alley, dealing another blow to the struggling Glendale shopping center in which it’s located. The company posted the news on its website. “To our guests, effective Thursday, March 8, we will permanently close iPic Bayshore, including Big Daddy’s Brew + Que and Pinstrikes,” the site says. “We are honored to have served you and the Glendale community over the last decade.” All tickets purchased after March 7 were to be refunded for the full price.
In December, Bayshore Town Center was acquired by New York-based AIG Global Real Estate Services in a deed in lieu of foreclosure transfer. The 38.4 acre property, which includes the retail mall, apartments and office tenants, is valued at $97.4 million, according to the real estate transfer information filed with the state.
The FALLS Theatre has been an iconic part of the River Falls downtown since it opened in 1927. Owner Michelle Maher said it’s an integral part of the Main Street economy. “I think in general, our community, people end up seeing more movies in a theatre than they would in most communities,” Maher said. “And in doing that, they bump into friends and neighbors that they haven’t seen and didn’t expect to see. They have an experience that they cannot necessarily anticipate because it isn’t like it’s in their living room.”
She said the theater gives people an excuse to get out and frequent other downtown businesses as well. “That has kept our main street healthy,” she said. “There’s other communities that have lost their main street theatres, that have noticed the decay of their main street communities.”
Not so in River Falls, Maher said. The City worked with the theatre to obtain a state grant, most of which will go toward helping the FALLS Theatre expand to add a second screen in the building next door to the theatre, adjacent to Mel’s Midtowner Bar. It used to house County Line Insurance. “We’re excited to be able to partner with a longterm business in town, a small family-owned business,” said City Administrator Scot Simpson. “I think it will help. It’s really a pillar of the downtown.”
The city received an $82,600 state grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Work is due to begin this month on the $640,000 project and should be completed in Summer, 2018. While the grant was awarded to the city, a substantial portion of the proceeds will go directly to the theatre for the expansion project.
Maher said the community has largely been supportive of the theatre, and mentioned some Facebook comments on a post the city made about the forthcoming second screen.
Deborah Huppert said “Love going to Falls Theatre so glad and proud of them!”
Cindy Pechacek Kusilek wrote, “Thank you all who were involved for all your hard work to keep this River Falls Treasure alive and flourishing.”
Jeanne Aamodt wrote, “So happy for you and River Falls Michelle, your dad is looking down on you smiling, Thanks Stan!”
Others expressed concerns.
“I just hope they don’t ruin the feel of the place,” wrote Bobbi Ombui. “I partly go BECAUSE it is historic. I think RF is a little lax in the preservation department, They ‘improve’ beyond recognition or destroy many of the cities treasures. If I want a cineplex I go to Hudson.”
Maher said she isn’t trying to turn the Falls Theatre into a big movieplex. “We’re in the business of maintaining a main street community theatre that continues to run with the philosophy of making it available for everybody at the lowest possible price,” Maher said. “We are not interested in changing that model significantly. We just want to stay relevant into the future.”
Maher is open to hearing suggestions from the community about what they’d like to see in their movie experience.
“We’re trying to stay open to listen to what our community wants because the theater is going to be more a part of this community through this process and dependent on our community in a way that I’ve never experienced as much of before.”
Maher feels a great connection to the theatre, which she said has a life of its own. “We are just its caretakers,” she said. “It provides an experience that you can’t get anywhere else and the space carries a kind of energy to depart from your daily life that feeds the soul for a moment.”
The Falls Theatre was founded by Maher’s father Stan “the Movie Man” McCulloch. “I think my dad passed it to me on a spiritual level, right before his death,” Maher said. “I don’t understand why it makes any logical sense why I’m willing to sacrifice as much as I do to be here and keep this theatre going. I love it. It feels alive to me. I protect it fiercely. I don’t want that to change. And I’ve got a son who’s interested … loves the movies … so it looks like there’s a future for the theatre. So I’m willing to invest into that, and everybody what I’ve talked to seems incredibly excited and supportive.”
Maher said the second screen will seat around 50. The box office will not change, Maher said. People will enter the new auditorium — which will also include new restrooms — the same way they always have. The new auditorium will have its own exit, however.
Maher said she’s just waiting for state approval on the finalization of the plans from the architect and contractor, Ross and Associates. Once that approval is given, construction can begin, Maher said.
She’s also considered the idea of an all-day showtime on Tuesdays, both to compete with other theatres' $5 Tuesdays and to better serve community groups. Showtimes will likely stay close to the standard 7 and 9 p.m. times; however, they might not always be exactly 7 and 9 p.m., as movies lengths tend to vary.
Maher said though the project is a huge commitment, she doesn’t feel too many nerves about it. “I think that’s because it seems like the universe wants it,” Maher said. “Our town wants it. I feel supported now by the state; it feels like it’s bigger than me.”
After the money given to the theatre, the city will use the remaining funds for projects such as resurfacing Heritage Park parking lot nearby the FALLS Theatre.
The word at the top is “Dahl’s”, for local builder Einar Dahl.
Opened March 12, 1927. From the CROWN Theatre feature in the Racine Journal Times, Friday, March 11, 1927.
The STATE Theatre in downtown Eau Claire is just off Farwell Street — one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city — and Barstow Street, which is considered the main road of Eau Claire’s downtown. Built for $315,000 by Finkelstein and Ruben, The STATE Theatre opened in January, 1926 with a vaudeville show and multiple musical acts. Several years afterward, the STATE started hosting movies and kept doing so until 1982. The STATE Theatre building was donated in 1984 to the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council so it could be restored and resume its original purpose of hosting performances.
It went on the real estate market a little more than a month ago, and a for-sale sign recently appeared on the theatre’s exterior, pasted between posters for acts coming to the theater for its final season. Dean Larsen of Acquisition Realty & Development says that he’s had three showings since he became agent for the property but has received no written offer yet. Larsen said one was thinking demolition and the other two were contemplating “remodeling” the STATE Theatre but didn’t specify for what use. He expects the building likely will attract local investors, who have familiarity with the downtown area and possibilities for the property. The State has offices on its second floor, Larsen said, and the feasibility of turning those into apartments or other uses hasn’t yet been explored.
The 1926 50,000-square-foot STATE Theatre building with its 1,098-seat theater, second-floor offices, a dance studio and art gallery, is listed for $450,000 and is being marketed as commercial property.
There doesn’t seem to be much local interest in preserving the historic theatre.
Ben Richgruber, executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council which currently owns the STATE Theatre building, says the building is in good shape but the group has had issues through the years with the roof and heating system. When the Confluence Arts Center (under construction on Graham Avenue about a block from the STATE Theatre and scheduled to open this fall) was announced in May 2012, it was clear that the STATE Theatre would close because ECRAC wanted to be part of the new facility and abandon the STATE Theatre with its limitations for hosting large performances. The Confluence will include offices for local arts groups that currently are based out of the STATE Theatre.
Eau Claire’s economic development administrator Mike Schatz said the city briefly considered buying the STATE Theatre but opted against it because the private sector was showing interest in it. “From a location standpoint, it’s right in the middle of a lot of activity,” Schatz added, saying that downtown buildings with apartments on upper floors often sell fast because buyers see rental income in addition to what could be made through street-level business tenants. The State has offices on its second floor, Larsen said, and the feasibility of turning those into apartments or other uses hasn’t yet been explored.
Still, the STATE Theatre continues to host and book performances. Local productions of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “State Fair” are booked for this summer at the STATE Theatre. Richgruber said “We’ve still been going gangbusters over here. We’re going to use it until it’s done.”
Racine Journal Times, March 13, 1948: Gust Jahnke and son of Wauwatosa have purchased a tract of land in Abor (?) subdivision near the Shell filling station. They plan to erect a theater.
Racine Journal Times, January 6, 1971 – Waterford Lions Club Will Operate Theater ….
WATERFORD — A desire to establish a good family entertainment center was the motivation behind the Waterford Lions Club decision to purchase the community’s Ford Theatre, Harold Robinson, spokesman for the club said. “The community deserves a place where the entire family can go to see a movie without embarrassment,” he said. The purchase was completed in November, when the agreement was signed by the club and the Morbak Corp. of Waterford, former owners of the property. The theater was closed for two weeks before the Lions Club purchased it. The theater has been leased to Lawrence Heebsh of Waterford, who has connections with a film booking agency which specializes predominantly in family movies, Robinson said. Movies are shown now on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and Heebsh has plans to add Sunday matinees to the program beginning about Jan. 17, Robinson added. The building also will be used as a meeting place by the Waterford Leos Club, a young people’s group affiliated with the Lions Club, he added. The building is being renovated with this purpose in mind, he said.
Curtains close on Princess Theatre (Oct. 2, 2015) By Audrey Davis, For The Miami Student
Just a few days ago, the shelves at the Princess Theatre were still stocked with candy. A batch of popcorn, though stale and old, was still piled in the machine, ready to be eaten — even though the theatre had been closed for well over a year. Before the demolition began Monday, the historic Princess had been around for over a century. It was first opened Sept. 11, 1911 and was originally called the New Oxford Theatre. From its opening to its demolition this week, the theatre went through several ownerships and two additional name changes. It wasn’t until 1982 the theatre got the name it is known by today.
While it was called the Talawanda Theatre, Angela Provines, a Miami alumna (’75), recalls spending many evenings there. “Many professors and their families would attend movies there,” Provines said. “It was weird to see them out of the classroom and being ‘real people.’”
An ad for the New Oxford Theatre was featured in a 1938 edition of The Miami Student, promoting ticket prices at only 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults. Students used to be given discounted prices if they brought their college IDs. Provines said because of this, the theatre was usually packed, especially on Saturday nights.
The theatre had always been known for its cheap ticket prices, making it a great hangout spot for Oxford’s younger population, like first-year Phoebe Myers. Myers has lived in Oxford her whole life. She had been watching shows at the Princess Theatre for as long as she can remember. She recalls the day she was allowed to go to the theatre without her parents, when she was 11 years old — a monumental moment. The theatre, she said, was a large part of her childhood and teenage years. “Freshman year of high school, all of the English classes read the Hunger Games,” Myers said. “One day we all walked from the old high school to the Princess to watch the movie, and that was just a really great memory.”
Senior Jillian Runser also remembers watching the same movie at the theater. “My sophomore year we got free tickets to see the Hunger Games premiere there,” Runser said. “It was just a bunch of girls from my corridor freaking out about it, so it was a lot of fun.”
In the past few years, the theatre has closed and reopened several times. In 2014, not long after it had been renovated, the Princess caught fire from an overheated ice machine. Although the theatre was not open at the time and no one was hurt, it was shut down due to smoke damage and has remained closed since. “It was just a really good place to go if you wanted an alternative to going out to bars or just hang out with your friends and relax and forget about what was going on around you,” Runser said.
The theater has been missed in the town since its indefinite closing. Myers said younger kids, especially, have lost something that gave them a sense of freedom.
“It was part of the town’s identity,” Myers said. “It just fit with Oxford.”
Kenosha closes the curtain on historic theater
(DAILY REPORTER, August 11, 2008)
Kenosha is tearing down one of its historic movie houses over the objections of the building’s owners. Kathryn Hanneman and John Gee, owners of the Roosevelt Theatre since 2000, pleaded with city officials to spare the building. They want to turn the movie house into a studio for shooting commercials and television pilots. But after eight years, they’ve made no progress. Worse, say city officials, the owners let the building deteriorate to a condition beyond repair. “It’s a building that is in a serious state if disrepair,” said Jim Schultz, Kenosha’s director of Neighborhood Services and Inspections. “It’s a public nuisance and a public safety issue.”
But Hanneman said the city is rushing to destroy a historic property. She claims the building is made of concrete and steel girders thicker than skyscrapers, and could easily stand for years to come. “I think it speaks to their lack of vision,” Hanneman said. “Projects like this are done all of the time. They really don’t have any reason to bring it down.”
The single-screen Roosevelt Theatre, the longest continuously screening theater in Kenosha, opened Christmas Day in 1927 and showed movies for 55 years. It was designed by architect Einar Dahl and revised by architect Charles Augustine. Capacity was originally 1,000 seats but was reduced to 764 seats in the 1970s.
Along with the movie theater, there was a bowling alley in the basement. The interior of the building is all but gone, Schultz said. The bowling alley was removed years ago, and the original organ was dismantled in the 1950s to make room for air conditioning.
The Kenosha City Council voted 14-1 on Aug. 4 to raze the building. The council approved a $37,000 contract with Champion Environmental Services Inc., Gilberts, Ill., to remove asbestos from the theater before demolition. Asbestos removal is scheduled to being in two weeks. Demolition would begin in six weeks.
Hanneman and Gee owe $150,000 in liens and back taxes on the property. They said they do not have the money to make even basic repairs to the theater. They were working with an anonymous donor to receive $500,000 for the theater, but the money was tied up in estate proceedings, Hanneman said.
Gee, an entertainment promoter from Milwaukee, said Kenosha overestimated how much it would cost to “button up” the building until money is found for restoration. His plan was to either fix the exterior and sell the theater to a developer or create a recording and television studio.
But that plan received little support from city officials, said Gee, noting that public money was available to help the Kenosha Theatre and the Rhode Opera House in the city’s downtown. When he asked for city support for the Roosevelt Theatre, he was turned away.
“We wanted a property that supports itself, not one that’s supported by the city,” he said, adding that, in retrospect, he and Hanneman didn’t have the experience needed to complete the project. “That was the weakness in our plan. We didn’t have a real estate professional in our group.”
Schultz said the city does not support tearing down historic buildings. But in the case of the Roosevelt Theatre, he said, restoration would cost more than $1 million.
“Really there’s no choice in the matter,” he said. “The owner doesn’t have the resources to make the minimum necessary repairs.”
The 12,500 square-foot theater is in central Kenosha about a mile from the city’s downtown, which includes two historic theaters, one in use and the other undergoing a $24 million restoration. The Roosevelt has not been used as a theater for more than 20 years. There are no plans to redevelop the site, Schultz said.
The GATEWAY Theatre’s 90th Anniversary last Friday passed without a word of observance from the current occupants … not a good sign, in my opinion.