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In November, 2018 the Community Development Commission was told that construction was expected to begin in summer, 2019. No work has begun. The delay, according to Jam Productions' Jerry Mickelsen, involves financing. Public funding included $14 million through the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy Act; $13 million in tax-increment financing; $10 million in Build Illinois bond funding; $8.7 million in federal tax credits; and $3.7 million in the City of Chicago’s Adopt-a-Landmark funds. That money’s committed, but $26 million is still needed that was supposed to come from loans and investments. Mickelson said he expects that financing to come in early 2020. The reopening is now projected to be in 2022.
A newly-founded Uptown Theatre Foundation is intended to act as a steward of the theatre and potentially receive donations to help restore it. Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner in the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, told Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Jones that his department is continuing to work with the developer on a restoration plan that will also revitalize the Uptown entertainment district, to hopefully start before summer.
The ELKADER Theatre is seen in a color photo and small article (“Main Street, USA”) on Page 8 in the December/January 2020 issue of Reminisce Magazine.
The Sanders family announced Monday they do not support the city’s plans to demolish the Fox Theater and they have not yet decided if they will dissolve an agreement with a local nonprofit that could potentially save the downtown theater’s facade.
In a letter sent to the Stevens Point Journal, D.K. Sanders, Ada Andrae Sanders and Jeanette Sanders said the city is choosing to demolish the building instead of saving it. They are the great-grandchildren of G.F. Andrae, who built the theater in 1894.
The Sanders family said neither Fox on Main nor the city made any effort to correct the problems with the building that sparked a raze order in July, and the focus from everyone involved has been to demolish the building.
“It’s not that they didn’t do anything,” D.K. Sanders told a Stevens Point Journal reporter Monday. “It’s just that they didn’t do enough.”
The family said they worked to give alternative options that corrected the deficiencies and eliminated the raze order.
The city’s main concern is safety, said Mayor Mike Wiza. Work could have been done to preserve the whole building, but since the raze order was issued in July, no improvements have been made. At this point, time is running out, Wiza said. Inspectors have said the building will not survive another winter, and DJ Schneider, the city’s building inspector, said the building needs to be razed and secured by Dec. 15.
The family claims that in 2013, Meyer Borgman Johnson, a structural engineering firm, investigated the Fox building and said the building was well taken care of and identified 12 items that needed attention. The same group visited the building in May 2018 and said the building was in similar condition to what it was in 2013, the family said.
According to the Sanders family, the total cost to fix the major issues with the building in order to remove the raze order is $164,000. The family claims the entire building could be fixed and saved for $254,400. They said the figures were also given to the mayor.
In contrast, the cost of demolition is estimated to be $250,000.
“And so the Fox comes down by the city’s choice, not by supported necessity,” the Sanders family wrote.
Wiza said the company that supplied those estimates didn’t go into the building. He said the city asked the company if it would hold true to the number, and the company said it was an estimate, and they would need to be inside the building to have a better idea on costs. The Sanders family refutes that claim and said they were inside the building with the company a year ago.
Wiza said none of the companies the city has talked to would be able to do any work to preserve the entire building before winter.
The theater building has remained in the Sanders family almost its entire existence, and it was passed down from generation to generation. Ada Andrae Sanders and D.K. Sanders say the city’s current plans are consistent with the history of the building, and the multiple attempts from the city to tear it down.
The city’s Redevelopment Authority eyed the Fox Theater and other downtown properties in 1973, then again in 1980 to build a mall. Jeanette Sanders then sought historical protection, and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. City leaders at the time argued they needed the back portion of the theater for the mall. The back 40 feet of the Fox Theater was demolished on March 11, 1985. “The city has tried to destroy the Fox three times,” D.K. Sanders said. “The mall failed. We knew it was going to fail. Nobody would listen to us then, and they’re not listening now.” D.K. Sanders and Ada Andrae Sanders said they put $50,000 worth of theater equipment into the historic theater before they donated the title in 2013 to the Portage County Arts Alliance, known today as CREATE Portage County. The group created a nonprofit organization called Fox on Main to handle everything from studies to development at the site. “We were convinced if we gave it over, it would be a theater,” the Sanders siblings said. “We have no heirs to leave it to.” The family wanted the Fox Theater to remain as a movie theater because it would be too difficult to keep it as a live theater stage. They said they wanted it to be used for a restaurant on the second floor and to be able to rent the facility for weddings and events.
After it ran feasibility studies, Fox on Main learned a theater would not be successful on its own, but that the space could be successful if it filled a need in the community. In 2016, CREATE started its IDEA Center to address a lack of support for entrepreneurship and innovation in the area. The program is currently running at 1039 Ellis St. in Stevens Point. CREATE announced in April its plans to preserve the Fox Theater’s facade, demolish most of the back of the building and relocate its IDEA Center there. Plans hit a roadblock in July, however, when the city issued a 90-day raze order for the building, saying it was so badly damaged that it was a threat to health and public safety. The order referenced failing trusses, a sagging ceiling and roof, and water leaking into the building. Fox on Main was given until mid-October to show it had made significant progress to address those concerns. At the end of October, Fox on Main announced it would stop fighting the raze order. Earlier this month, Fox on Main agreed to sell the Fox Theater property to the city for $1. The sale would give the city authority to demolish the building and work with developers to redevelop the site. At committee meetings in November, city leaders said they wanted to save the facade of the building if it was safe to do so. In order for the sale to go through, however, the Sanders family needs to dissolve its agreement with Fox on Main. Wiza said the Sanders family had verbally agreed to do so, but the city has not received the paperwork. Until the city receives those papers, the raze order is still in effect, Wiza said. If the raze order remains, the entire building — including the facade — will be demolished. If the Sanders family does not dissolve its agreement, Fox on Main will also remain the owner of the property and will be responsible for the cost of demolition. D.K. Sanders and Ada Andrae Sanders said they haven’t decided yet if they want to dissolve the agreement with Fox on Main. They’re still debating what they want to do, they said. D.K. Sanders said the Fox Theater is a cultural and economic resource that is vital to the downtown. It’s a unique building that makes the area a central point for the city and the county. He said he doesn’t understand how the city is willing to throw away a whole building for fixable problems. “If you have a leaky bathroom, you don’t tear your whole house down,” D.K. Sanders said.
Wiza said he hopes the situation can be resolved to help the city preserve history in the downtown. Crews have been performing asbestos abatement work at the building, and that work is scheduled to be completed Tuesday. Demolition on the Fox Theater could start as early as Dec. 3, Wiza said.
A $23 million plan to redevelop the city-owned RAMOVA Theatre into a 1,600-capacity concert and performance space was announced at a community meeting Tuesday night by 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson. Developer Tyler Nevius plans to buy a privately-owned parking lot across the street and privately-owned vacant commercial spaces adjacent to the theatre that would be transformed into a brewery and a revived Ramova Grill Restaurant, with the help of nearby native and chef Kevin Hickey.
Maureen Sullivan, a neighborhood native and past aldermanic candidate, had been campaigning to revive the RAMOVA for fourteen years. Her pro-restoration petition got 5,000 signatures in a few months, but without funding, her efforts stalled.
Sullivan said her first memory of the RAMOVA was seeing “Bambi” there at age four and described it as ”like walking into another world. You smelled the popcorn as soon as you walked in, and it was like you were entering into a playground.”
The RAMOVA was intended as a larger version of the MUSIC BOX Theatre some miles to the northeast, and was owned by a Lithuanian family who named it using a word for “peaceful place.” The city of Chicago acquired the RAMOVA in 2001 and advertised for a developer while spending $364,000 in masonry, roof and drainage repairs. Ald. Thompson said many were nervous over the signs of deterioration over three decades, but Nevius approached him in 2017 with enthusiasm. Nevius started a development company, One Revival Chicago, specifically for the RAMOVA, which seeks to get the theatre and a neighboring vacant lot from the city for $1 and $6.6 million in tax-incremental financing (TIF) assistance for the redevelopment. Nevius says he’s been negotiating with the city on staying on the project for at least ten years, or else the TIF funds would be repaid to the city. The plan goes before the Community Development Commission as early as December 10, then needs to be approved by the Plan Commission for zoning changes and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (the terra cotta exterior of the theater could be considered a landmark), before it goes before the City Council for final approval.
In July of 1970, Urban Renewal purchased the Marlow Theatre from Paul Holenstein’s Diversified Realty, Inc. of Butte for $97,900. Diversified Realty was formed in 1963 as a consequence of the bankruptcy and reorganization of Holenstein’s Prudential Diversified Services. Holenstein had numerous interests in Montana, and operated the Placer Hotel in Helena 1961-1965. He died in 1974.
Feb 21, 2006:
Less than a year into its reincarnation, the Rocket Theater in downtown Rock Island will fall dark again, a victim of growing competition in the independent film market.
However, Rocket owner and operator Devin Hansen said a couple of as-yet-unnamed parties are interested in reopening the venue once again as a dinner-beverage-and-movie theater.
“I believe we were instrumental in ushering in the commercial independent film market, along with the help of the hundreds of independent film lovers in the area,” Hansen said in a news release Monday. “With the increased competition from the new cinemas in Moline, independent films have become a hot commodity.”
The type of films shown at the Rocket — and Hansen’s former theater business venture, Brew & View, which closed in August — began to be shown at Showcase Cinemas 53 in Davenport and Great Escape Theatre, Moline, taking away much-needed business from the theater that operates on narrow margins.
“ ‘March of the Penguins’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ became big hits in multiplexes across the country,” he said. “Had we landed one of these films, our future may have been different.”
While the Rocket owners tried to diversify by showing some mainstream movies and booking local, regional and even some national music acts, it was too little, too late.
“We might have been able to survive as a music-only club had we not had so much debt from both movie theaters,” Hansen said. “Movies were always our main focus, our bread-and-butter, and that simply died.”
Hansen said moving from the smaller Brew & View on 2nd Avenue to the larger Rocket on 19th Street was not a contributing cause to going out of business.
“True, we carried over some debt from the small venue, but it was imperative to our survival to have this larger facility,” he said. “We needed a larger venue to carry us through the dry periods. Unfortunately, we ran out of money and credit before we could see how successful this new venue could be.”
Hansen did not give specifics on the potential new theater operators. He did say that they are not purchasing the business from him, but rather starting from scratch. He said one of the possible operators is a national dinner/movie chain with greater resources.
(Tory Brecht, Quad City Times, Davenport, IA)
Darkened theater lit by memories (Eileen Schoville, La Crosse Tribune, December 5, 1975)
SOLDIERS GROVE – The lights are out at the Electric Theater now, but for nearly 35 years they were a bright spot in this village. And more than one old-timer will tell you about the days when movies were a nickel and a dime — and before “talkies” came in. Not so many years ago, when going to town on Saturday night was almost as important as going to church on Sunday, the Electric Theater was the gathering place for kids, while their folks bought up supplies and caught up with the latest news as they visited curbside with friends. The Electric Theater and its equipment is still owned by Bertha Larson, who operated it for 20 years with her husband, Art, and before that for her brother, Mike Young. The theater is now idle. Movie fare in the old days consisted of a newsreel, cartoon, a rundown of coming attractions, a serial, and then the feature. The first show started at 7 p.m. and the last show finished about 1 a.m. Bertha remembers that “running a movie theater meant a lot of hard work, and still does, if you want to make a go of it.” A typical week’s fare in the 1940s is shown in an old clipping from the Kickapoo Scout, the village weekly newspaper: Showing Friday. Saturday and Sunday — “Salty O’Rourke” featuring Alan Ladd, Bruce Cabot, Gail Russell, Stanley Clements and Spring Byington. Tuesday and Wednesday — William Bendix and Joan Blondell in “Don Juan Quilligan.” Coming attractions: “Song of Bernadette” — “Diamond Horseshoe’’ — “Nob Hill” “Coulee Chanticleer”. A column by Ray Peacock which appeared in the Tribune pages back in 1939 had this to say: “Mike’s theater, the Electric, is following the practice of many theaters in going in for bank nights.” The jackpot, when we were in town, was $85, having climbed $10 each bank night from a modest $15 start. They have to arrange the theatergoers in layers …” Another Tribune writer got this laugh out of Mike and his Electric Theater: “Speaking of lazy people, take Mike Young of Soldiers Grove, for instance. Mike, who is in his early 30s, is manager of the Soldiers Grove theater, promotes various night sports, operates the Grove team in the Kickapoo-Wisconsin baseball league, and owns and operates Dancehaven. “Puzzled to find a theater manager who also promotes conflicting night spots, we were told that Mike removes the conflict by darkening the lights of the theater the night he turns on the lights of the arena. We didn’t ask but wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that Dancehaven doesn’t open until the theater lets out.” And there’s another story about a picture salesman who called on Mike. Mike was asking for the kind of films his clientele liked and said, “We want some good westerns with a lot of shooting.” “But how about “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”? the salesman suggested. “Aw, hell no, they don’t go for football pictures here.” said the theater boss. “We want westerns.” Emil Asperheim, who grew up in Soldiers Grove, remembers the silent movie days when he used to go to the “flickers” at the first movie house in town, opened by Otto Bell in 1914. That was the beginning of movies in Soldiers Grove, but it was Clarence Erickson who opened the first Electric Theater after coming home from service in World War I. The Electric Theater has been opened twice since 1966, when the Larsons closed it. A youth group tried running it for a year or so. but heating costs, mechanical problems and competition from TV discouraged the group. Later it was opened on a part-time basis, but going to the movies just wasn’t like it used to be and so the lights are out again.
The Grant County Historical Society.
There’s a meeting on the RAMOVA Theatre set for Tuesday, November 19th, 2019 at 6pm CST in the Nativity of Our Lord Church basement, as per 11th Ward Ald. Patrick D. Thompson. A developer has expressed interest in the property for entertainment purposes. Anyone wishing to comment and/or who cannot attend may email Ald. Thompson at
Doug Peterson: “I operated the old Simplex projectors at the Electric Theater in the Grove for almost four years. At one point Art Larson tried running movies four nights a week, but because of TV it was a losing proposition, so we went back to Sat and Sun only.”
Robert Shedd: “I was one of the last to run them. Joe Leary taught me.”
Doug Peterson: “They lasted longer than the processed film that ran through them. I have many stories about how Art and I kept them running with baling wire and paper clips.”
Robert Shedd: “At the last when the theater was being run by a CAP youth group, the leader found a guy who worked as a mechanic for a theater supply place in Milwaukee. He had a pair of them in his collection, since he didn’t care if they worked or not he would swap us parts (for a price). According to him they were the oldest working projectors in the U.S. and maybe in North America, he wasn’t sure about Mexico.”
Betty Mindham: “I remember so many full houses there.”
The 15-day 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival Oct. 17-31 drew a record 87,618, up 12% over 2018. This year, the festival also expanded to the Rivoli Theatre and the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee … eight screens across six venues, the largest footprint in its history. The Oriental Theatre remains the anchor venue. Audiences voted at each screening to determine the three awards. “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” received the Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award for Best Feature; “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” won honors and a $2,500 prize for the Women in Film Audience Award; and “Tree #3” received the Selig Audience Award for Best Short.
The 15-day 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival Oct. 17-31 drew a record 87,618, up 12% over 2018. This year, the festival also expanded to the Rivoli Theatre in Cedarburg and the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee … eight screens across six venues, the largest footprint in its history. The Oriental Theatre remains the anchor venue. Audiences voted at each screening to determine the three awards. “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” received the Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award for Best Feature; “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” won honors and a $2,500 prize for the Women in Film Audience Award; and “Tree #3” received the Selig Audience Award for Best Short.
The original name and spellings: “Keno Family Drive-In Theatre”.
Plans to try to save the historic facade of the Fox Theater died this week. The group “CREATE Portage County” announced in a joint statement from Greg Wright, executive director, and Bill Schierl, board president and founder, that the entire Fox Theater will come down, abandoning plans to save and remodel portions of the historic building for its IDEA Center. “The razing of the building appears inevitable at this point,” the statement reads. Wright said in a interview with the Stevens Point Journal that the theater could come down in the coming months as a part of a July raze order. How the razing will play out is up in the air because the group needs to discuss who will pay for it, who will retain control of the property and what happens to the $250,000 in funding the city agreed to, Wright said. The group secured $250,000 from the city through tax increment funding in early September. Thursday’s announcement might end the $250,000 agreement, he said. Stevens Point Building Inspection Superintendent DJ Schneider said in an interview that Thursday’s announcement came as a surprise and creates confusion on who will take charge in leveling the theater.
Stevens Point issued a 90-day raze order for the Fox in July because of “health and safety concerns”. The order gave CREATE until late-October to address those issues and raise funds for the project. Issues with the building’s safety included failing trusses, a sagging roof and ceiling, and water leaking into the building. Schneider requested in a memo sent to CREATE on Thursday that the group provide the name of the contractor, a contract and a timeline for the teardown. Winter is approaching fast and determining who will take charge of the teardown needs to happen soon, he said. “I need to know if they aren’t going to do anything because the city has to step in and make it safe for the winter,” Schneider said in an interview. “I need time to get contractors and engineers lined up too if they’re just going to walk away from this thing.”
G.F. Andrae opened the theater on Sept. 19, 1894, as the Grand Opera House, which once featured a 23-year-old Harry Houdini in 1897 before he was a household name. The theater went through several openings and closing throughout its life. It reopened in 1929 as the Fox Theater. City officials battled with the theater’s owners from the 1970s until 1985 over where to build its now-demolished mall, which included part of the theater. The city won the right to tear off 40 feet from back of the theater, which closed permanently April 25, 1986.
Efforts to revive the Fox in the ensuing years failed. CREATE’s final plan to save the theater began April 1 when it launched a $3.5 million campaign to move its IDEA Center inside the salvaged Fox. The center started in 2016 to increase support for local entrepreneurship and innovation.
If the city demolishes the Fox, the city will assess the cost on the property’s tax bill.
“There wasn’t time to consider this strategy. It became clear that the raze order was forcing decisions that would affect the long-term success of the project and asking us to rush a process that requires informed decision-making. We couldn’t move forward in that way,” CREATE’s statement reads. Interviews with Wright and Schneider indicated a breakdown in communication and confusion on the expectations of deadlines and progress updates between CREATE and the city. Wright said they came back to the city with a change in plans for preserving parts of the Fox last week after working with the group’s architect and structural firms. The plans differed from what the city council based its approval of the $250,000 in funding. CREATE’s architect and structural engineer came back and said to gut the theater and keep the back half of the building up, including the roof. The city agreed to provide the funds on the condition CREATE tore down the back two-thirds of the Fox Theater. Wright said he was frustrated when the architect came back with those plans but tried to work with the city. The city informed CREATE it would need to appear before the city council again, Wright said, because of the change in plans. He said the also the city then gave him until Dec. 15 to secure the building ahead of winter. Schneider said the Dec. 15 deadline was set prior to CREATE coming back to the city. Wright said contractors the group spoke with said the Dec. 15 deadline wasn’t feasible. He said the earliest they could do was the first quarter of 2020.
“That Dec. 15 deadline is something our contractors cannot meet,” he said.
Wright said CREATE is circling back to consult with donors about the plans to abandon the Fox Theater. He said they would provide donors refunds if they no longer wish to support the project for the IDEA Center’s move.
“We are hearing from donors that, with rare exception, they are not investing in an iconic facade,” Wright and Schierl said in a statement. Mayor Mike Wiza said in a Thursday statement after CREATE’s announcement that the city could only wait so long on plans to fix the historic theater. “Deteriorating buildings can only wait for so long while various plans are developed and discussed.” The city remains open to discussing any 11th hour plans to save the building, Wiza said.
The theatre will be renamed the Milwaukee Symphony Center. The orchestra raised another $4 million over the past two months toward the $139 million campaign goal for its Warner Grand Theatre restoration project. The MSO today announced the campaign has brought in over $120 million to fund the project. Now, the MSO is beginning the final phase as it seeks to raise the last $19 million. Lead donations have come from Donna and Donald Baumgartner, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Murph and John Burke, Bobbi and Jim Caraway, Franklyn and Barbara Esenberg, Herzfeld Foundation, George and Donna Kaiser, The Estate of Jane Kaiser, Donald and JoAnne Krause, Billie Kubly, Arthur and Nancy Laskin, Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, The Marcus Corp., The Marcus Corp. Foundation, Mary Vandenberg and Keith Mardak, Rite-Hite Foundation, Michael and Jeanne Schmitz, Bud and Sue Selig, The Estate of Barbara Abert Tooman, David and Julia Uihlein and We Energies Foundation. Work is on schedule, with completion expected for September 2020. The initial $120 million fundraising goal was later raised to $139 million to include the cost of renovating the office tower. The campaign funds will also build up the organization’s endowment. Donors can sponsor a seat for gifts of $2,500 to $10,000 for 15-year naming rights.
Tonight marks the grand reopening of Eau Claire’s historic STATE Theatre, and while the doors are opening again, the shows won’t look quite the same as they did nearly 100 years ago. The STATE Theatre has stood in downtown Eau Claire since 1926, but last year it appeared to have its last curtain call. The property was purchased earlier this year, and since then renovations have been underway. “When we re-opened the building, I knew that I wanted it to be called the State Theatre and Community Center,” said Joe Luginbill, the CEO of the State Theatre and Community Center. “This isn’t just serving as a venue space for events; that’s one part of it, but it will also be a hub for non-profit activity.”
Luginbill said there’s a lot in store for the STATE. “All sorts of different kinds of fundraisers, whether different kinds of film screening with panels, or perhaps musical acts and concerts, or maybe even just having a reception and having some events here in the foyer in the lobby,” Luginbill said. “There are so many different things you can do with a space like this.”
Luginbill said they’ve already spent five figures working to update the nearly century-old historic site. He said they plan to continue to put time and money in it because he said the site is worth it.
“A place as special as this that has memories like that for so many of us really needs to be kept alive in some way,” Luginbill said. “It’s not only a really special part of childhood but now it’s a special part of my adulthood too, and I’m really excited for the rest of the community to feel that too.”
On this Grand Reopening night there’s an open house from 5 to 8:30 with pop-up shops, local music, and a film.
Tom McEvilly, the new CEO at the Al. Ringling Theatre, wants to involve the Baraboo community with new programs and shows. “These theaters don’t exist anymore, they’re made into parking lots, they’re made into multiplexes or they’re like antique malls,” said McEvilly. “I’m really glad that this community was wise enough and dedicated enough and passionate enough to save it.”
He plans to introduce youth theater classes including orientation and acting courses taught by theater professionals, and students will perform two shows a year. McEvilly says he plans to teach a couple of classes as well.
“You need to create that beginning base where they appreciate what we have, and they want to have the same passion to keep this place alive,” said McEvilly. “In our theater here, we have the high school and our parochial schools and our dance studios from the area that come and perform here. And when they come and have that opportunity here, they carry that love for this place throughout their entire lives.”
McEvilly looks forward to bringing many shows to the theater in the coming year, including live music performances, dance companies and comedic events that all generations can enjoy.
Al. Ringling Theater Board President Aural Umhoefer said McEvilly’s theater experience will help secure the future of the historic playhouse. “He’s very experienced, so he’s very good to work with, he knows how to manage all aspects of a theater, which will benefit the Al. in the future.”
Throughout October, the theater will host a variety of live events, with Pink Droyd, a Pink Floyd cover band performing Saturday, and Charlie Berenes from Manitowoc Minute on Oct. 26. At the end of October and beginning of November, a theater guild that has performed in the theater for almost 60 years will be perform the musical “Pippin.” The theater also will host comedic acts such as VODville, a group of Hollywood actors to recreate original slapstick comedy similar to the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin. The theater also will present an original version of “Saturday Night Live” with local actors in the comedic sketches.
McEvilly said theater has directed theater productions in Madison, Chicago and Germany, and written three musicals. Until recently he was a theater and communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County. He also served as the youth theater director at Portage Center for the Arts from 2015 to 2017 and holds six degrees from UW-Madison, including a doctorate in education administration with a focus in fine arts administration and fundraising. He also worked as a teacher of theater with gifted and special needs students.
A group of about 40 Libertyville residents attended a Historic Preservation Commission meeting Monday to voice their dismay over a proposal to demolish the Liberty Theatre. Three spoke in favor of keeping the building, either as a theatre or a different type of entertainment venue.
The commission decided to table a vote on whether to approve a demolition request made by the owners of the theatre, the Libertyville Review reports. The public hearing came a month after the Rhyan family announced its plans to demolish the theatre. The Rhyan family has owned the downtown Libertyville building for more than 50 years. In recent years the theater has been operated by Scott Dehn, who hasn’t been able to earn enough revenue to pay for rent — even after rent had been reduced three times — and ongoing repairs are needed on the building.
The demolition request is the first being considered by the village since a moratorium on the razing of downtown buildings was lifted in April 2018.
The owners of the theatre said they are looking for interested buyers while pursuing its demolition request. Village officials have said they would like to see the building preserved — even if the building is used for something other than a theatre.
The Historic Preservation Commission plans to meet again on Oct. 28 to discuss the demolition request. The village board will have the final say on whether to demolish the theatre.
October 25, 1941.
e Stevens Point City Council on Tuesday voted to contribute up to $250,000 to a nonprofit group’s efforts to renovate and repurpose the FOX Theatre. The efforts had been in peril after a city inspector in July gave owners 90 days to address structural issues with the building or see it demolished.
“This will allow us to go in and actually fix the problems that exist with the structure currently so that the building is prepared for development and can be used successfully in the future,” said Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE Portage County.
Wright said the group will use the infusion of city cash to address the immediate needs, which will allow the group to raise the remainder of a $3.5 million capital campaign. CREATE has raised about $1 million for the project.
In April, CREATE announced plans to turn the vacant theater into the home of its IDEA Center, a community hub that serves as a coworking space, a business incubator and a place for arts and community groups to meet.
The IDEA Center is about three years old, and Wright said it has launched some 50 new businesses and served as a home for groups of wood carvers, jewelry makers, fabric artists, video producers and more. About 200 people use the IDEA Center each month. It’s housed in a temporary space in Stevens Point owned by the county; the renovated Fox Theater would be its permanent home.
Dozens of community members, including those who’ve been involved in IDEA Center projects, spoke in support of the project at a city committee meeting and at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Wright said it was “humbling” to see a “diverse age group, racial group and interest group of people come together and say, ‘This is supporting us.’” The city’s financial backing will allow the group to move forward immediately with the first phase of the construction project, Wright said, and to address inspectors’ concerns. The fundraising campaign to complete the full project will continue.
“Our thing has always been, we wanted that money to be a long-term investment and not a short-term investment,” Wright said. “We wanted to make sure when we went to address the building, we addressed it in a way that positioned it well for construction in the future.”
The Wisconsin Historical Society lists the architect as H. H. Bruns.
A shimmy for the ages: how a burlesque dance rankled MilwaukeeBy Pete Ehrmann
Though tame by current standards, a shimmy dance performed on a downtown stage 86 years ago was considered “shocking, suggestive, immoral, indecent and highly improper” by the cop that arrested Mary Karras for doing it.
When a judge disagreed and dismissed the charges, outraged Mayor Daniel Hoan warned Milwaukeeans to “resign themselves to nakedness and debauchery in public places.” The one-day trial of the 20-year-old Karras in 1927 is now just a quaint, dusty footnote in the legal and cultural history of Milwaukee.
According to Mayor Hoan, citizen complaints about shocking goings-on at the city’s two best-known burlesque palaces impelled him to dispatch police to the Gayety Theater on 3rd Street and West Wisconsin Avenue, and the Empress Theater on nearby West Water Street (now North Plankinton Avenue) on the night of Feb. 24.
Arrested after their performances were Karras, on the Gayety bill as “RedHeaded Mitzi,” and, at the Empress, Catherine Wasauskas,aka “Hinda Wausau.” Also taken into custody were their stage costumes, which in Mitzi’s case consisted of “a red breastband, a flaming red loincloth and a few tassels, and a red shawl,” all apparently worn over a white leotard or oversized bloomers.
For the March 11 trial of Ms. Karras the courtroom of District Judge A.J. Hedding bulged with “church women, society women, actresses, police, attorneys, pastors and representatives of a dozen agencies on various sides of the theater reform question,” reported The Sentinel. Hinda Wausau, whose separate trial was scheduled for a week later, was also there.
Unfortunately for the prosecution, so was defense attorney William B. Rubin, ardent champion of labor unions and left wing causes, foe of censorship, passionate and glib like his friend Clarence Darrow – and, as noted by The Sentinel upon his death in 1959, “an impish critic, a needler at all times [who] let the air out of many a stuffed shirt in his day.”
(“The biggest thing in my life is that I have loved my fellow man,” proclaimed Rubin at a 1954 testimonial dinner tendered him. “I could see virtue in every client – and the bigger the fee the greater the virtue.”)
Atty. Rubin called 22 witnesses who had been in the Gayety audience for Red-Headed Mitzi’s three-minute performance. Among them were Deputy State Fire Marshal Conrad Asmuth; Civil Court Clerk E.J. Hertwig; Cy Rice, reporter for The Milwaukee Journal, several married couples and women. None of them found anything objectionable about it. “She had tights on all the time, anyhow,” groused one male witness.
The sole witness called by Assistant City Attorney Andrew Brunhardt was the policewoman who’d arrested Karras/Mitzi. Helen Lemmon testified that her brazen costume and her shimmy dance constituted immorality of the highest order and a threat to the “best interests of the community,” especially its impressionable and vulnerable youth.
The first thing Atty. Rubin did on cross-examination was call for Mrs. Lemmon to demonstrate the “wiggles and squeals” that had offended her so. The intrepid policewoman stood up to give it a shot, but Judge Hedding told her to forget it unless her imitation of Mitzi’s gyrations was spot-on. So Mrs. Lemmon described what she’d seen instead:
“She strutted back and forth and wiggled in a suggestive manner. She shook the lower part of her body and made little squealing noises. She unloosed (sic) certain parts of her scanty costume to suggest that she was going to let it drop to the floor.”
Did Mrs. Lemmon believe that “the body of a woman was the most beautiful thing in the world as glorified by artists and sculptors?” asked Rubin. “When exhibited in the proper surroundings,” she said.
“Do you consider the Bible immoral, remembering that it contains stories like the one about Lot and his daughter?”
“No, because I think the Bible is a book that teaches morals,” answered Mrs. Lemmon.
“Your own skirts are shorter than you wore them 10 or 20 years ago, aren’t they?” asked Rubin.
Mrs. Lemmon acknowledged that was so, though she was always careful not to expose her knees.
“She was asked if she thought there is anything immoral about the relations of married people,” reported The Sentinel, “and replied that the stage is no place for it to be suggested. ‘Oh, so sex without the canopy of a minister or a marriage license is immoral,’ observed the attorney.”
When she said she was “too busy” to attend many shows and that her standards concerning what was proper were “principally based upon opinions formed in the past,” Rubin tsked, “You’re a little bit behind the times, Mrs. Lemmon.”
He was even more cutting in his summation: “It is about time the living living escape the persecution of the living dead.”
Judge Hedding agreed, though he couched it differently. “I must be guided solely by the evidence in the case, not by my personal views,” he said. “If I decided that the defendant was guilty, I would be doing so on the testimony of one witness, whereas 22 witnesses have stated that they saw nothing offensive about the dance. Upon the facts I must find the young lady not guilty.”
“Applause and cheers greeted the decision,” reported The Journal, “and many spectators rushed forward to congratulate the youthful defendant, a quiet, mild looking girl, simply dressed, and devoid of any materials from the makeup box.”
At 10:45 that night, a much different looking Mary Karras danced on stage at the Gayety and triumphantly sang, “My name is Mitzi Brown, I’m the hottest girl in town!” After her three minutes were up, she took off for a new engagement in Cincinnati.
When he stopped hyperventilating about Hedding’s verdict, Mayor Hoan remembered that each July he had the sole power to grant or deny every city theater’s application for a license renewal.
“…Burlesque theaters will commit such offenses of indecency at their own peril,” he warned. “I want them to take this as a final notice that any acts which suggest indecency of the type that is unprintable and of which they have full knowledge are likely to have considerable influence on my actions in determining whether a renewal of a license will be granted.”
The message came through loud and clear. At Hinda Wausau’s trial on April 9, the only witnesses were Policewoman Emma Meyer, who said the defendant’s dance was an affront to decency, and Empress Theater co-owner Henry Goldenberg, who said he’d warned Wausau beforehand to tone it down.
Judge Hedding pronounced her guilty and fined her $50.
Those inclined to take this as proof there is no justice will be happy to know that while Red-Headed Mitzi danced off into oblivion, Hinda Wausau went on to fame as one of burlesque’s all-time greats and the inventor of the pole dance.
(January 2nd, 2018, by Lisa Holewa)
It is Small Business Saturday, and South Milwaukee’s downtown looks ready: holiday lights are strung from light posts on either side of the charming brick street, lined with storefronts dating back to the 1920s.
South Milwaukee is, not surprisingly, a city south of Milwaukee, about 10 miles from downtown. Just five square miles in size and with roughly 21,000 residents, South Milwaukee sits along the shores of Lake Michigan, east of the interstate linking Milwaukee to Chicago.
A movie made about South Milwaukee in the 1930s shows people streaming from the city’s Garden Theater, hats on men’s heads, women all in skirts, children neatly dressed, smiling and waving.
Today, that theater marquee still stands. It reads: Board Game Barrister, and no, that’s not the name of a movie.
It is a local retail chain owned by Gordon Lugauer, who has quickly stopped in at the South Milwaukee warehouse on the busiest shopping weekend of the year, as he makes his way among his other retail locations.
Board Game Barrister is a board game shop with three other locations in the Milwaukee area, two in thriving shopping malls and one along a retail corridor near a shopping mall. Those locations keep regular hours, of course. Games are displayed for people to touch, hold and examine. There are tables for people to play games, hold tournaments.
The South Milwaukee location, however, is not at all like the others. Among other things, it has irregular hours, and no board game tournaments. But that’s South Milwaukee, explains Lugauer. Lugauer’s family moved their carpet business, South Milwaukee Carpet and Vinyl, to the building when he was about three or four years old, in 1976. The family lived above the store. Next door, the once-thriving Garden Theater was by then operating as an arcade. One of the arcade games sparked a fire that destroyed the inside of the building. And so, the Lugauer’s carpet store took over the space, connecting the buildings and opening the former theater side as a warehouse.
Upstairs, the projection room of the theater became Lugauer’s bedroom, right behind the marquee. He and his brother played and invented board games together in that space above the family carpet store.
“That’s the romantic version,” Lugauer says, laughing. The other part of the story is that times were hard. The downtown that once had grocery stores and five-and-dimes and that movie theater now had just a handful of specialty stores. But in the late 1970s into the 1980s, that didn’t really seem to matter. Average middle class Midwestern families had cars and big box stores were only getting bigger. Who shopped local?
“The people in South Milwaukee stopped supporting local businesses 40 years ago,” Lugauer says. “An entire generation or more has grown up without shopping here. And that hasn’t changed.”
Lugauer’s father retired in 2014. At the time, he brought a friend, a commercial real estate agent, to the building. The friend looked around at the joined buildings, the additions, the alterations that spanned more than 100 years and a devastating fire. He said he couldn’t take the listing.
“And so I did what a good son would do so my parents could retire,” Lugauer says. He bought the building. And then he faced downtown South Milwaukee.
“I looked up and down the street and said: ‘What quality of tenant am I likely to be renting to? Oh man.’ And that’s how I became the tenant.”
Today, the former theater section serves as Board Game Barrister’s warehouse. The original carpet store serves as a small retail space displaying shelves of games rejected from the other stores, all at clearance prices.
“This is a masonry block shell with a roof,” he says. “I may want to do ‘x’ here, but the reality is different. And we have buildings like this all up and down Milwaukee Avenue.”
Lugauer does his best to keep reasonably regular hours. But this store is not where he earns his money. Instead, he says, its existence is more of a kindness to the city of South Milwaukee.
“It would really not be doing a justice to the city to have this boarded up,” he says. “So I keep it open as a retail space,” but he is not making even a tenth of what he first hoped for when he opened it.
Advocates of a plan to turn the FOX Theatre in downtown Stevens Point into a “maker space” are scrambling for more time in the wake of a surprise city order to demolish the building. Opened in 1894 as the Grand Opera House, the FOX has been vacant since the mid-1980s and the subject of planned renovation efforts that never quite launched. Greg Wright, executive director of the nonprofit CREATE Portage County, announced last April a $3.5 million plan to make the FOX into its “IDEA Center” … a business incubator and a meet-up place for arts and community groups. The nonprofit has raised nearly $1 million already.
But a city inspector in July issued a surprise order that unless CREATE can address structural concerns, the FOX will be demolished at the end of October. Wright said “We were surprised by the timing of the raze order given that we were actively in the process of the capital campaign when it came out. We are doing our best to both slow that process down and to raise as much money as quickly as we can because of that. It definitely was a hurdle we did not need.”
Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza, who’d told the Portage County Gazette that “safety is a huge concern right now” when the sudden order was first issued, didn’t immediately return requests for comments.
Wright said CREATE is exploring options for appeals, both locally and at the state level. The city’s Historic Preservation and Design Review Commission this month unanimously recommended that the city reverse its decision, but that recommendation is nonbinding … and they’re now trying to raise as much money as they can to save the FOX.
Still, Wright doesn’t seem to be a fan of restored theatres, saying “it’s commonly the case that they won’t work as self-sustaining businesses”, and “what we’re doing is the best way to honor the history of this building” he said. His IDEA Center project is about three years old and he said it has launched some 50 new businesses and served as a home for groups of wood carvers, jewelry makers, fabric artists, video producers and more with about 200 people using the IDEA Center each month in a temporary space owned by the county, an arrangement that won’t last forever. The new prospect of demolition of the FOX, he said, focused attention on those efforts and he hopes to use that to raise enough funding to keep his plans alive, though he admits concern that now “it’s shifted everyone’s attention to the building, and not the project. To read about his renovation plans, visit anewfox.com.