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As of Oct. 20, 2014, the demolition of the auditorium and stage of the Retlaw Theatre is nearly complete. Only the stage proscenium opening remains standing, and this will come down soon.
Demolition of the main auditorium of the Retlaw Theater began Sept. 25, 2014 when the contractor tore a hole in the back wall of the building near where the projection booth had been located. As of Sept. 27, most of the building’s rear wall is gone from the roof down to ground level. The crew is working from the back of the building towards the stage. There are some photos posted to Facebook by the Friends of the Retlaw group:
Link to Facebook
Commonwealth Development Corp. has begun a partial demolition of the Retlaw Theater building. First to go was Theater Five that was added to the building in the 1980s, along with another “modern” auditorium, as part of a modernization. When demolition is completed, both “add-on” theaters and the main auditorium will be gone. The lobby facade and retail and office space that was part of the original Rapp & Rapp structure will remain and be converted into offices for Commonwealth and market rate apartments. The Reporter (local newspaper) has posted videos of the first two days of demo work:
Day one video 9/2/2014
Day two video 9/3/2014
Commonwealth Development of Fond du Lac, Wis., has closed on their purchase of the Retlaw Theatre property. The company plans to remodel the lobby of the former theater, along with existing ground-floor retail space, to be the company’s headquarters. Luxury market rate apartments are slated for the second floor office space of the commercial building attached to the theater, and the third floor dance studio will possibly remain under terms of an existing lease. The 89-year-old theater’s auditorium will be demolished to create parking and allow for east-facing windows in some of the apartments. Link to story
The Friends of the Retlaw Theatre group also have a Facebook page
and a fund-raising website.
The group that is fighting to save Fond du Lac’s Retlaw Theatre has fielded a new website to support their cause:
The photo album on the site shows interior photographs of this theater as it looks today.
Photo of Retlaw lobby in 1939.
Commonwealth Development has an option to purchase the property, has been approved for a state grant for part of the cost of their project, and has permission from the city to demolish the auditorium to make way for a parking lot. They expect to close on the purchase within 30 days.
A citizen group is trying to “save the Retlaw” from demolition:
The Tomah (Tee Pee Supper Club) is located some distance away (several blocks) from the site of the Irwin on Superior Ave.
I posted some photos of the Retlaw from the early 1960s: http://webpages.charter.net/nlenburg/retlaw/
The Retlaw property is currently for sale:
My father told me stories of both watching films at the Victory Theatre as well as working there as a boy. He changed piano rolls in the days of silent films (a fast-paced job), posted “bills” for the shows and also collected tickets from balcony patrons (he got to watch the movies). Later he sold tickets, a job he didn’t care for because he didn’t get to see the films. His family operated a bakery across the street from the show house that was called City Bakery. My Dad died in Wisconsin in 1996 at the age of 91.
Here’s a link to another story about the fire at the Abby: http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20120305/GPG0101/203050494/1-firefighter-dead-4-injured-fighting-theater-fire-Abbotsford?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CGPG-News%7Cs
The sign in the postcard view mentioned above is possibly pointing to the Crescent Opera House that was located on the southwest corner of Second and Marr Sts. in the city of Fond du Lac. The opera house later became the Crescent Auto & Machine Company and burned in a 1908 fire. The Fond du Lac Theatre opened later, in November of 1925, at a totally different site about four blocks further north from the location shown in the photo.
I can tell you the Retlaw NEVER had a balcony. At the time it was built, one of its claims to fame was that it was the largest single-floor theater in Wisconsin (around 1140 seats). The benefits of a single-floored auditorium were excellent sight lines and lower construction costs. The down-side was higher cost for land because the auditorium occupied more space per seat. All in all, it was a pretty house, but not very ornate along the side and back walls. The proscenium arch, faux-boxes fronting the organ chambers, and the ceiling were quite attractive. All of this ornamentation survives to this day, but I do not have any photos to show it.
Here’s a link to contemporary photos of the Retlaw Theater’s exterior: http://webpages.charter.net/nlenburg/retlaw/
The building has a new owner. Chuck Boyd wants to restore the theater, but I don’t know what kind of progress he has made or what his timeline might be. He now refers to it by it’s original name: Retlaw,“ rather than Bravo Performing Arts Center. Nothing has changed in the signage, as the name above the canopy is "Fusion,” the name of the restaurant inside. I do not live in Fond du Lac and haven’t been inside the building for five years or more. I will be going to the city sometime in May, and will try to visit the theater.
Here’s a link to the restaurant web site:
Here’s a link to a story that appeared last fall regarding a commemorative holiday ornamant featuring the Retlaw:
A photo of the theater from late 1956 or early 1957 is included with the ornamnet design superimposed. The windows seen above the canopy were covered over sometime after the photo was taken in a remodel and remain covered today. There is a brief reference at the end of the “Retlaw Theater memories” article to Mr. Boyd and his plans for the theater.
Here’s a link to an early post card view of the Retlaw Theater:
I have two Motiograph 35mm carbon arc projectors with pedestals that were part of Frank Llyod Wright’s Taliesin East near Spring Green, Wis. I have them in heated storage for the last 10-½ years, and have to let them go. Norm Lenburg (