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The Esquire was built and owned by H&E Theaters, (the ‘H’ and ‘E’ being the two youngest brothers in the Balaban family.)
Throughout the fifties and into the sixties, H&E was a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. But the Esquire itself was not managed by Paramount; it was their only theater holding after the 1949 consent-decree split of the studio and United Paramount Theaters because Paramount had its regional sales and distribution office in the buidling.
The architect William Pereira did considerable work for Paramount, including an expansion of the Hollywood studio.
A little icing on the Warner/Grand frustration cake: refer to recent articles in the Journal Sentinel regarding the Pabst City project west of downtown. When Marcus signed an agreement to operate a ten-screen venue at Pabst City, a spokesman claimed that Marcus has been looking ‘for the past ten years’ for a way to re-enter the downtown Milwaukee movie market.
Marcus occupied the business floors of the Warner building for many years. In fact, when ‘film row’ along State Street vanished in the late fifties, most of the studios' sales and distribution offices serving the Milwaukee region gravitated to the Warner building – thus the handsome basement screening room Jim Rankin refers to above. As a sometime-guest of Marcus at screenings there I can attest that it was everything that movie-going in downtown Milwaukee in the sixties and seventies was not: comfortable, clean, a first-class surrounding – and, you could smoke!
Anyone interested in the design elements of the Warner might also look at the Portland (Oregon) Paramount, now the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This handsome house, which some guidebooks claim is the identical twin of the Milwaukee Warner, has been splendidly restored and adapted.
The Majestic was the Milwaukee home of B.F. Keith’s vaudeville circuit. Milwaukee was one of only a handful of cities in which the Keith’s chain overlapped with Martin Beck’s Orpheum circuit. The Milwaukee Orpheum (later the Fox Palace) stood three blocks west at Sixth and Grand. When Keith’s merged with Orpheum in 1926, having two houses only blocks apart was extravagant, but times were good.
Keith-Orpheum segued into RKO in 1928 and the emphasis changed from stage acts to films, thus the push to build movie-oriented houses like the Riverside. When the depression hit, RKO unloaded some of its older, stage-oriented houses. In Milwaukee, the Orpheum-Palace passed to Fox in 1931, and the Majestic closed soon afterward.
In all the comments to date no one has mentioned that the builder and first owner of the Oriental was Moses Annenberg. The former publisher of Hearst’s Wisconsin News, he and his family had moved to New York shortly before the Oriental’s opening in 1927. According to a recent biography of Moses’s son Walter (founder of TV Guide and Nixon’s ambassador to Britain) the Annenberg family continued to own the Oriental and other Milwaukee real estate until the late forties.
Maybe Jim Rankin or another Milwaukee moviegoer can confirm my memory, but I carry around the idea that the Peerless and the Milwaukee theater on Teutonia Avenue were taken over for a time in the early fifties by the Milwaukee branch of the Mirisch family.
What I’m recalling is that one of Walter Mirisch’s brothers, immensely proud of his success at Monogram/Allied Artists, took over these two theaters for a time and offered first-run showings of Walter’s films, many of them described by him years later as ‘B-plus’ pictures.
Assure me, someone, that I’m not making this up.
Like juliekoehn and others, this writer remembers many hours spent at the Paradise.
Due, I suppose, to the oddly configured lot, the entryway and lobby areas were somewhat cramped. As was true for many houses of the late twenties, every square foot of the building not given over to the theater itself was available for rent, and the triangular upper floor facing the junction of Greenfield and National Avenues was filled with professional offices. The siting of the Paradise in 1929 followed the Balaban & Katz template in that it was located at a major streetcar and interurban junction.
The Paradise was operated in the forties and early fifties by Fox Wisconsin, playing day-and-date with the Garfield, Uptown and Modjeska. Even though aged only ten or so, I remember being shocked at the cavalier disregard for the surroundings shown when Fox installed a CinemaScope screen in 1953.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has several photographs on its website of the Capitol/Oscar Mayer under construction in 1927, as well as other news and publicity photos from the 1930s.
The Blaine Theatre is half of Boscobel’s Blaine Community Building; the other portion is a gymnasium, also used for public events. The theater is operated by a contractor under a long-term lease. The Blaine was built in 1934-35, from a moderne-influenced design by Nerlinger and Durrant, with funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
Both parts of the buidling were named for Boscobel’s best-known resident, former Senator (and two-term governor) John J. Blaine, who had died in April 1934.