RKO Main Street Theatre

200 Main Street,
Racine, WI 53403

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A handsome theatre with a corner entrance and a number of box seats circling the auditorium. It was located on the northwest corner of State and Main Streets in Racine. The Orpheum Theatre opened in April 1912, it was home to the Racine Theater Guild between its regular film programs.

After it was closed in 1954, the local newspaper reported “wild vandalism” within (things like loosened radiators, discharged fire extinguishers and broken plaster which probably looked worse than what it really was), and despite a few pleas to rethink the situation, the pro-demolition momentum won out and the still-solid RKO Main Street Theatre was flattened in 1959.

The local paper made light of the event by showing the wrecking process along with a still-attached sign below the rounded marquee reading “Smashing Adventure”.

Contributed by Louis Rugani

Recent comments (view all 25 comments)

LouisRugani on February 9, 2010 at 7:12 pm

(April 30, 1912; Racine Journal-News)
Orpheum Opening Grand Success; Society Patrons of New Theatre; First Bill Presages Future Treats

Brilliantly illuminated, decorated with American beauties and other flowers, a magnificent audience and a program of the highest vaudeville merit marked the opening of the new Orpheum theatre in the Bate block last night.

It is one of the most modern and up-to-date play houses of similar character in the United States.

Descriptions of the place have not been exaggerated, in fact only in part presented. Before the opening hour, 8 o'clock, automobiles and other conveyances deposited scores of people at the entrance, while hundreds of others were on hand.

Reaching the lobby, expressions of surprise were heard, still more was this surprise in evidence when the foyer was reached, both elaborately decorated and luxuriously furnished. But it was in the body of the house that the astonishment broke loose. No one had anticipated anything nearly as beautiful. There were the thirteen mezzanine boxes directly to the east and over the rear of the auditorium proper, finished in ivory and decorations of old rose, each box seating from five to eight people.

Lower Floor Roomy

On the lower floor are the 570 seats, roomy and comfortable, concrete floors covered with carpets, delicately tinted ceilings, chandeliers with forty lights and other features.

Then there is the balcony with nearly 500 seats and so arranged that every part of the house can be seen, and in connection is the family circle. Here the furnishings are in keeping with the balance of the house. There are reception and cloak rooms, in fact everything convenient.

There are fifteen fire exits and the force employed at the house have been drilled to efficiency in case of fire. It is fire proof. The stage is large, the curtains fire proof, but at the same time beautiful and attractive. Under the stage are rooms for the help, actors, etc. A complete description of the house has been given before.

The unanimous vote of the fifteen hundred persons in the audience was: “A grand house; one for the working people to attend and enjoy, attractions warranted to equal any on the vaudeville stage of the larger cities, and convenience assured in all respects. A house for the masses and to be depended upon.”

All Are Pleased

John Bate, owner and builder of the block and theatre; Allardt Bros, and Martin J. Gillen, lessees of the theatre; George Hoffman and company, of South Bend, builders; George Rapp architect of the building; J. D. Hogan, superintendent of construction; representatives of Mandel Bros., decorators, were all there and were delighted with the reception tendered the house by the people of Racine.

Many of the leading theatrical men of the country were also in the audience, among those noticed being: Martin Beck, general manager of the Orpheum circuit and president of the Western Vaudeville association; C. F. Allardt, C. J. Allardt, general managers of the Allardt circuit; C. E. Bray, general manager of the Vaudeville Managers' association; Bert M. Cortelyou, booking agent; J. C. Elias, Frank Thielen, Coney Holmes, W. E. Butterfield, Karl Hoblitzelle, Marcus Heiman, Sam Kahl and others. These men stated that in all of the opera houses they had seen opened, never before did the audience equal the one here.

Society In Boxes

In the mezzanine boxes were observed the following leading amusement loving people of the city: Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Wallis, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Wallis, Miss Lydia Wallis and Mr. Charles McIntosh, Milwaukee.
Mr. and Mrs. R.T. Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Robinson, Mrs. Judson and Miss Eleanor Shoenberger.
Mr and Mrs. Frank J. Miller, Mr. and Mrs. H. C. Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and family, Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Brannum.
Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Johnson and family, Mr. and Mrs. Warren J. Davis and family.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank K. Bull, Mrs. John Reid, Miss Juliette Richards, Stephen Bull, II, Emery Jones.
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Simonson, Mrs. Andrew Simonson; Miss Bessie Freeman, Percy Bowerman.
Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Horlick, Mr. and Mrs. James V. Rohan, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Armstrong, Miss Dorothy Armstrong.
Mr. and Mrs. H. F. Johnson and family, Mr. and Mrs. James Cowling and family, and others.
Mrs. P. S. Fuller and daughters, Malcolm Erskine and William Mixer.
Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Crooks, of California, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Case, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Case.
Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Bray, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Butterfield, Mr. and Mrs. E. O. Childs, Mrs. Charles Allardt, Mrs. E. B. Sherman, Mr. and Mrs. Frye, Mrs. Wm. Smal, Mrs. Charles York, Mrs. E. Strayer, Mrs. G. Forest, George Rapp, Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Shane, Mrs. W. W. Pepple, Mrs. Burdick, Miss Berlinger, Mrs. T. D. Foster, Mrs. Kayle, Mr. Rothchild and Miss Simon, all of Chicago.
Mrs. Ida N. Elliott, Miss Ruth Elliott, Miss Kathleen Elliott, Roscoe Guilbert, Paul Blackburn, Fred Hueffner.
Arthur Friedman,.Mr,.and .Mrs. Sol Grollman and daughter, Miss Louisa Feiker, Miss Basch and L. A. Sachs.

The Program Pleases

The program was one of the best along the lines of vaudeville ever given in a theatre here. A feature was the orchestra, under the leadership of Ollie M. Cotton, considered one of the most proficient leaders in the middle west. Among the selections rendered were: “The Band Came Back,” “Il Trovatore,” “The Siren,” “Miss Dudelsack,” “Everybody Two-Step.”

Bailey’s posing dogs excelled anything that could be imagined. It would seem almost impossible to train three dogs to perform in such a remarkable manner, especially in the tableaux, when one would declare that the animals were carved of stone. Not even a muscle or move of the head could be detected.

Lydell and Butterworth, the “Little Brown Lady,” and “Funny Dancer,” gave an exhibition of comedy in every sense of the word. Lydell is a past master, and Miss Butterworth is grace and perfection itself. The gowns of Miss Butterworth were attractive.

Clever Change Artists

Arturo Bernardi sustained his reputation as being one of the cleverest quick change artists in the world. His work was marvelous and the vast audience could not believe it was possible for one individual to make the lightning changes from one character to another and would have wagered there were two artists instead of one. He gave a twenty minute drama and during the presentation impersonated twenty different characters, ranging from a comedy waiter to an adventuress. The first was Gerolamo’s Escapade, in which he appeared as waiter, countryman, his wife, a wandering showman, a coquette, Prof. Baccillo, a soubrette, an official. Then he impersonated the following well known composers: Wagner. Gounod, Mascagni, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Sousa and all seemed perfect. “The Surprise.” a comedietta in one act, brought forth the
following characters: a police officer, his wife, a student, deaf old student. Here is where Bernardi showed the audience how he made his marvelous changes, exposing his methods in a novel and interesting manner.

Is Clever Monologist

Murray K. Hill was about as clever and entertaining a monologist seen in this city for years. His work right up to date and kept the people in good humor and a roar of laughter.

Hermine Shone and company in the farcical fantasy, “The Little Goddess,” was well put on the characters being well interpreted. Venus, The Little Goddess, was Miss Hermine Shone; Bob Hammond, Mr. John Sterling; Molly Hammond, Miss Adelle Alcot; Mrs. Wagstaff, Bob’s Mother-in-law; Mrs. Rose Davis, Dick Smith, Will Gaylor; Mephistopholes, George Fisher.
Encores were in evidence.
Manager Andress was more than pleased with the crowd and program. He has a corps of polite and affable attendants who will endeavor to take care of the patrons of the house in pleasing manner.
The moving pictures are clean and of the very latest that the films can produce.
Below is the staff of the new Orpheum:
Managerâ€"H. C. Andress.
Treasurerâ€"Horace Genge.
Door-keeperâ€"Chris Ritt.
Head usherâ€"Harry Petersen.
Stage managerâ€"Louis Rousar.

LouisRugani on March 19, 2010 at 5:32 pm

(Racine Journal Times, March 19, 1954)
Theater Project Deemed Hopeful

First reports from sub-committee studying the possibility of using the Mainstreet Theater as a community theater indicate there is hope for success of the project, according to Paul Lange, temporary chairman of the newly-organized Mainstreet Theater Association.
Mrs. Atlee H. Bratley, head of the survey committee which is attempting to determine the need for a community theater in Racine, said her committee had polled 130 parent organizations and 60 branch organizations. Of these, she said 95 per cent pledged support to reopening the theater building for use of local groups. She said 15,000 persons are represented by the organizations. The poll indicated 50 per cent of the organizations would have made use of the Mainstreet Theater since its closing had it been available, and that 23 of the polled organizations had used the building’s facilities in the past.

Used 91 Times.

Mrs. Bratley said the theater had been used by outside Racine organizations a total of 91 times during its last year of operation. She added that her survey showed that interested organizations estimated they would have use for a communlty theater at least 115 nights out of the year. Reports of a committee investigating
the physical soundness of the building and the cost of operating it as a community theater are expected in the near future, Lange said.
William Allen, engineer with the J. I. Case Co., who heads the committee, said theater specialists would be contacted in an effort to determine the cost of reconverting the building.

LouisRugani on August 10, 2010 at 6:30 pm

(Racine Journal Times, Friday, July 18, 1958)
City Order May Doom Old Theater; Investigation Bares Wild Vandalism

Racine’s Building Inspector Peter Brown today signed an order which may remove from the Downtown area the 47-year old Mainstreet Theater building at State and Main streets.

The order was signed after an inspection of the wrecked interior of the vacant structure was made Thursday afternoon by the Racine Fire Department inspection bureau, the state deputy fire marshal, city attorney and a police department technician.

After viewing the ruins of what was once one of the best stage houses in the midwest, Thomas P. Corbett, city attorney, said the interior was “an indescribably chaotic mess.”

Slashed by Prowlers

During the last seven years in which the theater has stood vacant vandals have ripped fixtures and furnishings from the floors and walls and thrown them into a heap in the main floor seating area. Stage curtains hang in shreds, slashed by prowlers who have raided the building on numerous occasions, despite attempts to board up windows, doors and other openings to keep out trespassers.

Dismayed by the extent of destruction, Corbett said, “I didn’t believe we had people in town who so wantonly destroy property.”

State Deputy Fire Marshal Joseph Farrar described the interior damage as the worst case of vandalism he had ever seen.

The city building inspector’s order directs the owner, Louis Bass of Milwaukee, to remove combustible materials, clear the blocked aisles and generally clean up the wreckage within 10 days and to comply with State Industrial Commission orders for correcting code violations before Oct. 1. The commission issued its orders in April, 1957. To date no steps have been taken to comply and the building has not reopened.

As an alternative, the order directs that the building be razed and removed.

Farrar said the building was a potential fire hazard and a danger to other downtown structures. He said the present condition also presented a needless danger to firemen who might be called to fight a fire within the building. He cited the aisles blocked by debris and stairways also obstructed.

The inspection party found evidence of previous small fires and several brooms evidently used to stamp out the fires. Footprints indicated the building had been entered by “a number” of persons.

Included in the inspection party were Asst. Fire Chief Matt Flynn, head of the fire department inspection bureau and Police Department technician Everette Smith.

Built in 1911

The Mainstreet Theater was built in 1911 at a cost of $60,000 by the Racine Investment Co., Martin J. Gillen, secretary. The company leased the building to the Orpheum Amusement Co., and in 1941 sold it to Len Brown for $35,000. Brown sold the building for $65,000 in 1945 to Michalopoulos & Parris, who after three years sold it for $120,000 to the present owner. The building was leased for $10,000 a year to Sam Kaufman of Milwaukee. Movies and several stage shows were presented in the theater until late 1951 when the building was closed.

Eariy in 1954 the Racine Theater Guild explored the possibility of acquiring the building which was available for $60,000. However, closer investigation revealed extensive renovations would be necessary and the project was abandoned.

This year, Bass offered the property to the city for $25,000. He suggested the site might be used for a central fire station, new police department headquarters or parking. On recommendation of the city plan commission, the offer was turned down.

(Captions follow for four photos)
“"Worst case of vandalism I’ve ever seen,“ is the way Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph Farrar described the devastated interior of the long vacant Mainstreet Theater, 200 Main St. The fire marshal inspected the building Thursday with members of the Racine Fire Department inspection bureau, City Atty. Thomas P. Corbett and Police Technician Everette Smith. First photo is overall view of the destruction wrought by intruders who have forced their way into the building. In second photo is closeup of the radiators vandals hurled from first and second balconies into the main floor seating. Included in the ruins are seats from the balconies, equipment from the projection rooms, handrails from the balconies and boxes and smashed light bulbs. In third photo are several closeup views of the wanton damage: plaster and lathes ripped from aisle wall, hole chopped in balcony floor, glass smashed in nearly every door and window, and uprooted radiators that failed to fall.

LouisRugani on September 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm

(Racine Journal Times editorial, March 4, 1954)
Must Face Cold Reality In Theater Project Here

By interesting coincidence an announcement was made in Milwaukee this week that one landmark of show business in southern Wisconsin is to be destroyed, while there is talk of reviving another, the Mainstreet Theater in Racine.
Owners of the old Davidson, one of the last legitimate theaters in this part of the state, revealed that the historic house will be razed soon to make way for a department store parking building. The Davidson’s demise will leave only the Pabst Theater, which is even older and more rickety, as a suitable place for legitimate drama, orchestra, ballet, opera and musical productions.
Racine’s Mainstreet, another theater in the “opera house” tradition, (although it was a movie house for most of its later years), seemed headed for the same fate. It has been closed for some time, and it is not in excellent condition. However, during the last few weeks there has been increasing interest in reviving the old building as a sort of cooperative civic theater. A recent meeting on the proposal to re-open the theater, sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, showed a surprising amount of interest from groups and individuals who are to study the possibilities.
But before civic enthusiasm project gets too hot, there should be a note of warning sounded: It will take more than enthusiasm and wishful thinking to reopen the old theater, put it in condition to operate and keep it open. It will take planning, organization, and hard, cold cash. How much of the latter no one knows accurately, and neither does anyone know where that cash is coming from. There has been some talk of $100,000 or $125,000 to buy the building and put it into condition, but that figure is not yet even an educated guess. The total cost will depend on a structural inspection of the building, as well as an inventory of its assets and needs. A realistic financial appraisal of needs should be the first step in the project.

LouisRugani on September 20, 2010 at 6:33 pm

(Racine Journal Times, January 13, 1950)
Downtown Theater Changes Hands
Two Ohio men announced today that they have bought the Mainstreet Theater business and will attempt to bring back vaudeville to Racine.
New owners of the Mainstreet are Joseph J. Lee of Dayton and Alvin Slutz of Cincinnati. They bought the Mainstreet from Standard Theaters of Milwaukee. The building itself, however, continues to be owned by the Advance-Mainstreet Corp., also of Milwaukee.
Lee and Slutz said they will retain the same name on theater, but are changing the policy to make the Mainstreet a family theater, with pictures suitable for family entertainment. They will introduce vaudeville with programs twice a month. The first vaudeville bill will be presented on Jan. 27, 28 and 29. Jerome (Jerry) Slutz, who has been managing a drive-in theater in Cincinnati, will be the new
manager of the Mainstreet. He is the son of Alvin Slutz. His father has been in the theater business since 1914. The new owners said they would paint, redecorate and renovate the Mainstreet. They will make the theater available on short notice to civic organizations planning dramatic or musical entertainment.

LouisRugani on April 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm

(April 15, 1912)
Central Association To Auction Off Boxes for New Theater Opening
Members of Racine lodge, No. 152, B. P. O. Elks, will not open the new Orpheum theater in the Bate block, the project having been abandoned.
Arrangements had been made between the Elks and management of the new house that the place be opened with one of the leading attractions, perhaps the John Drew company. After every effort had been exhausted, the committee of Elks visiting Chicago and other cities, they found that it was not possible to get a suitable attraction and so it was decided to drop the project.
The house is expected to be opened on May 20, with high grade vaudeville attractions. There is a project on foot to donate all of the boxes in the house to the Central association, the boxes to be auctioneered off, and the money to be devoted to the association. When a definite date is decided upon for the opening, more particulars will be given to the public. In the meantime the finishing touches are being made on the interior of the play house and it will be one of the most attractive in the state of Wisconsin.

LouRugani on April 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

(Racine Journal Times, May 6, 1948)

Theater To Bring Stage Shows Here

Under the new policy of operation under Standard Theaters management, stage shows will be introduced at the Mainstreet Theater starting May 13. Radio, stage, and screen personalities will be booked for performances, according to Francis Schlax, southern district manager for the new operators. Extensive remodeling and redecorating are under way at the theater, in which new carpeting and new equipment will be installed. Bud Nelson has been named Mainstreet manager by Standard Theaters Corporation, which operates 25 theaters in key Wisconsin cities, including the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. L. F. Gran, Milwaukee, is president of the organization.

LouRugani on February 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm

April 17, 1936: Car Upsets and Lands in Ditch; Driver Hurt

When Francis Schlax, 4815 Twentieth avenue, Kenosha, lost control of his auto on Highway 38 near Seven Mile road yesterday afternoon it darted across the roadway, struck a guywire, crashed into a pile of rocks and bounded 60 feet into a ditch. Mr. Schlax suffered a fractured arm and lacerations of the head. He is at St. Mary’s hospital. The car rolled over three or four times, it was reported to Undersheriff Roscoe Pease and Deputy Allen Healy, and came to a stop with the front end of the auto buried in the ground.

Broan on October 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm


LouRugani on October 28, 2015 at 9:42 pm

From CONSTRUCTION NEWS, September 28, 1912: “Two theaters, one at Racine and the other at Madison, Wis., each bearing the name of Orpheum (1), have recently been completed and opened to the public. … The building at Madison is a theater building exclusively, while that at Racine is much larger and contains a number of offices as well as the theater. While differing widely in general plan the two buildings are of the same type of construction, the theater interiors are designed along similar lines, and a description of the construction and architectural treatment of one applies generally to the other. … These theaters are similar to the Class 5 theater, as defined by the building ordinance of the city of Chicago, and each has a total seating capacity of about 1,500. The walls are of brick, resting on reinforced concrete spread foundations. Floors are of reinforced concrete. They are finished in most part with a cement surface, but a liberal use is also made of marble tile for this purpose. Roofs are of flat arch construction supported on steel trusses. The buildings are fireproof throughout with the exception of the cantilever supports of the mezzanine floor and balconies, which are of the slow burning mill construction. The interior finish generally is in ornamental plaster. … The mezzanine floor, containing eleven divisions or compartments, is a distinctive feature of these theaters, suggested by the latest practice in London and on the continent of Europe. This practice is unusual in America. … This arrangement of the mezzanine floor, where adopted, has been found to be a popular feature, since each division of the mezzanine floor has many of the advantages of a box without the corresponding expense. Four proscenium boxes are provided. The mezzanine floor is reached by stairways from the foyer on the main floor. The balcony is so arranged as to provide practically both a balcony and a gallery, but without a sharp division between the two. The lower section is entered through tunnels, while the upper section is entered at a higher level from the rear. The two sections are separate only as to means of entrance and exit, the aisles of one section, as is common in larger theaters, being offset in location with reference to those of the other section. The architectural treatment of both buildings is in the style of Louis XIV. … The general contractors of the Racine theater were the Geo. J. Hoffman Company of South Bend, Ind.”

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