Virginian Theatre

611-17 58th Street,
Kenosha, WI 53140

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Virginian Theatre, Kenosha, WI

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The Virginian Theatre was originally converted from existing retail space in the Young America Building and opened originally as the Bijou Theatre, a live vaudeville house that later began exhibiting silent films and selected non-theatrical events. My father said that he was in the audience during a demonstration of radio reception, the novelty of which stunned those present.

Later renamed the Princess Theatre before finally becoming the Virginian Theatre. It closed in 1922 when the nearby Orpheum Theatre opened and returned to retail space as the Leader Store, long a popular clothing and fabric shop (the small balcony held the yard goods department.) The stage is still obvious although there’s no proscenium, and also is used to display merchandise. (The Leader Store closed in the 1990’s and the building was then used as an antiques shop.)

Contributed by Louis Rugani

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

LouisRugani on November 28, 2007 at 10:29 am

Further research shows that the Virginian Theatre was built of frame construction in 1870 with two storefronts at street level and a hall upstairs, as was common in assembly halls of the period. At some point around 1905, a Frank O'Brien remodeled the building to combine the storefronts into a 600-seat ground-level theatre and naming the revamped showplace the Bijou, which would close its doors around early 1913. In that eight-or-so-year window, films and live acts had been featured for an admission price of 10 to 20 cents.

Within six months, the theatre was renamed the Princess and soon, ticket prices dropped to five cents, probably because of direct comptition from nearby theatres including the Majestic.

By 1915, the theatre was renamed the Virginian Theatre, and it was under the direction of Al Meis, who instituted a more aggressive show policy including live all-girl chorus lines. But as competition increased from seven nearby theatres including the ornate new 1922 Orpheum (qv) a half-block east, the Virginian Theatre closed for good at the time the Orpheum opened, and the building reverted to retail space, a role which continues today.

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