Orpheum Theatre

5819 Sixth Avenue,
Kenosha, WI 53140

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Orpheum Theatre

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The Orpheum Theatre opened on March 14, 1922. In 2015 there is an ice cream shop using the lobby, and the auditorium is used for storage.

Contributed by Dave Wiegers

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

LouisRugani on May 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm

The Orpheum Theatre opened March 14, 1922 and was designed by the Milwaukee firm of Martin Tullgren & Sons. (Tullgren designed more National Register of Historic Places buildings in Wisconsin than anyone except for Frank Lloyd Wright.) Tullgren was also an investor in the Orpheum Theatre Company. The interior style is French Provincial.

The theatre was briefly named the Lake Theatre in the 1930s. It closed in about 1977, and by 1992 the entire four-story Orpheum Building had become vacant. The city issued raze-or-repair orders in 1992. Preservationists rallied, the demolition was placed on hold, and the city agreed to lend the demolition cost ($260,000) interest-free for ten years to a bonafide developer. The offer was accepted in 1994 and the Orpheum was twinned and reopened as a second-run house in December 1994. By 1996 the balcony was also twinned. By 2000 the theatre had closed and the building was resold. In 2009 the Orpheum Building is busy again with upscale street-level shops and renewed hopes to reopen the theatre eventually.

The Orpheum Building is seen the 1999 Ernest Borgnine-Eileen Brennan film “The Last Great Ride”.

kalanithemaster on June 30, 2009 at 12:09 am

The Orpheum Theatre is now home to Scoops Ice Cream Shoppe. The interior lobby houses the shoppe, and the building is mainly used for storage for the company. Talks of opening the theatre for movies have surfaced, although nothing has happened since.

jwballer on January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm

A 3m Barton was installed in the theatre

LouisRugani on January 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

PatioMike, apologies for not answering sooner. Yes, this is the same theatre, although now in much better condition.

LouisRugani on February 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

(November 26, 1927)
â€" Kenosha (AP)– Stockholders of the Kenosha Orpheum Theater corporation, controlling four playhouses here with assets placed at $1,500,000, voted unanimously Friday night to sell the assets of the company of the West Coast Theaters circuit, Los Angeles. Details of the sale were not given out.

LouisRugani on October 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm

(Sheboygan Press, August 16, 1933)
Edward Benjil, formerly manager of the Fox theatre, has been appointed manager of the Orpheum theatre at Kenosha.

LouRugani on October 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

( The Bridgemen’s Magazine, Volume 21 [1921] ) Kenosha – Theater and Office – M. Tullgren & Sons, architects, 425 E. Water street, Milwaukee, soon let contract building 4-story, 60 x 100-ft., brick, concrete and steel, reinforced concrete flooring, concrete foundation, on Main street, for Orpheum Theater Co., 851 Tremont avenue. About $200,000.

LouRugani on April 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm

The Orpheum Theatre Building is architecturally and historically significant under Standards 1, 3 and 4 of Section 15.04 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance because it exemplifies or reflects the City’s cultural and social history as Kenosha’s first movie palace, structures which represent a distinctive era in the growth and development of one of the most important elements of mass popular culture, the motion picture.

The Orpheum Theatre Building “embodies the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type or specimen…” or “is representative of the notable work of a master architect.” This Theatre is a fine example of a modern early twentieth-century commercial building designed by the Milwaukee master architectural firm of Martin Tullgren & Sons, popular designers of hotels, commercial buildings and apartment houses during the early twentieth century. The firm designed the Orpheum like many other “movie palaces” of the 1920s, with a simple exterior in favor of an elaborate interior.

It’s a four-story commercial block building constructed in the modern Twentieth Century Commercial style with brown brick walls and little ornamentation. The windows of the upper three (3) stories are single-light double-hung sashes that are undecorated. The first story is made up of several storefronts and the theatre entrance. The storefronts consist primarily of large show windows with transoms separated by simple brick pilasters. The main entrance to the commercial upper level commercial space is decorated with large sidelights and transom panels topped with a simple cornice.

The theatre entrance is recessed and sits under a replica of the original theatre sign. At the rear of the building is the raised theatre section. The south wall is decorated with Classical Revival details including a cornice with pediment and modillions, arched reveals, and decorative brickwork.

The building has recently undergone renovation and parts of the building are still being worked on, but the effort was to restore the historic character of the building while adapting it to a multiscreen theatre with office, commercial space and apartments.

In the 1920s, the showing of movies became more elaborate than the nickelodeon or opera house productions. The movies were longer, and often accompanied by vaudeville acts. These movie palaces featured elaborately, and often exotically, decorated interiors with large auditoriums, big stages, and fine organs and organists who provided musical accompaniment to the silent pictures.

In movie palaces, people not only saw a movie but an elaborate show where the movie was only part of the entertainment. The movie palaces were meant to transport people briefly into a fantasy world, and soon movie palaces dominated the theatre trade in most communities.

The Orpheum, like many movie palaces, was hidden behind a very simple commercial building. In 1927, the Kenosha Theatre was completed, becoming the second movie palace downtown. In that same year, the old Rhode Opera House was replaced with the Gateway Theatre, making it the third movie palace in Kenosha’s downtown. The Orpheum Theatre operated into the 1970s, but closed when multiscreen suburban theatres began to take business away from large, downtown theatres. The building retained its commercial use until the 1980s when the building stood vacant for a number of years.

After much controversy and threat to raze the building, a developer came forward with a plan to renovate the building into a multiscreen theatre, apartments, and remodeled commercial space. This effort is partially completed, but the building has yet to become fully occupied with upstairs commercial businesses or any residential apartments. Currently, the Orpheum houses a toy store and an ice cream parlor at the street level.

The Orpheum Theatre Building is a good example of modern 1920s commercial building. Many movie palaces were constructed within plain commercial buildings, often presenting a very small facade at the street level, with the bulk of the building hidden behind the commercial streetscape. The Orpheum is typical in that the bulk of the theatre is hidden at the back, but it also features a large commercial front of offices and stores at the street level.

Martin Tullgren was a Swedish immigrant who established an architectural practice in Chicago in 1881. In 1902 the firm moved to Milwaukee. Martin’s sons Minard and Herbert trained in their father’s firm and the sons became partners in 1909. Martin Tullgren & Sons specialized in large projects like hotels, commercial buildings and apartment houses. In 1922 Martin died, and his sons continued the firm until 1928, when Minard died. Herbert Tullgren continued to practice under the firm name until 1936, when he changed it to Herbert Tullgren, Architect. In the 1930s, Herbert Tullgren was one of the foremost architects practicing in the progressive Art Deco and Art Moderne styles in Milwaukee, and three of his apartment designs made important contributions to the development of twentieth-century apartment-house construction.

The Orpheum Theatre Building is typical of the modern buildings designed by Martin Tullgren & Sons. Because the building was constructed in 1922, the year Martin died, it is probably more the work of his sons Minard and Herbert than of himself.

The interior of the Orpheum was designed in the French Renaissance style and the decorative details included rich rugs, gold pendants, mirrored lights, polychromed baskets, silk-beaded upholstery, velvet drapes and curtains, and silk wallpaper in red, blue, orange and gold tones. The result was a theatre that dramatically contrasted with the plain commercial exterior of the building. Because the Orpheum Theatre is a fine example of a 1920s movie palace designed by a master architectural firm, it is a significant landmark in downtown Kenosha.

The Orpheum Theatre is also significant because the movies have had a profound effect on American culture, and going to the movies was an important ritual in American towns and cities that still exists today. This form of mass popular culture was particularly important in the City, making Kenosha movie palaces historically significant and important historical landmarks. (From City documents.)

LouRugani on August 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Orpheum to open two stadium theaters (April 23, 1998, by CHRISTOPHER PFAU, Racine Journal Times)

Downtown Kenosha’s Orpheum Theatre will open two new movie theaters featuring stadium-style seating on Friday night.

“We think this is the direction downtown Kenosha wants to go as far as bringing people to the downtown area,“ Jeff Maher, president and owner of the Orpheum at 5819 6th Ave., said of the theaters.

The stadium-style theaters, which cost about $500,000 to put in, include state-of-the-art sound systems, Maher said.

The addition brings to four the number of theaters in the Orpheum, a discount movie house.

Ticket prices are $2 everyday, except on Tuesdays, when tickets cost $1.

Maher said he believes moviegoers are calling for the stadium-style seating which ensure unobstructed views of the screen.

“In order for the discount theaters to compete, (the theaters) have to go to stadium-style seating,“ Maher said.

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