Riverside Theatre

116 W. Wisconsin Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53201

Unfavorite 8 people favorited this theater

Showing 1 - 25 of 38 comments

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on September 2, 2013 at 5:12 am


A Mighty WuliTizer Theater Pipe Organ, Opus 1865, 3/13, manual/rank, keyboards/sets of pipes, was shipped from WurliTizer in North Tonawanda, New York, to the Riverside on March 24, 1928. 2 more ranks have been added which would now make it a 3/15. It has a curved console, over 1000 pipes, 49 note marimba, 25 note cathedral chime, 37 note xylophone, 37 note glockenspiel, 25 note sleigh bells, 49 note chrysoglott, bass drum, kettle drum, crash cymbal, cymbal, harp, snare drum, tambourine, castanets, Chinese block, tom tom, sand block, triangle, surf, auto horn, and door bell.

This Mighty WurliTizer was first played when the Riverside opened by “Winkel” the Whiteman, and was regularly used into the 1950’s. The theatre donated the organ to the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society and they began a restoration of the organ in 1980, repairing much water damage from a leaky roof, and ordinary wear and tear. Much to everyones chagrin the organ is rarely played!

More info, comments, corrections, and photos of the ORGAN are always welcome!

gill on March 2, 2013 at 10:13 am

There’s a great 1928 photo of the Riverside on the Historic-Memphis.com website’s Theatre page. Here’s a link to the page.

rivest266 on October 14, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Even better,
an ad for Milwaukee’s Proudest Possession, the grand opening ad can be seen at View link

Preopening ads is at
View link
View link

TLSLOEWS on August 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Love that youtube clip Bob.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 20, 2010 at 6:49 pm

FAntastic 1970 ad.

BobFurmanek on May 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Here’s amazing rare footage of Laurel and Hardy on stage, circa 1940! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti5EK_c5-Iw

moviez on October 23, 2009 at 4:34 am

Hi. My name is Mark Zimmermann and I’m writing a book on the history of the Riverside Theater. I was manager there in the mid-70’s when UA was running it. While there I secured several old storage rooms on the second floor from vandalism, and I found two old scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and reviews from approximately 1942-1950. Luckily, the manager back then was wise enough to save this for history. I saved them for all these years, and after the success of Larry Widen’s recent book I decided to research the entire history of the Riverside at the Milwaukee Public Library. It’s amazing how many stars came to Milwaukee to perform for an entire week at the Riverside, from Bob Hope, Frances Gumm and the Gumm Sisters, to Abbott and Costello, Chico Marx, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Laurel and Hardy. The one thing I’m in need of is personal stories from people who went to the Riverside to see the Stage and Screen performances in person. I’ve interviewed 3 people who attended the Riverside regularly back in the 1950s. If there is anybody out there who attended shows from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and would like to share their stories please contact me at Thanks.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on February 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Here’s a YouTube performance by Ron Reseigh the Riverside’s III/13 Wurlitzer. Sounds like the old organ got a top to bottom make-over recently!

Astounding technique and humor by a first rate organist!

View link

kencmcintyre on November 28, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Here is a 1958 photo from Life Magazine:

Broan on October 7, 2007 at 11:30 pm

Recent photos of this theatre are HERE

JimRankin on October 4, 2006 at 8:44 am

Well, “Life”, your imagination is good, and I too am disappointed in the results, especially after they made a public appeal in the newspaper to learn of the history of its signage and in response, I hand delivered a 6-page history with historic tinted postcards reproduced in color.

They may have run out of nerve or money when planning the current modest back-lit lithographed plastic sheets marquee in 1984, but I have a hunch that they were more determined NOT to recall any of the look of its movie palace days. Those days included an 8-foot high frame of skeleton light bulb letters above the 1940s replacement marquee of fluorescent back-lit letters, in addition to the 12-story high Vertical Name Sign (removed in the 1960s). Maybe their reaction was to go in the opposite direction away from light bulbs for a more ‘institutional’ look. Until recently, our PABST, an 1895 legit house, also had no light bulb signs ever since their 1928 Vertical was removed in the early ‘70s. This may have been their precident for a more modest —but unexciting— treatment. Most legit houses do not believe in garish signage to attract the passerby, but that their clientele will come on the reserved seat basis anyway, so the image and expense of movie house signage is avoided.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 30, 2006 at 12:41 pm

I can understand all of that. Basically I am just happy to see the place making money. But in an ideal world they would have an exciting electical sign in keeping with the building’s history. The Michigan in Ann Arbor is good example of what I am imagining.

JimRankin on September 27, 2006 at 11:44 am

It is uninspiring, as I explained in a caption I added to the photo linked to by Lost Memory in the Comment above yours. We might be more patient with the 1984 remodelers if we realize that the original lobby is quite small for a theatre of this size, and when it was converted to a reserved seat, live action venue it had to have much more room for thousands of tickets than the old single person island box office it opened with in 1929 for movies. So they evicted the Buddy Squirrel Nut Shop from the space to the west, and constructed a larger box office there opening onto the side wall of the vestibule, and adding a line of doors along the sidewalk line to create a ticket lobby as well as space for smokers during the shows. It is never mentioned, but rumor has it that they also added that line of doors to keep street people from congragating there during foul weather, which is rather common here.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 26, 2006 at 4:09 pm

I am glad the Riverside is still around. But what an awful entrance. Stick a doorman and a luggage cart in that picture and we could be looking at the Hyatt.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 11, 2006 at 2:11 am

I just read your opening description Jim. It is funny to hear about the alley problems. I wonder what sort of entertainment business relics they might find if they dredged the river next to this place?!?

JimRankin on August 11, 2006 at 1:14 am

The photo angle does make it appear that they are in the same block, but in actuality, there are two streets intersecting Wisconsin Ave. there between the theatres: Plankinton Ave (equivalent to 1st St.) and S. 2nd St. The Warner/Centre/Grand is therefore actually 2 blocks west of the Riverside, as their addresses indicate. The Pabst theater is only two blocks north of the Riverside which is why they will all be on the same walking tour on the Theatre Historical Soc. convention next summer of ‘07.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 10, 2006 at 4:19 pm

I’ll be damned. The Riverside is right next to the Warner/Centre/Grand? I never picked up on that before.

kencmcintyre on August 10, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Here is an interesting photo from 1951:

kencmcintyre on August 10, 2006 at 2:20 pm

There are two contemporary photos on this page:

JimRankin on January 16, 2006 at 5:05 am

P.S.: If you have a car, you can still get a nice Theatre Pipe Organ experience here, but not in a theatre (the ORIENTAL’s had a major failure of its electronic switching, I’m told, and the RIVERSIDE’s and the PABST’s are very rarely played), but in a unique restaurant: The Organ Piper at 4353 S. 108th St., (414) 529-1177; the hours that the organ is played vary, so phone ahead to confirm. It is a long drive from Marquette, but possibly worth it to you. The organ there is a 27-rank (voice) of three manuals and quite capable of major music; they take requests and sell CDs/DVDs of the organ. The restaurant is casual and is owned by the local heads of the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society.

JimRankin on January 16, 2006 at 4:47 am

Sad to say, we have only one remaining movie palace still operating: the ORIENTAL, and from the views shown at another site
( http://www.cinematour.com/tour.php?db=us&id=4035 ) of it, you may well conclude that it is worth your time and trouble. It is on the northeast side of the city quite a ways away from your friend at Marquette University, but if he doesn’t want to drive as far as the ORINETAL, he can always show you an almost forgotten palace right there on his campus: the former VARSITY, which now serves the same purpose as “Malthusen Hall.”

Just a few blocks eastward on the same street is what remains of the old downtown theatre row, and the RIVERSIDE is still open there but only for live action shows. It has just been brought under the aegis of local millionaire Michael Cudahy who also controls the PABST, where tours are given on Saturdays at noon, and this is a National Historic Landmark which one should not miss! The RIVERSIDE has been refurbished and will be aglow in its rosy baroque way, though there are no tours of it. Sometime in 2007 the AVALON on the far southeast side is supposed to open, and if it does, it will be with a full restoration or adaptation depending upon what the recent new owner decides to do there, but one hopes this charming Spanish atmospheric will be restored to the cozy jewel he promises.

While you are downtown at the RIVERSIDE, I wish your friend could somehow get you into the GRAND, the former WARNER, which was our most opulent palace up until it was split in ‘73, but it was unsplit a couple of years ago but still stands dark as it has since 1995. There is no way to get in there, and all the textiles have been removed, so it is now more to be longed for from photos showing it in ornate 'French palatial—French Art Deco’ styling that it revealed in 1931. The symphony wanted to make it its second concert hall, but they got into financial trouble and now the building stands idle waiting for a rescuer. Photos of it in its prime are over at the Central Public Library, six blocks west of it, or during business hours you both could go to the Library of the County Historical Society in a charming three sided building on 3rd st. just a few blocks north of the theatre. Also at these libraries is the 1986 book “Milwaukee Movie Palaces” which will give you a much better idea of what we have and all that we have lost. Enjoy your trip.

Patsy on January 15, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Jim: I see from the list of Wisconsin theatres that many of Milwaukee’s old movie palaces have been demolished or closed so in your opinion of the ones standing which ones would you suggest someone seeing when making a trip to Milwaukee? I have a dear friend who works at Marquette and have just started exchanging emails so I wanted to tell him of my cinema interest and mention your choices. Thank you.