State Theatre

316 Eau Claire Street,
Eau Claire, WI 54701

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State Theatre, Eau Claire, WI

The State Theatre was built for the Finkelstein & Ruben chain and opened on January 19, 1926 with Corinne Griffith in “Classified”. It was used for vaudeville shows and movies. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ, said to be the same as the one in the Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL. The theatre installed Vitapahone in 1928. The first talkie which showed here was "Lights of New York" starring Helene Costello. By 1940 it was operated by Paramount Pictures inc. through their subsidiary John Friedl. The State Theatre closed in 1982 when the last movie shown was “Tron”.

The State Theatre was donated to the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council in 1984 and was restored and renovated, reopening in 1986 featuring performing arts, concerts, local community events, and gallery space. Occasional classic movies are also shown.

Contributed by Ray

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

DavidDynamic
DavidDynamic on February 18, 2012 at 1:20 am

The brickwork is amazing! Contrast to the pseudo stucco. Too bad the marquee is too plastic. An old style more simple marquee would be more fitting for the vintage of the building.

DavidDynamic
DavidDynamic on February 18, 2012 at 1:23 am

Oops, I meant to mention those cool lions holding the marquee brace chains

rivest266
rivest266 on January 28, 2018 at 7:48 am

This opened on January 19th, 1926 (not the 14th). Grand opening ad in the photo section and below

Found on Newspapers.com

LouRugani
LouRugani on January 31, 2018 at 6:09 pm

The STATE Theatre in downtown Eau Claire is just off Farwell Street — one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city — and Barstow Street, which is considered the main road of Eau Claire’s downtown. Built for $315,000 by Finkelstein and Ruben, The STATE Theatre opened in January, 1926 with a vaudeville show and multiple musical acts. Several years afterward, the STATE started hosting movies and kept doing so until 1982. The STATE Theatre building was donated in 1984 to the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council so it could be restored and resume its original purpose of hosting performances.

It went on the real estate market a little more than a month ago, and a for-sale sign recently appeared on the theatre’s exterior, pasted between posters for acts coming to the theater for its final season. Dean Larsen of Acquisition Realty & Development says that he’s had three showings since he became agent for the property but has received no written offer yet. Larsen said one was thinking demolition and the other two were contemplating “remodeling” the STATE Theatre but didn’t specify for what use. He expects the building likely will attract local investors, who have familiarity with the downtown area and possibilities for the property. The State has offices on its second floor, Larsen said, and the feasibility of turning those into apartments or other uses hasn’t yet been explored.

The 1926 50,000-square-foot STATE Theatre building with its 1,098-seat theater, second-floor offices, a dance studio and art gallery, is listed for $450,000 and is being marketed as commercial property.

There doesn’t seem to be much local interest in preserving the historic theatre.

Ben Richgruber, executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council which currently owns the STATE Theatre building, says the building is in good shape but the group has had issues through the years with the roof and heating system. When the Confluence Arts Center (under construction on Graham Avenue about a block from the STATE Theatre and scheduled to open this fall) was announced in May 2012, it was clear that the STATE Theatre would close because ECRAC wanted to be part of the new facility and abandon the STATE Theatre with its limitations for hosting large performances. The Confluence will include offices for local arts groups that currently are based out of the STATE Theatre.

Eau Claire’s economic development administrator Mike Schatz said the city briefly considered buying the STATE Theatre but opted against it because the private sector was showing interest in it. “From a location standpoint, it’s right in the middle of a lot of activity,” Schatz added, saying that downtown buildings with apartments on upper floors often sell fast because buyers see rental income in addition to what could be made through street-level business tenants. The State has offices on its second floor, Larsen said, and the feasibility of turning those into apartments or other uses hasn’t yet been explored.

Still, the STATE Theatre continues to host and book performances. Local productions of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “State Fair” are booked for this summer at the STATE Theatre. Richgruber said “We’ve still been going gangbusters over here. We’re going to use it until it’s done.”

LouRugani
LouRugani on February 5, 2019 at 3:53 pm

A half year after The State Theatre was closed and replaced by a new performing arts center, plans call for it to house a children’s foundation and host events again. Azara Properties of Elk Mound bought the theatre on January 31 for $195,000 to house the Luginbill Children’s Foundation founded by Joe Luginbill in December 2016 as a nonprofit with 13 “education, entertainment and youth development” programs, noting the initiative is in its preliminary stages and details remain to be worked out. Other agencies could be housed at the State as well, he said. Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, Wisconsin. He owns properties and businesses in the region, including Azara, a Water Street hookah and vape shop, and the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as a coffee shop and bar called My Office Lounge. The 1926 State Theatre was not designed to host large-scale, modern productions and is in need of repairs such as a new roof and furnace. Those limitations and the region’s booming arts scene prompted the construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which opened in September. Luginbill said plans call for events to once again be staged at the State. A deed restriction that would have prevented such shows at the State so as not to compete with the Pablo Center was discussed but wasn’t a part of the sale, said Pam Rasmussen, president of Eau Claire Regional Arts Center Board that owned the State, saying such a restriction would have hindered its sale. “The performances that would take place (at the State) would seem to be complimentary to the Pablo and not direct competition,” she said, but before that can happen, Rasmussen said “That building is going to need some love first.” An assessment of the State’s construction needs is ongoing and will seek to maintain as much of the existing structure and its historic as possible, while providing needed updates.

LouRugani
LouRugani on February 5, 2019 at 5:21 pm

When it opened in 1926, the State Theatre embodied Hollywood glamor in a small Wisconsin city. Built by the Minnesota-based Finkelstein and Ruben theater chain at a cost of $315,000 – that’s nearly $4.5 million today – the State Theatre was hailed as a “veritable fairyland” in a special edition of the Eau Claire Leader published on Jan. 19, 1926:
“NEW THEATER IS BRIGHTEST GEM IN GLITTERING CHAIN OF F&R AMUSEMENT HOUSES,” blared a headline, which shared the page with photos of the theater’s interior and exterior and articles touting its $20,000 Wurlitzer organ, its fine seats and carpet, and its vaudeville lineup. “For sheer beauty and artistic appeal this playhouse will intrigue the most delicate cultural sensitiveness,” one article stated. “In the lobby alone its designers achieved art such as seldom is created in a theater of its size.” In addition to the organ, the theater had its own orchestra (“under the director of M.J. Deglman, an Eau Claire orchestra leader of well know ability”) to accompany both silent motion pictures and live vaudeville acts. An ad noted that evening performances would cost 40 cents, matinees would cost a quarter, and children would be entertained for just 10 cents. On opening night, thousands of would-be patrons braved a winter storm to get tickets. In fact, more people bought tickets than could fit in the State’s 1,300-seats, forcing the theater’s management to publish an apologetic advertisement a few days later promising to honor the tickets at future performances. Those who were able to get seats were treated to a full evening of entertainment, which began with an orchestral overture followed by a newsreel, comedy (with organ accompaniment), a jazz revue with 18 singers and dancers titled “A Syncopated Menu,” a novelty film, and then the main feature: the silent 1925 drama “Classified” starring Corinne Griffith, one of the top stars of the day. Ticket fiasco aside, the new theater was a success, although that success came at the expense of the competition. By June, the locally owned Eau Claire Theater Co. had shut down and leased three of its theaters – the Grand, the Unique, and the Wisconsin – to Finkelstein and Ruben. The State, it seems, had quickly become Eau Claire’s dominant theatrical venue. The days were numbered for silent films and vaudeville performances for which the State had been constructed. By 1928, the State began using the Vitaphone system, which played phonograph records in sync to the film. “Lights of New York” – the first all-talking feature film – was screened that December, and Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” soon followed. After the curtain fell on vaudeville, the State settled into its role as one of city’s dominant movie houses, welcoming several generations of Eau Claire residents for children’s matinees, big-budget features and midnight movies. From the beginning, the State offered multiple entertainment opportunities. The basement was home to eight bowling lanes plus pool, billiard, and snooker tables. Upstairs was a large dance hall. On the ground floor, next to the theatre entrance, was a restaurant (originally the State Cafe) and by the 1940s, the Greyhound bus station. Over the years, some of Hollywood’s most legendary films created indelible experiences for audiences. Gradually, the movie business changed, and the State began to lose its luster. With the proliferation of entertainment options, the rise of multiplexes or the advent of home video and cable TV, audiences began to shrink. By the 1970s, the State was owned by ABC Theatres, part of the American Broadcasting Co., which later sold it to the national Plitt Theatres chain. By 1982, the Leader-Telegram reported that “single-screen theaters no longer are profitable,” and that Plitt was building multiplexes elsewhere, including in La Crosse. “We felt there was no room for us to expand anymore in (Eau Claire),” a Plitt executive told the newspaper. “There are enough screens in Eau Claire, and if we were to expand we’d just be throwing our money down the sewer.” At the time, most of Eau Claire’s screens – including the Hollywood, the Downtown Cinema, and the Stardusk and Gemini drive-ins – were owned by Gene Grengs. The State screened its last film in 1982, and Grengs and developer Warren Barberg bought the place with big dreams about restoring the theatre and turning it into a live entertainment venue. And now the State is ready for its next act.

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