3629 West Center Street,
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Movie palaces were grandiose theaters usually designed to a theme decor and of two major types: the standard (or ‘hard-top’) which emulated traditional opera house construction, and the Atmospheric style, a novel approach that recalled stars and clouds in an outdoor setting in a less expensive form of construction.
The Venetian Theatre was of the latter type and the "Milwaukee Journal" of March 6, 1927 reproduced the rendering of the theater’s auditorium by Milwaukee architects Urban Peacock and Armin Frank showing a tree-lined parapet high above the seats where the blue plaster sky vault began to soar overhead. The cost exceeded one half million dollars according to an article in the "Exhibitor’s Herald" magazine of April 16, 1927 entitled: "Elaborate New Venetian Theatre, Wisconsin’s First Atmospheric Theatre Is Opened In Milwaukee."
Ironically, the Italian Renaissance theme decor was not quite as ‘Venetian’ as that created in 1911 in the Juneau Theatre on Mitchell Street, but with 1,430 seats, the Venetian Theatre was a lot larger.
The Gala Opening at 6:30pm on March 18, 1927 featured Laura LaPlante in "Butterflies in the Rain" accompanied by the 2-manual, 8-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ (the theatre was soon thereafter wired for sound movies).
The Milwaukee Circuit of the Universal Theatres Chain opened this air-conditioned marvel with antiqued walls, gold, blue and wine velvet hangings, lush tapestries, and hand-blocked velvet stage curtains outlined in patterns of rhinestones.
It was also one of the few theatres to employ the "stadium style" of seating where one could go directly from the auditorium floor, up into the balcony without going into the lobby.
From the balcony the vista of a tree-lined row of building tops interspersed with statuary created a romantic view under the starry sky as projected clouds drifted by.
Like all theaters, the Venetian Theatre suffered with the coming of television and the consequent loss of its audience, and with the decay of the neighborhood, the theater closed permanently in 1954, even though it had a fully rigged stagehouse capable of putting on local talent shows or the like.
It subsequently became a furniture store, which put a suspended ceiling in the auditorium, and then the Venetian Sales Co. which used the auditorium for a warehouse and the once ornate lobby for a liquor store.
When these businesses moved out, it sat abandoned, the utilities disconnected, and awaited the city’s decision to spend the many thousands of dollars to demolish it.
At the least, one could still admire the architect’s classy facade design of brown tapestry brickwork framed by Italianate designs in glazed terra cotta ornament in buff, azure, and lemon yellow. The stepped and reticulate-patterned parapet with its elegant terra cotta urns endured for a while longer.
The Venetian Theatre was demolished in April 2007.
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