Venetian Theatre

3629 West Center Street,
Milwaukee, WI 53210

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Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on July 31, 2013 at 6:53 am

A Mighty WurliTizer Theater Pipe Organ, Opus 1572, a 2/8, manual/rank, keyboards/sets of pipes was shipped from the WurliTizer factory on February 5, 1927. In 1950 the organ went to a restaurant in Milwaukee. In April, 1954 the organ was moved ,minus its toy counter (sound effects), to the Holy Family Catholic Church in Bayfield, Wisconsin. In June 2005 the wondering organ moved to a private residence in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Anyone have anymore info, is it playable?

“WurliTizer” on an organ represents the highest term of expression applied to organs.

Lostnyc
Lostnyc on May 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

As far as the terra cotta details being similar between the buildings, none of the motifs on either of the buildings are extraordinary or unique (by the standards of the times), and terra cotta was almost a mass produced product in the 20’s.
posted by ziggy"

I totally agree, most of these ornaments in the photos were pretty mundane, pretty as a whole facade, but individually not much to look at, and very mass produced- at least as it was in that era.
By that era they were using templates to shape blocks into various moldings in a way they made plaster ceiling cornices with a running template.

As far as reviving such designs, the plaster molds are long gone, making a mold of an existing piece and making them in clay results in a size loss due to shrinkage of around 10%, that is why new replacements for restoration cant be simply made in terra cotta by molding off originals. However, these flower, geometric and other designs are not rocket science, any decent clay sculptor like myself can easily model any of this stuff from decent photographs, and if need be- made 10% larger to compensate for that size loss as in the case of a restoration need.
Flowers, geometric designs and the like don’t excite me, the ornaments that do- have animal or human faces on them- lions, griffins, Athena etc, getting human faces right and with expression takes a lot more skill than modelling some leaves or geometric designs, it’s at a higher level of quality if done well.

Lostnyc
Lostnyc on May 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm

. I remember in Detroit that the Lee Plaza Hotel had beautiful terra-cotta lions illegally stolen out, sold to a architectural salvage company,

Happens, most were found, likely still sitting in a police lock-up while the building continues to rot and eventually gets torn down, then the police might just discard them if they haven’t already. Should have secured the building better and this never would have happened

Ziggy
Ziggy on March 21, 2008 at 2:07 pm

It’s always fascinating to wonder about the “what ifs”. In this case, “what if Eberson actually did the design for the Venetian?”. The evidence presented for the case is very flimsy though.

Mr. St. Thomas has a wonderful web page about Milwaukee architecture, but the explanation as to why the Venetian Theatre so closely resembles the Aragon Ballroom (an Eberson design) is probably that the architects were familiar with the Aragon, and liked what they saw. Architecture magazines of the 1920’s were full of photos showing all the latest designs of prominent architects, and the Aragon most likely got quite a bit of coverage. It was common for other architects to be inspired by what they saw in these publications, and sometimes to copy them fairly closely.

As far as the terra cotta details being similar between the buildings, none of the motifs on either of the buildings are extraordinary or unique (by the standards of the times), and terra cotta was almost a mass produced product in the 20’s. It’s very easy to think that there were dozens or possibly hundreds of buildings with similar decorations at the time.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 21, 2008 at 11:55 am

That 2006 photo is surprising. There was a lot more left of the auditorium than I would have guessed after seeing those holes in the roof.

senk1198
senk1198 on March 20, 2008 at 10:46 pm

A correction is in order—mea maxima culpa!

The pertinent paragraph is hereby amended to read as follows:

Mr. St. Thomas wonders openly if Eberson at least had a hand in designing the Venetian, the first of five such theaters to be built in Milwaukee (only two, the Avalon and the Zenith, still exist; after being closed for several years, the Avalon is now being restored for performing-arts use; the Zenith has long been a church). While I myself still strongly believe it indeed was designed by the local architects of record, Urban Peacock and Armin Frank, one indeed does at least wonder how much they might have been influenced by Eberson’s work.eater, back around 1954.

senk1198
senk1198 on March 20, 2008 at 10:38 pm

I thus hope that you, one of your fellow “watchers,” Mr. St. Thomas, or someone else were able to take pictures of these areas, too, and might be able to share them with us all—if not on this Web page or one at the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, somewhere online.

Seeing as much of the proscenium as we’ve now been able to was a fascinating find—might there be any chance we might yet see more?

-o0o-

Now there is more.

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot… ."
—Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

Nearly a year after Milwaukee’s long-neglected Venetian Theatre, its rotting roof open for years to Wisconsin snows and rains, was torn down, I recently took another look at local urban preservation advocate Tim St. Thomas’s excellent Web page on the history of this building whose death seemed to draw it more attention than it ever got over the decades since it closed as a theater, back around 1954.

Mr. St. Thomas has added some fascinating new material, including some pointing out how certain elements of the Venetian were similar to those of Chicago’s landmark Aragon Ballroom, designed by world-famous “atmospheric” theater architect John Eberson, the leading exponent of that once-popular style of theater, which gave patrons the illusion that they were seated in an open courtyard under the night sky.

Mr. St. Thomas wonders openly if Eberson at least had a hand in designing the Venetian, the first of five such theaters to be built in Milwaukee (only one, the Avalon, still exists; after being closed for several years, it’s now being renovated for performing-arts use). While I myself still strongly believe it indeed was designed by the local architects of record, Urban Peacock and Armin Frank, one indeed does at least wonder how much they might have been influenced by Eberson’s work.

For many years, many of us in the Milwaukee area interested in historic buildings and their preservation, most of whom had long ago given up on any hope of saving the Venetian, wondered what, if anything, was left of the interior. Mr. St. Thomas now includes on his Web site two 2006 photographs from the city of Milwaukee’s historic-preservation department that go a long way toward answering that question—two of the most memorable photographs of their kind I’ve ever seen, tragic yet hauntingly beautiful.

They hit me with much the same force as did such famous images as those of the “dean” of Milwaukee movie-palace historians, Larry Widen, of the ruins of Milwaukee’s Egyptian Theatre, Bruce Sharp’s pictures of Chicago’s incredible Granada Theatre, both in its fading glory and in its heartbreaking ruin shortly before its razing (see http://www.mekong.net/random/theatres.htm),,) or the famous photos of Gloria Swanson amid the ruins of New York City’s fabled Roxy Theatre.

If you haven’t yet seen Mr. St. Thomas’s pages on the Venetian lately, or at all, and want to experience one of the best chronicles of the life, mixed times, and all-too-common prolonged decline and death of a classic neighborhood movie palace ever written, take a look at this link:

View link

Thanks, Tim!

I don’t know if the city of Milwaukee has any more photos of the Venetian that haven’t yet been shared online, but I’ve been trying to find out!

Scott Enk

senk1198
senk1198 on March 20, 2008 at 10:36 pm

As I wrote in this thread nearly a year ago to Timothy St. Thomas:

-o0o-

I thus hope that you, one of your fellow “watchers,” Mr. St. Thomas, or someone else were able to take [more] pictures of [the Venetian] … and might be able to share them with us all—if not on this Web page or one at the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, somewhere online.

Seeing as much of the proscenium as we’ve now been able to was a fascinating find—might there be any chance we might yet see more?

-o0o-

Now there is more.

I thus hope that you, one of your fellow “watchers,” Mr. St. Thomas, or someone else were able to take pictures of these areas, too, and might be able to share them with us all—if not on this Web page or one at the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, somewhere online.

Seeing as much of the proscenium as we’ve now been able to was a fascinating find—might there be any chance we might yet see more?

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on June 19, 2007 at 7:05 am

A correction.. It seems that my email address does not appear in the profile section. If you have any information about this theater, please write me at

Thank You!

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on May 1, 2007 at 11:11 am

If anyone has information about this theater in any of it’s business forms, please write me. My email address is on my profile, found under my name below.

Thank You!

senk1198
senk1198 on April 18, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Timothy R.—

Thanks for all those spectacular photos you’ve shared with us all. (Could you please contact me outside this site at my personal e-mail address if ever you decide to part with any of the pieces of the Venetian you were able to save?)

Milwaukeean Timothy St. Thomas, writing on the Milwaukee Renaissance site’s page on the failed efforts to rehabilitate the Venetian (http://www.milwaukeerenaissance.com/VenetianTheaterProject/HomePage), noted, as you did and your photos document, that the ceiling had fallen to the floor in areas not covered by the remnants of the roof and that he was planning to put a photo showing this on that Web site. The photo that you shared here showing the projection booth and the balcony is apparently now also on Mr. St. Thomas’s page at the Milwaukee Renaissance site, at View link)

Interestingly, however, Mr. St. Thomas also writes of having been able to fulfill a dream he had since childhood when he “had a moment of being in the building shell and standing on the stage.”

I hope that he, you, or someone else was able to take some photographs of whatever was left of the Venetian inside other than the well-documented proscenium and surrounding area and the rear of the auditorium. Even with the side walls and the areas on either side of the stage opening (including the remains of the organ chambers) painted over and no doubt ruined by years of water and other damage, it would be interesting to see what they ultimately looked like. (While Paul Bachowski informed me that he had intended to have the theater auditorium rebuilt in a modern, functional style, with the costs of any attempt to restore it to its original appearance prohibitive, I had wondered to myself about the possibility of at least considering trompe l'oeil painting to recapture at least the aura of the original decor.)

I thus hope that you, one of your fellow “watchers,” Mr. St. Thomas, or someone else were able to take pictures of these areas, too, and might be able to share them with us all—if not on this Web page or one at the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, somewhere online.

Seeing as much of the proscenium as we’ve now been able to was a fascinating find—might there be any chance we might yet see more?

Scott Enk

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on April 17, 2007 at 8:54 am

One of my fellow ‘watchers’ on the site took a photo of when the where opening the front of the building. Sadly enough, it had an incredable view of the upper lobby with many details.

View link

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on April 15, 2007 at 4:51 pm

For those who were wondering

View link

Photo taken of the site today…

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 1:58 pm

patrick—
as stated earlier, that issue is dead… at this point, i’m simply addressing questions regarding building materials. …and no legal threats have been made. thank you pat, eric

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on April 15, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Please end the plaster discussion, guys. It’s off-topic.

A special note to urbanremains: legal threats have no place on Cinema Treasures. If you threaten one of our users again, you will be banned.

havana
havana on April 15, 2007 at 8:47 am

Tim
I do appreciate all your photo’s and have shared them with Charlie, also thanks for the letter you sent to me a year ago, Charlie remembers you well and at 91 is as sharp as ever.
I wish I was still in the Milwaukee area, I surely would have salvaged a few mementoes. I remember well the Red door that had painted (Cut Rope in case of fire) and I also remember the heavy fabric curtains. In one of the photo’s from the book, pictured is an ornate table in the lobby area, the table up to about 20 years ago was still in the dressing room area, under the stage. The condition was poor, but probably wasn’t getting any worse.
Scott: Although we have never met, I do appreciate you commentary. It provides a future, to a soon, to be a grass corner on 37th Street.
In my posting of Dec 26, 2003 I mention that I travel to Cuba. This is still the case, I have started the development of a web site www.ILoveHavana.com In Cuba there are still many theaters that have not changed for the past 50 years, they are still used as a movie house, although most if not all are in need of much repair.
Several years ago The Cuban Government paid honor to Steven Spielberg and for 1 week showed in the theaters of Havana his films. My travels coincided with this event.
For a creative writer and photographer I think 2 weeks in Cuba would provide an opportunity to investigate and catalogue many of the fine old theater buildings.
If anyone has an interest in making a documentary in Cuba, please let me know.
Time is running.
Looking back I wish I had paid more attention to saving at least on Film the interior, even as early as 1960 the interior while not in pristine condition was pretty much intact. I still remember the curved stair rail that allowed access to the balcony from both sides of the lobby. I can be contacted directly so as not to clutter this wonderful site.
Steve

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on April 15, 2007 at 8:32 am

I’m sorry to see we have reduced parts of this page to name calling and the like. Glad we are back on track.

Urbanremains.. thank you for the education on terra cotta and the markings. That information really makes the piece mean even more to me. I’m thinking about the workers who had cast it and then those who read those markings and knew how to place it on the building as a result of that. All of this work was done, of course in the pre-computer age, when drawings were done with a pencil, ruler and T-square using a slide rule for calculations.

As of this morning, the former Venetian site is as follows,

A large heap of brick and rubble pushed to the center of the site. Nothing of the lobby or the like remains in place.

The stage wall and parts of the stage remain standing, all large metal has been removed.

One person I spoke to, who seemed to have a better idea on how a demo like this is done than I would know, told me that they could be putting this heap down as a cushion for when the pull the stage wall down. Sadly, that move will mark the very end of the Venetian Theater.

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 4:54 am

…and for an exact reference scott, the authors of the book “common clay” are george a. berry and sharon s. darling. a cautionary note: the book is hands down expensive, but well worth it in terms of the wealth of information it provides. if you or anyone else for that matter have additional questions and/or would like to see some of our orig. catalogs, or even want copied snipets of information most applicable to your research, please feel free to call and/or email… 312-523-4660 or if and when calling, ask any of our staff for the owner. i’ll be more than happy to share any and all information i have regarding the historic building materials used in making these grand theatres you all appreciate so dearly. thank you, eric

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 4:44 am

scott— regarding your other question… terra cotta is essentially, baked clay. indeed, the application of the ornament can be looked at as a veneer of sorts. a few other things though for scott and tim. i’ll begin by demystifying the markings and/or finger grooves found on the back. the markings seen along the sides (and painted in black) and/or found imprinted in the clay itself are simply “instructions” so-to-speak… the markings allow the masonry workers on site to place the pieces in the correct configuration along the facade. the finger markings on the backside are actually made during the process of preparing the clay for the kiln. the cavities behind the pieces are “gouged” out in order to allow for the mortar, brick and anchors to be set in place during installation. those three components — tie rods, brick and mortar are essential to anchor the pieces into the facade.

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 4:31 am

okay, i need to take blogging 101… so, the molds are most likely gone…discarded. if any of the venetian was to be recreated, one would have to make a mold off the existing pieces recovered from the demolition. …and we recognize the importance of this…prior to making the items for the public to enjoy (and yes, there is a price ((we are a business) we photographically document, draw to scale and create a “rough” mold of existing pieces…of course, this tedious process only applies to incredibly unique items like the venetian fragments for example. if anything, this information makes a great supplement for the historic american building survey via the national park service.

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 4:25 am

whoops, sorry about the grammatical errors here…i write carelessly sometimes… and i meant to say “accusatory” regarding the above…so much for my graduate school training… scott, i recommend you check out the book entitled “commnon clay.” the book includes facimiles of the company’s newsletter (provides great insight into the sculptors involved in making the actual molds used to create the terra cotta), along w/ detailed information regarding the manufacturing prcoess itself. to answer your question directly scott, you will not find the terra cotta used on the venetian in any catalog. although some companies had “common stock” (i.e., used time and again), for the most part, projects such as the venetian were treated as a unique case by case situation. hence, the importance of rescuing the fragments — any and all! to make matters worse, the orig.

plaster molds used in making the terra cotta are likely lost or have k

urbanremainschicago
urbanremainschicago on April 15, 2007 at 4:13 am

hello scott…and others—
i’m so very sorry that people like “snweb” exist to infuse their self righteous, self absorbed accusary opinions regarding issues that steer away from the focal point; that of course being the presentation of information regarding the acknowledgement and respect for structures of the past. that being said, i’ll address you question… my name is eric and i own urban remains. in addition to our artifact collection, we have a large collection of orig. catalogs, etc. from terra cotta companies based in the chicago area. the amercian terra cotta co., along w/ northwestern, produced some of the greatest terra cotta ornament for commissions involving louis sullivan, etc. the “master” sculptor at the time was a man named kristian schneider, who created almost all of louis sullivan’s ornament. cont…

dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddo not

want to

senk1198
senk1198 on April 14, 2007 at 10:12 pm

One last correction to my original April 15, 2007, posting to this page: The pertinent paragraph therein should be, and hereby is, corrected to read as follows:

-o0o-

Fortunately, no one was hurt, although, as Terry, the young man who lives with his family in the first-floor apartment, noted to me, bricks from the theater crashed through the attic of the house into its second-story apartment. As he showed me on April 14, all the first-floor windows (and, he said, at least some of those on the second floor) on the side of the house facing the theater were broken.

-o0o-

Hey, my training did include journalism—so while I might be a fairly good writer and researcher, I’m not perfect; I do place a very high value, however, on acknowledging and correcting mistakes or ambiguities when they do occur. ‘Night, everyone.

Scott Enk

senk1198
senk1198 on April 14, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Mea maxima culpa! First, my apologies for the repetitive posting from a couple of days ago—my computer had a bad case of electronic hiccups when I tried to amend my posting virtually at the moment I sent it. The most recent version of it is the one to follow.

The pertinent paragraph of my previous posting should be, and hereby is, corrected to read as follows:

-o0o-

I did get to take hundreds of photos yesterday—sad, yet beautiful and powerful. You can see some of the best—and most telling and informative—at the following link:

-o0o-

The link itself is correct.

I am sooooooo amazed at how the Venetian, at least based on what I’ve seen, has had more photos of and about it submitted to Cinema Treasures—or any other Web site not devoted to a single theater—than any other theater. This is truly a tribute, not only to the Venetian and to the cause of theater preservation, but to sooooooo many dedicated Milwaukee-area movie-palace mavens, from the late, great Jim Rankin to the equally incomparable Larry Widen and Judi Anderson to the dedicated Timothy R. and so many other great folks.

As for my own photographs, the overall views I’ve taken of what I call the “tragic altar” (the Venetian’s stage and rear wall) and its “great sacrificial offering … a giant pile of rubble and twisted metal that once was most of the rest of the theater” might be the closest I’ll ever get as a photographer to Larry Widen’s haunting final photos (1984) of the ravaged interior of Milwaukee’s Egyptian, the famed pictures of Gloria Swanson amid the ruins of New York’s Roxy, or the famous “Irreplaceable” poster photo of the razing of San Francisco’s Fox, but my purpose in taking and sharing such photos is to help hasten the day when we will never again have occasion to take or share such pictures.

Better for us all to share examples of theater preservation, as well as film and theater-organ preservation, in action as daily realities in everyone’s lives!

Scott Enk

“Only the people who lived through an era, who are the real
participants in the drama as it occurs, know the truth. The people of each generation, it seems to me, are the most accurate historians of their time."
—Lillian Gish, in her autobiography The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (1969)

sdoerr
sdoerr on April 14, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Just a quick note to urbanremains, even though this is not the place is discuss such matters.

I can only go on the facts here, that the above plaster was from the Palace, which is not set to come down at all, and thus has never been in the position where it was allowed to be legally salvaged.

This mentality of getting from a reputable dealer is a bad excuse. I remember in Detroit that the Lee Plaza Hotel had beautiful terra-cotta lions illegally stolen out, sold to a architectural salvage company, and many were later put on a new condo project in Chicago. The owner was shocked to find out that they were pillaged.

Your comopany shouldinvestigate things before allowing yourselfs to sell the plaster and later attacking me by leaving harmful comments on this website and on my own. All I can do is provide the facts. If you want to continue this matter, email me before trying to out me as a bad character.