Old Gem Theater
116 South Knowles Avenue,
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The Gem is in New Richmond, Wisconsin. Built about 1914 of poured concrete with a brick facade. Thomas Lynch was the original owner. Purchased in 1927 by Jack G. Heywood, a film salesman for National General Pictures. Heywood also owned and operated the Gem, Amery, WI; the Lyric, Cornell, WI; the Star, Stanley, WI under the name Heywood Amusement Company. He also leased buildings in Osceola and Clear Lake Wisconsin and operated theaters there. Sound was introduced in 1927 to the Gem and extensively remodeled in the 1930’s that incorporated elements of Art Deco and Moderne design. The basic design remained the same until 1977 when the building was redecorated with fabric on the walls of the auditorium and the metal marquee was removed for structural reasons.
The Gem has a single level auditorium with no balcony. The projection booth and âï¿½ï¿½cry roomsâï¿½ï¿½ are reached via stairs at the front of the building. It has a small outer and larger inner lobby, separated by the box office.
Technically the Heywoods equipped the theater with state of the art sound and projection equipment. They installed the first generation of stereo sound and a wide screen in the 1950âï¿½ï¿½s.
The Heywoods operated the business until the 1950âï¿½ï¿½s when Richard Sager leased the business. He operated The Gem until the mid-1970âï¿½ï¿½s. After a short attempt to operate the Gem by a neighboring operator from Hudson, Wisconsin failed it closed for about two years. The building was renovated by Stan McCullogh and Roland Rivard and re-opened by Rivard in 1977. Rivard operated the business until 1988. An employee of Rivardâï¿½ï¿½s attempted to operate the business and the projectors when dark in 1990.
The building was purchased from the Heywoods by John and Judy Hackbarth and renovated to accommodate live performances in 1991. It was renamed the Old Gem Theater in 2002. The theater retains a distinctive art-deco decor with many original fixtures and renovated art-deco murals on the walls. The facade has returned to its original 1914 lines.
The Gem was the site of a campaign visit by John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Wisconsin primary. Kennedyâï¿½ï¿½s campaign director, brother Robert, scouted sites for stops in Western Wisconsin prior to his appearance and picked the Gem based on Richard Sager allegiance to the Democrats and the theaterâï¿½ï¿½s proximity to the Minnesota border the home state of Kennedyâï¿½ï¿½s primary opponent, Hubert Humphrey.
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