Rhode Center for the Arts

514 56th Street,
Kenosha, WI 53140

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RHODE Opera House vertical sign, as seen in April 2012.

Opened December 29, 1927, the former Lake Theater, and later Gateway Theater is now home to the Lakeside Players, a community theater group.

Contributed by Pete Christy

Recent comments (view all 45 comments)

LouRugani on October 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm

TRIPLE SCREEN (Kenosha News; Tuesday, December 9, 1975, p. 31)

The Lake Theater will be remodeled and expanded into a triple screen theater in late 1976, John F. Ling, theater owner, announced Monday.

The project’s first phase entails dividing the theater in half to make two auditoriums, one seating 475 persons and the other 485.

Work on the theater’s “twinning” should begin in January and be completed by March, Ling said. The Lake Geneva architectural firm Nafziger and Howard, currently involved in constructing a double-screen theater in Lake Geneva, was the designer.

The project’s second phase, beginning in the Fall of 1976, will put a third, mini-theater seating 300, in part of the area presently the lobby. The balcony will be eliminated.

Ling said he had also been thinking of selling the theater, called by some a city landmark, to build a theater outside of the downtown area. He said the Southport Mall project and expanded parking facilities via a recent trade with American Motors convinced him to stay downtown.

Mayor Wallace Burkee said the city was considering buying the Union Dye building, east of the theater on 5th Avenue, for conversion to a 28-space parking lot.

The theater remodeling will cost $100,000 to $150,000, Ling said. He added the cost to expand to a third screen area will equal the first phase cost.

The revamping will give patrons a wider choice of movies by allowing more films to be shown, said Ling. The theater had previously been remodeled in the late 1950s (sic), Ling said.

Burkee called the plans one of the “first tangible large remodeling projects since the mall.” He said he expects further such downtown projects.

MiltonSmith on December 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm

The twinning is what they called remodeling? Wow, funny way to use that term, and it cost 100 to 150k to do it? Wow, amazing it cost that much money to muck it all up. Its a shame what the twinning did to that theater. I heard even in its beaten-up condition it was an impressive single theater.

Also, glad to see that 3rd phase never happened. That would have been the end of that building for sure had the lobby been gutted.

LouRugani on December 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm

‘’‘Today is the GATEWAY Theatre’s 85th Anniversary.’‘’

Twenty-five years ago tonight I conducted a well-attended Theatre Historical Society tour through the GATEWAY which had closed in April 1984 but reopened that night with a live performance by a local amateur theatrical company.

(Thursday, June 1, 1939)

Onyx Club Orchestra to Play at Gateway Theater

“Stuff” Smith, composer of “I'se a Muggin” and the leader of the famed Onyx Club orchestra, will be at the Gateway theater in Kenosha next Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, at the matinee and evening performances, to entertain with the swing music which has made the name of “Stuff” Smith a Broadway and Chicago byword.

When Walter Winchell wrote “Look for the next wallop in swing bands when "Stuff” Smith and his boys open at the Onyx club,“ he was right, for "Stuff” and his boys have made the Onyx Club nationally famous as “The Cradle of Swing.”

This great colored orchestra has recently completed a successful five month engagement at the Blue Fountain room of Chicago’s Hotel La Salle.

Featured with the orchestra are several of the hottest stars of swing, including Jonah Jones, Harlem’s famous “Gabriel of the Trumpet.” Regular admission prices will prevail.

CarltonSmith on September 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

Does anyone have any origional photos of the Barton theatre pipe organ console in this theatre? Or any other information about the instrument? I believe I have the console.

MiltonSmith on September 10, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Carlton, I think saw a picture of that console last week! It was very exciting to see as I Always assumed that old Barton console was lost to a scrap yard. Its nice to see it still out there!

Rhodeoperafan on December 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

This article and pictures are WONDERFUL!! My daughter just finished the production of “The best Christmas Pageant ever”, I was a backstage volunteer – and for the 2 months I spent in this wonderful building, I fell in love. It’s so beautiful. I even enjoyed the “spooky” tales of ghosts and hauntings that are associated with it as well.

LouRugani on March 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm

That History Column: ‘’‘’ ‘Kenosha Theater was one of first in the world to screen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ ‘’‘’ (Kenosha News, February 2, 2013, by Diane Giles)

“We’re not in Kansas anymore” is a phrase that slipped into our vernacular in 1939, along with a number of other gems from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”

The phrase could have just as well been “We’re not in Kenosha anymore,” as Kenosha was one of two locales that were the first in the world to show the movie on the big screen.

The film was shown to the public on Friday, Aug. 11, 1939, right here at The Gateway Theater (now known as the Rhode Center for the Arts) in Kenosha, and at the Cape Cinema on Cape Cod in Dennis, Mass.

You heard right. Forget Oconomowoc, who has claimed that honor for more than 30 years — it showed the film the day after we did in Kenosha.

(For the record, the movie was shown at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc and at the Venetian Theatre in Racine on Aug. 12.)

For Joe Cardamone, the stage and music director of Lakeside Players’ production of the “The Wizard of Oz” on stage this month at the Rhode, it’s an exciting little piece of trivia.

“It’s sort of odd to think that it would have played at some of these smaller venues before opening in a big city,” Cardamone said. “To think that it not only played in Kenosha first, but at this very theater.”

Newspaper advertisements show that as of Aug. 9, Gateway Theater manager T.R. Reilly planned on opening the film Saturday, Aug. 12, but the Aug. 10 ad announced the Wizard would be shown “Tomorrow.”

The Kenosha crowds got their first glimpse of the yellow brick road at the Friday matinee.

Why did Reilly jump the gun?

“They may have gotten the print early; they may have been doing lousy business with the films they had showing in the latter part of that week,” suggested John Fricke, one of the authors of “Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History,” in a 1991 interview.

Or it could have been because Aug. 11 was the last day a patron could obtain Volume One of the Standard American Encyclopedia, the promotion offered at the Gateway at that time.

Theater promotions of the day enticed people back to the movies to collect a set of dishes — one piece per admission — and other household items.

If people didn’t get that first volume of this encyclopedia, chances are they wouldn’t be interested in the remaining 14 volumes. And the theater owner might have been stuck with the books.

By Aug. 11, “Over the Rainbow” was No. 4 on the list of the top 10 sheet-music sellers, a measure comparable to the to 40 songs of today.

The Kenosha Evening News in conjunction with the theater ran a coloring contest depicting Oz characters, so the excitement for the film was building.

“The Wizard of Oz” played at the Gateway for six days. After just four days of showing, the theater claimed that 8,000 patrons had seen the feature.

Showing the film at all these small-town theater venues does seem a bit weird when you consider that the movie had its West Coast premiere in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Aug. 15, and it opened in New York two days later on Aug. 17.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on Oconomowoc.

The movie was advertised there as a world premiere, as the Milwaukee film distributor advised the Strand owners Harley and Ruth Huebner that they were the first to exhibit the film.

Someone just forgot to tell that to Mr. Reilly.

If there isn’t room for the main column and at least two photos, don’t run this sidebar. It’s interesting, but not essential. DG

Oddly enough, MGM lost nearly $1 million on the first release of “The Wizard of Oz.” The production, distribution, prints and advertising costs did not offset the gross of $3,335,000 the picture took in.

Author and “Wizard of Oz” expert John Fricke explained that there were three reasons for this:

— The glut of incoming film product. A picture couldn’t be held over for more than a day or two because Hollywood was cranking out too many films.

— Even though the theaters were filled for each showing, as much as half of the audience were children who were admitted at cut rate prices.

LouRugani on May 25, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Rhode’s windows undergoing a facelift (Kenosha News, May 23, 2014 by Bill Guida)

“Workmen began a fenestral facelift Friday at the Rhode Center of the Arts, with removal of the steel frames and glass panes from the arched second-floor windows of the vintage theater and opera house overlooking 56th Street.

Lowell Bros. Construction Co., of Kenosha, is doing the removal and is scheduled to install new, updated windows within the next two weeks.

Steve Mattner, a Rhode board member, said the new windows not only will be more energy efficient, but will “show off” to passersby the four original crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling of the ornate lobby inside the downtown Kenosha landmark.

Now home to The Lakeside Players, the original Rhode Opera House was built in 1891 but destroyed by fire in 1896, although it was rebuilt the same year.

The second building was razed by Milwaukee entertainment giants the Saxe Brothers in 1926 to make way for the “modern” building costing a half million dollars — more than $6.5 million in today’s money — and which opened in 1927 as the Gateway Theater.

The third building to stand on the site, the Gateway Theater was leased to another operator in 1963, who renamed it the Lake Theater, which underwent a building makeover in 1976 before closing 12 years later.

In 1987, the Kenosha Lakeshore Business Improvement District (now the Downtown BID) accepted the Rhode family’s request to take title to the property and renamed it once again the Rhode Opera House. In 1989, Lakeside Players, a community theater group, bought the building for the cost of improvements.

In July 2004, with the opening of the Pollard Gallery in the building, which also houses another art gallery in the second floor Madrigrano Mezzanine — Rhode Opera House was renamed Rhode Center for the Arts."

MiltonSmith on October 31, 2015 at 1:55 pm

After those windows were replaced now work has proceeded on relighting the front chandelier which has been pretty much hidden from view for years and left dark. The plan from what I hear is to have it on a sensor so it turns on at night, lighting the center front window through out the night. Currently a lone bulb is in it and turns on with the other lights. Not heard a timeline for when this will occur. There has been other small improvements occurring backstage such as dressing room improvements/painting and improving the backstage bathrooms.

LouRugani on January 2, 2018 at 2:32 pm

The GATEWAY Theatre’s 90th Anniversary last Friday passed without a word of observance from the current occupants … not a good sign, in my opinion.

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