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.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened in 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 44 comments)

MiltonSmith
MiltonSmith on June 16, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Replacement of the lobby roof was completed last week.

LouRugani
LouRugani on July 21, 2012 at 1:18 am

(Kenosha News article on the GATEWAY Theatre [July 16, 2012] by Diane Giles)

People stood in line on Dec. 29, 1927 at the Gateway Theater box office to pay 30 cents for tickets to see live entertainment in addition to the silent film comedy adventure “She’s a Sheik,” staring Bebe Daniels.

The Gateway is now Rhode Center for the Arts, 514 56th St. The Gateway was the third building to stand on the site. The original Rhode Opera House, built in 1891 was destroyed in 1896 fire and 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. That’s more than $6.5 million in today’s money.

The theater was designed by George Leslie Rapp of Chicago. George and his brother Cornelius W. Rapp, who died a year before the Gateway opened, designed some of the finest movie palaces in the country.

“We found the blueprints at the Chicago Historical Society and were able to purchase a copy,” said Judy Rossow, manager of Pollard Gallery and former board member of Rhode Center for the Arts.

The Rapp firm’s three greatest achievements, according to “Motion Picture News” of Dec. 25, 1926, were the Paramount Theater in New York, the Oriental in Chicago and Shea’s Buffalo Theater in Buffalo, N.Y. The Rapps also designed the grand Chicago Theater in the heart of Chicago.

Seating 1,260, the Gateway Theater boasted a $60,000 organ offering wide instrumentation and sound effects.

But the real magnificence of the theater wasn’t in the auditorium. It was in the lobby, and much of it still is visible today.

“It’s different but basically the underlying is the same,” Rossow said.

Victor S. Pearlman and Co. of Chicago created the four crystal chandeliers that hang from the ceiling. The brown tiles on the floor that continue up the walls are original, made in Milwaukee at Continental Faience and Tile Co.

Perhaps the most intriguing are the decorative tiles made in Seville, Spain, at the Manuel Ramos Rejano factory.

Some frame panels stretching up two stories. Then there are the six ceramic benches that tell the story of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” Each has a different scene, but all of them are signed by the artist.

Rossow says the benches once had wrought iron arms and backs, but those amenities were removed. The railings on the balcony and stairway, ribbed glass on the front doors and the mirrored walls in the outer ladies lounge also date back to 1927.

But there have been changes. Missing are the draperies and mural panels that once graced the lobby walls. A fountain that once stood in the lobby was removed in the 1970s.

The four large sconces in the lobby once hung in the auditorium, but they were moved. Others installed in the 1960s makeover into the Lake Theater have disappeared over the years.

“The sconces that were in the lobby in pre-1970 are no longer around,” Rossow explained. “I know of only one in the vicinity. The rest belong to collectors.”

LouRugani
LouRugani on October 30, 2012 at 9:03 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
MiltonSmith on December 10, 2012 at 1:05 am

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
LouRugani on December 29, 2012 at 2:32 am

‘’‘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
CarltonSmith on September 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

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
MiltonSmith on September 10, 2013 at 11:13 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
Rhodeoperafan on December 23, 2013 at 3:18 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
LouRugani on March 3, 2014 at 7:06 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
LouRugani on May 26, 2014 at 12:56 am

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."

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