1104 W. Lincoln Avenue,
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It is usual that those who write about theatres want to write about the large, elaborate ones, but sometimes even the small, early, less elaborate ones survive in some form into our day, and merit mention in history. Such is the case for the LINCOLN theatre, a forerunner in the day of the ‘Photoplay Parlor’ which succeeded the Nickelodeon in the progression of technology and movie exhibition. Milwaukee had many nickelodeon theatres by 1910 when the Lincoln opened with its original 540, later 338 seats, and while most of them were converted storefronts, this was a purpose-built cinema. One of the things distinguishing a cinema from a theatre is the lack of a stage house into which scenery and draperies are raised. The Lincoln, named after the street it is on, never had one, but it did bear many of the marks of structures of its type after the first decade of the 20th Century.
While the Lincoln had most of the accoutrements of the beginning photoplay parlors, (e.g. pressed tin ceilings and wainscoting, a shallow platform stage without wings or flytower, radiator heating, a player piano but no pipe organ, and a comparatively simple facade) it did have one feature which no other theatre had: an L-shaped auditorium with the small leg of the ‘L’ at the right front. Just how the 50 seats in this section out of view from the rear were kept in control by the manager is not known, but you can bet that it was a great corner for kids to goof off! This ‘L’ addition was the result of an expansion a year later by the owners, the Kantak Brothers, who occupied the adjacent seed store and confectionery that served the theater, this in the days long before concession stands.
This cinema’s lighting was a mixture of types with bare ‘stud lights’ in the ceiling forming ellipses through the pressed tin, accompanied by suspended plaster or composition bowls as ‘up-lights’; this was indicative of the transition from the often crude storefront nickelodeons with a few bare bulbs to the greater decor attempted with up-lights, then made possible by brighter tungsten bulbs coming on the scene. The little shelf brackets upon the imitation pilasters along the walls and above the sconces (taking the form of a pair of pendulous frosted glass tubes) are for small electric fans, the absence of which indicates that the only known photo of the interior was taken in a warm month. A fringed, velour house curtain did grace the rectangular proscenium and similar modest portieres framed the doorways until the fire inspector ordered them removed, and stenciled panels between the mock pilasters contributed what little decoration there was. The theatre could boast that they did have a concrete floor as opposed to the creaky wooden ones then common, but the same could not be said for the seats, no padding here!
The Lincoln, one of the earliest of Milwaukee’s photoplay parlors, survives today as one of the earliest examples still standing, but it is now the unmarked warehouse and shop of the Accurate Chimney Co. The proprietress, Miss Donna, expresses no interest whatsoever in the history of her building, and maintains her office elsewhere. Before her reign, the cinema had other incarnations after the projectors fell dark in 1966, notably as a portrait studio for many years. Milwaukee architect Stanley Kadow designed the place (along with the CENTRAL and AVENUE photoplay parlors), but if he were alive today he would recognize only the exterior of the 30-foot wide, by 120-foot deep brick building which never had a balcony. The new incarnation of the RIVIERA THEATRE (as Ben’s Cycle Warehouse) is almost directly across the street, and that house was also an example of transition, but from the photoplay parlor to the movie palace since it rose ten years later in 1920. See its description soon to appear elsewhere here.
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