Layton Park Theatre
2275 S. Layton Boulevard,
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The Layton Park Theatre was not named after any real park, but the neighborhood in which it was located became known that way due to a subdivision developer using a picturesque name in 1886. The fact that it was located on Layton Boulevard (part of S. 27th Street) did give rise to its original name: the Boulevard in 1911, a pivotal year that saw the rise of the transitional Butterfly Theatre downtown. While this area on the south side of Milwaukee at Lincoln Avenue was not the ‘ritzy’ quality of downtown, it was a prosperous street of noble homes, but not quite mansions. This location therefore attracted an early Polish immigrant, Frank Rogosky, to buy the corner lot and develop a traditional photoplay ‘parlor’ on that site. Its facade was 60-ft wide of brown brick, but with a fine white terra cotta arch three stories high on the four story facade. Typical of its day, it was studded with light bulbs and fronted a recessed entry in the center of which was an island box office. The rest of the facade was marked by ornaments in the same terra cotta including a name sign almost the width of the building that originally said ‘Boulevard’.
There were no marquees or vertical signs then, and the facade illuminated its custom-painted signs for each attraction with two carbon arc globe lamps on arms protruding from either side of the wall out over the sidewalk. It was almost a daily job replacing the carbon rods as they burned away, so it was with delight that theater owners welcomed the advent of larger, brighter incandescent bulbs which made these fixtures obsolete not long after installation.
In 1919 the movie house was taken over by one Anton Washicheck who promptly renamed it the Layton Park Theatre and remodeled the facade including the 40-ft-wide name sign in terra cotta to carry the new name. It was not a unique design and the only ornaments inside the 600-seat auditorium were framed plaster cartouches above the exit doors flanking the stage (which had no stagehouse for a fly space). A rather plain pilaster-and-box-beam design was seen. The one thing this latter remodeling did provide with the removal of the great arched recess on the facade was a new flat front out to the sidewalk line and that allowed space for a manager’s apartment and the one feature distinguishing this cinema from every other one in the city: a private viewing room.
THE VIEWING ROOM
Wouldn’t you like your own private viewing room to see your favorite films in your favorite theatre? Well, that is exactly what Mrs. Richard Seidel (born Lorrie Brunet) had whenever she came from her hometown, FonDuLac, WI., to visit her uncle “Buck” here in Milwaukee, where he managed the Layton Park theatre in the mid-1930s. His real name was Lawrence Gideon Brunet (pronounced the French way: Brew-Nay) and during his career he managed several Milwaukee theater’s, but his home was a spacious apartment above the lobby of the theatre with a viewing room at the back of the auditorium with room for 4 or 5 people to look through a glass window at the movie below. Mrs. Seidel’s fond memories of the “free” movies and popcorn she enjoyed in there include the “Flash Gordon” serials and the cowboys star Tom Mix. This may not have been the only such room in a Milwaukee theatre, but it was a delightful world of its own for a ten year old girl!
By 1927, a $10,000 Barton brand theatre pipe organ was installed to replace the player piano which had occupied the orchestra pit. Of course, not long thereafter, sound movies were installed and the pipe organ was little heard from again (blueprints show that air conditioning ducts usurped its space years later). In 1943 a converted streamlined railroad car appeared adjacent to the theater on the vacant lot to the north and took the role of a candy and popcorn store like the many such which bordered show houses across the nation. By 1945, typical aluminum poster cases replaced the wooden originals along with rebuilding of the box office and marquee. The slogan was then painted above the four plate glass doors: ‘Milwaukee’s Coziest Theatre’.
Comes 1971 and it had faded badly and but it did not have to await the slow death of most other neighborhood houses, for the city decreed a street widening of Lincoln Avenue at that intersection and the site of the Layton Park Theatre became a right turn lane with a small dental clinic now on the remaining land. Today the younger generation in this now Hispanic area knows nothing of the “coziness” of this memorial to the area’s beginning as a reference to a sylvan glade that never existed. Ironically, the name ‘Boulevard’ is now used by a storefront theatre for live plays at 2250 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue at Lincoln Avenue. (30 blocks east of the site of the original Boulevard Theatre, just a few doors from the location of Milwaukee’s first cinema of 1905: the storefront Comique Theatre, now a liquor store).
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