Oriental Theatre

2230 N. Farwell Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Unfavorite 27 people favorited this theater

ORIENTAL Theatre; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 12/19/2012.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

When the Oriental Theatre opened in 1927, it was among the most exotic and ornate movie palaces to have opened in Milwaukee with its Middle Eastern-meets-Far Eastern decor.

Although the large auditorium was divided into three smaller auditoriums in the late-1980’s, the decor was largely kept intact, miraculously, and the theater has managed to retain its 1920’s appearance to the present.

Its Kimball Organ, played each Saturay before each 7 p.m. show, is the largest of its kind remaining in the US. The Oriental Theatre is known for holding the record for a continuous midnight screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, which it has been performing since January, 1978.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 52 comments)

toddmelby on November 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Does Landmark do a good job with upkeep at the Oriental? Landmark owns the Uptown in Minneapolis and it’s awful: rickety seats, torn carpeting, etc. I’d like to hear from someone who has recently visited.

Hal on March 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I was just reading this (better late than never) and was amused and confused by the posting way above talking about Dolby Stereo, in particular Dolby SR. SR was and is a special noise reduction system which is used only when the SVA tracks are in use, those would be the “2 wiggles” alongside the picture area. Most theaters these days only use the digital track, but most systems will automatically default to the Dolby SR tracks if the digital fails. Dolby optical stereo always had a surround track, unless the director chose not to use one. Dolby EX was a split “stereo surround system” for 35mm, frankly it never really worked all that well and most theaters don’t use it anymore, 70mm Dolby always had stereo surrounds and this was supposed to be a way for a 35mm house to have the same effect. It worked well for 70mm because of the discrete magnetic tracks, but for 35mm it was like trying to put 10 gallons in a 5 gallon hat, too much stuff! Some of you may remember “Quintaphonic Sound” for Tommy, this was a magnetic system but it was pretty much the same idea, it didn’t work very well either, it split the surround track for 2 surround feeds but the surround track on magnetic 35mm was very narrow and prone to noise and other issues. When Dolby Stereo came out it was really a 2 channel system with left and right with a mix to fill the center channel, and they used a SQ matrix to come up with a surround track, if a theater runs a Dolby stereo print in standard analog (no digital or SR) that’s pretty much what you still wind up with. The new digital projection and sound (no film) systems now can reproduce multiple surround sound tracks in addition to the normal left, center, right and subwoofer. Early Dolby Stereo was pretty primitive, compared to discrete magnetic sound (there were some attempts at Dolby 35mm magnetic but only 70mm wound up with them)but Dolby has made quantum leaps in technology to give us the superb sound we sometimes take for granted today.

spectrum on January 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Landmark Theatres has a facebook page for the Oriental theatre at


They have a photo gallery with some nice interior photos.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on November 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm

As of the summer of 2012, the Oriental is showing most of their films via digital projector. I think The Master was one of the first they ran that way. And to answer a question from two year ago, they do a very good keeping up the Oriental. They even let you sneak up into the balcony to look around.

LeeMatthias on January 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I worked at the Oriental from 1978-1990, first as a relief projectionist, then as the main projectionist, and finally as the manager/projectionist. I showed ROCKY HORROR so many times I am amazed I am still functional. And I was present during the transformation to 3 screens.

I have fond memories from those years. Many a night after work I went out with two others on staff, Chris and Jerry, to one of the bars—Von Trier, Landmark Lanes, or Vituccis, mostly. We became the Farwell-North Society, and the members each possessed a Portuguese coin that I had brought back from a trip to Portugal with Tony Bronson (Charles’s son) on a film shoot. The member had to produce his coin on demand or he would have to buy the next round. I was there the night Century Hall burned to the ground and we all just watched in disbelief. I had performed there years earlier as a cast member of Krystal Set a live radio-comedy improv group.

I’m also a writer (thelastreveal.blogspot.com), with several books out and screenplays looking for production. My favorite memory of the Oriental is the long hot summer (1984) when I wrote THE JUPE, kind of THE SHINING in a movie palace. Many a night I scared myself so bad I had trouble leaving through that dark balcony and upper foyer as the last one at the end of the night. After a table reading of THE JUPE, one of the audience members, a theater owner, told me he thought he’d have a hard time closing his theater late at night after that. The Jupiter Theater in the story is the Oriental down to the last detail, including the sub-basements, false ceiling and attic, and ghosts.

Lee Matthias

Bruce C.
Bruce C. on January 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Hey Lee. I was one of the RHPS regulars back in the mid-1980s (along with Betzi and the Celluloid Jam). I enjoyed your comment and would love to read your script some day. The best part about being in the cast was getting to hang out in the Oriental every weekend. It’s such an amazing theater.

AESoBe on April 13, 2013 at 5:51 am

I am a student at MATC studying tv/video production.. I;m currently doing a project called Milwaukee’s entertainment history and am looking for someone to interview who is knowledgable about the Oriental’s history.. If you have any questions feel free to email @ .com THanks a bunch

Trolleyguy on April 8, 2016 at 7:33 am

Updated website link: https://www.landmarktheatres.com/milwaukee/oriental-theatre

LouRugani on June 19, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Milwaukee Film to operate Oriental Theatre; Fundraising $10 million to revitalize 90-year-old facility (by Lauren Anderson, BizTimes, June 19, 2017)

Milwaukee Film, the organizer of the city’s annual film festival, has entered into a 31-year lease to operate the Oriental Theatre and announced plans to make upgrades to the historic facility. The nonprofit organization is fundraising $10 million to revitalize the 1927 theater with the goal of “creating a superior customer experience and making the Oriental Theatre a state of the art historic cinema,” according to a Milwaukee Film news release.

The Oriental Theatre, located on Milwaukee’s east side, opened in 1927. The theater, located on Milwaukee’s East Side at 2230 N. Farwell Ave., is currently operated by Los Angeles-based Landmark Theatres. When it assumes operation of the theater in July 2018, Milwaukee Film plans to run a year-round, nonprofit cinema.

“The Oriental Theatre is a treasure. I have visited hundreds of cinemas worldwide and the Oriental Theatre is my favorite. It is magical to see 1,000 of our members fill the main house at our monthly screenings,” said Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director of Milwaukee Film. “Our nine-year-old organization securing long-term control of this cinema is a momentous occasion. We have cemented our permanence in Milwaukee and intend to greatly expand our cultural, economic, and educational impact on our community.”

The organization has secured $3 million of its $10 million fundraising goal. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who co-founded Milwaukee Film, made a personal contribution of $2 million.

“From day one, every person involved in Milwaukee Film – from staff, to volunteers, to the board, to our dedicated 3,600 members – has been driven by the goal of not simply creating a film festival, but creating one of the best and biggest film festivals in the world,” Abele said. “This announcement brings us closer to that goal. It isn’t the culmination or an end point, it’s the start of the next chapter.”

The Herzfeld Foundation has also committed $1 million to the initiative.

Designs haven’t yet been completed, but the organization is “committed to maintaining the existing aesthetics and character of this iconic Milwaukee building,” according to the release.

Khnemu on June 26, 2017 at 7:42 pm

More on Milwaukee Film’s upcoming operation of the Oriental:


You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater