Geneva 4 Theatre

244 Broad Street,
Lake Geneva, WI 53147

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LouRugani on October 4, 2018 at 7:30 am

It was the place where people saw their first movie on a big screen, where they had their first bucket of popcorn or their first date. But the future of the theater at 244 Broad St., Lake Geneva, became uncertain after it closed in 2010. At one point, there were plans to turn the historic building — which once hosted appearances by the Marx Brothers, Bela Lugosi and Will Rogers — into a boutique shopping mall. Fate took a different turn, and in 2017, after a renovation, the Geneva Theater reopened. Once again, the theater brings first-run films to downtown Lake Geneva, and the stage that once existed when the theater was built in 1928 has been restored.

Back in the early days of the theater, vaudeville acts performed at least twice a week as a way for owners of the single-screen movie theater to supplement their income. “Just like they did in the late 20s and early 30s, we are using that stage,” said Marie Frederick, Geneva Theater’s events coordinator. Frederick and Geneva Theater owner Shad Branen discussed how the history of the theater guided the new look and plan for the building.

In 1928, the theater was a single-screen auditorium, with 750 seats, including a balcony. At its opening gala June 6, 1928, the theater hosted a screening of “Telling the World,” a comedic drama starring William Haines and Anita Page, released that same year.

Geneva and the Burlington Plaza theaters were both built in 1928 and operated by the same company, Community Theaters Inc. The president of Community Theaters Inc. was William F. Pabst, whom Frederick believes to be a descendant of Frederick Pabst, who was perhaps most remembered as president of Pabst Brewing Co. Coincidentally, Branen also owns the Burlington Plaza. He said the purchase and renovation of Geneva Theater cost in excess of $2 million.

Over the years since its opening gala, Geneva Theater changed ownership. During subsequent renovations, the single auditorium became two screening rooms, then four — three on the ground floor, and the former balcony was turned into the fourth room. By the time Branen was involved, Geneva Theater had been gutted. In the upper-level screening room, the wall with the projection screen had been torn down. Roof leaks caused water damage in Theater 1, the location of the historic stage.

“Usually they’re in pretty rough shape,” said Branen, of old theaters. “Either they’re empty, and sitting empty, or they’ve been repurposed into something else, and to bring them back requires a lot of work because they aren’t the auditoriums that they were.”

Branen discussed renovation plans with Friends of the Geneva Theater, a citizen group which sought to turn the building into a cultural center. He said they tried to keep as much of the old theater intact as they could, but changed other parts to create special event accommodations. Much of Theater 1, including the stage and ceiling, was restored. The wall to the upper-level screening room was rebuilt.

During the renovation, Branen discovered several features of the building that had been walled off — old staircases, including one which led from the main lobby to the old balcony, which is where an alcove now stands that displays old theater pictures. He also found a basement wall signed by those who participated in previous theater programs and productions. The wall has been preserved, and another next to it left blank, waiting to be signed by those who take part in future plays and happenings at the theater. Now, the theater is a place where state-of-the-art projection and sound systems exist alongside images and artifacts from celluloid yesteryear. A table that projectionists used to splice film reels together juts out of the wall near Theaters 3 and 4.

Frederick wants to create historic displays about the people who first opened the theater. But in the last year, Geneva Theater has played host to various private and public gatherings — film festivals, comedy shows, productions by local theater groups.

People tell Branen stories all the time about movies they remembered seeing at Geneva Theater. But to him, right now, Geneva Theater is a success story.“The community of Lake Geneva played a big part in that,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the community support.”

Visit to find out more about movie screenings and special events at the theater.

Trolleyguy on September 15, 2017 at 3:43 pm


LouRugani on April 19, 2016 at 2:38 am

LAKE GENEVA Regional News, April 12, 2016: Burlington businessman Shad Branen is the new owner of the Geneva Theater. In an email, Branen confirmed that he closed on the building on March 30. He said he intends to get renovation work started as soon as he gets the proper permits.

Ken Robers, Lake Geneva building and zoning administrator, said Branen has not yet taken out a building permit on the theater, but he is bringing in contractors to take a look at the structure. “I’m letting them do exploratory surgery,” Robers said. He said the contractors are “poking around” the building. Some are looking at the roof which will require work. Robers said he’s also allowing the contractors to pull some of the old roofing surface off in preparation to putting down a new roof.

In March, the Lake Geneva City Council approved a developer’s agreement with Branen for the renovation of the Geneva Theater. Under the agreement, Branen will receive $895,000 in city Tax Increment Finance district funds to assist in the renovation of the 1920s-era theater at 244 Broad St.

Earlier this year, Branen approached the city with a proposal to renovate and reopen the Geneva as a four-plex movie theater with a seating capacity of about 500. The city had set aside $800,000 from its TIF funds for renovating the theater. When Branen first approached the city in February, he requested $950,000. The $895,000 figure was reached after negotiations between Branen and the city.

Under the developer’s agreement, Branen must complete renovating the theater by Dec. 31, or face fines of $100 per day, to come out of the TIF grant. And he must own the property for at least 10 years and operate the theater as a for-profit entertainment center open to the general public. Forgiveness of the grant phases in during those 10 years. If the theater closes or ceases operation during those 10 years, Branen would owe the unforgiven portion of the grant to the city.

Branen is committed to spending no less than $1.36 million on renovating the building, which does not include the sale price of the property. If at least $1.36 million isn’t spent on the renovations, a dollar for dollar reduction will be made in the TIF grant. Landscaping and exterior improvements to the property must be completed by no later than six months after the theater receives its occupancy permit.

Branen has already renovated one old, historic theater, the Plaza Theater in downtown Burlington. The Plaza, built in 1928, the same year as the Geneva Theater, is slightly smaller. Branen bought it out of bankruptcy in 2010 and turned the business around. Branen is a member of the Branen family which once owned the Burlington Standard newspaper. Over the past five years, Branen has renovated and restored the theater, turning it into as much of a conference, community and special events center as a movie house.

The theater now shows free movies during holidays and school breaks, hosts performances by high school choirs and local bands, shows free Green Bay Packer games and the Super Bowl on the big screen. The theater also has a weekend menu served to patrons along with a selection of macro and micro brews.

Branen said a revitalized Geneva Theater could be used to tailor special events to Lake Geneva.

LouRugani on September 23, 2015 at 2:31 am

The GENEVA Theatre was the effort of several prominent area industrialists including chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., Nash Motors division superintendent Robert N. Lee of Kenosha, Nash Motors vice-president Walter Alford of Kenosha, cartoonist Sidney Smith of “Andy Gump” fame, brewer William Pabst, Jr. of Milwaukee, and several others. The first operating company was Community Theatres, of which Pabst was president.

tntim on September 21, 2015 at 2:26 am

This link is to the October 27, 1928 issue of the “Exhibitors Herald and Picture World” that has pictures and an article about the Geneva Theater. View Link

LouRugani on August 22, 2012 at 4:26 am

(From another forum:)

The original stage and fly areas along with a small orchestra pit are generally intact. The original balcony in the 1928 building was split off from the main floor in 1985. With the current seats, and balcony reopened, the original theater could seat a little over 500. There was also an addition built in 1975 on the north side of the theater that was split into two theaters in 1985, each seating 150 to 200. Fund-raising is still ongoing, and the Friends of The Geneva Theater organization is currently working with the city to see if they would commit TIF Funds towards the purchase of the building. The plan is to restore the building for reuse as a Community Arts Center with a combination of a performing arts venue in the original 1928 portion, and multi-use visual and cultural arts space in the north portion of the building. Further information may be found at

LouisRugani on May 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm

(Janesville Daily Gazette, June 5, 1953)
Silents to 3-Dimension, Record of Veteran Geneva Projectionist
LAKE GENEVAâ€"From the silent movies to 3-dimension â€" that’s the record of progress for Raymond Mellien, who celebrates his 25th anniversary Saturday as a movie projector operator at the Geneva
Theater. And Mellien, in his long experience says, “Movies really are better than ever."
Mellien actually began his career in 1925. At that time he worked as
an apprentice operator at the old Majestic Theater, now the site of
the Kroger Store on Main Street. He became associated with the Geneva
Theater June 6, 1928, and has been with it through more managers and employes than he can remember.
The veteran operator, interviewed in his upholstery shop here, recalled some early incidents in his life.
He was born in Chicago 47 years ago and came to Lake Geneva at the age of 4. He learned to play the drums as a child and harbored a desire to be a circus performer. During these early years he produced many backyard shows for his friends and neighbors. A chance to travel with a professional show did present itself, but he was forced by his parents to refuse.
Upholstering, which was his father’s business, was very distasteful to him as a boy, Mellien recalls, but now the Haskins Street shop which meant so much to his father has taken on a new meaning for him. He finds the work he does there in the daylight hours gratifying and at times relaxing.
Mellien, tall, slender and soft-spoken, enjoys his work as a projector operator so much that he has made a hobby of showing home movies which he makes himself.
He is married to the former Florence Warner of Lake Geneva. They have two sons, Ray, 21, and Dennis, 15.
Mellien recalls that the first picture shown at the Geneva Theater 25 years ago was silent. It starred William Haines in "I’ll Tell the World”. On the same bill were presented five acts of vaudeville, and, he added quietly, “One of them was from Ringling Brothers.”
His first sound movie was George Jessel in “Lucky Boy” – and the sound was on records. The date of this event was April, 1929. Not until a year later did he show a film with sound as it is today. He showed his first 3-D movie last Sunday night.
Of all the performers who were stars a quarter century ago , Nellien believes Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and the Barrymores are still star material today. His all-time favorite is the late Wallace Beery. Among the hundreds of pictures he has viewed, he considers “Gone With the Wind”, “Quo Vadis” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” the best. He was especially impressed by Ingrid Bergman’s performance in “Joan of Arc” and is looking forward to her return to American movies.
His favorite of favorites is the presentation of Irene Dunneand John Boles in “Back Street” in the early 1930s.
Of today’s stars, Mellien especially likes Bette Davis, doesn’t think too much of Marilyn Monroe’s “talent”, though he admits she is a tremendous drawing card.
About movie audiences, he had this to say:
“The movie public today knows a lot more than the old audiences. Today they pick their pictures and a movie has to be outstanding in order to draw a crowd. In the old days they went to the movies no matter what played."
Mellien admitted television is the movies' greatest competitor. He doesn’t feel that 3-D movies will bring audiences back to the theatre.
"Only fewer, but better, pictures can do that."
Mellien dislikes double features and pictures made from former hits.
"They seldom compare with the original,” he continued.
Mellien expects to continue in his present job for many years. His only ambition now is a trip to Hollywood, a place he knows so much about but has never seen.
Aside from his two jobs and his hobby, Mellien finds time for other activities. He represents the Third Ward on the county board and is a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Consistory in Madison.
The Geneva Theater, a member of the Standard Theater chain of Milwaukee since 1937, honored Mellien on his 22nd anniversary with the theater. At that time, Russ Mortensen was manager. Present manager is Melvin Coon.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on March 26, 2011 at 1:32 am

I guess in those days they Trusted people.Bonnie and Clyde were gone.LOl.

TLSLOEWS on March 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Thats true Mike we would have most of the money already in the bank while the movies were playing and before the patrons even left the building.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on March 24, 2011 at 6:34 pm

that was aheck of alot of money.should have been making drops at the bank like we had to do many years later,Louis.

LouisRugani on March 16, 2011 at 12:42 am

(September 6, 1938)
Lake Geneva, Wis. â€" Four gunmen held up the Lake Geneva theater late last night and escaped with $1,400, representing receipts of thc holiday weekend.
Louis Nye, the owner, told police two of tho bandits stayed on the main floor while thc others went up to the balcony. After they had seen the picture, the two bandits on the main floor forced Nye to go to the second floor office where the other gunmen joined them. Then they forced Nye to open the safe. Mary Sullivan, the cashier, said the bandits had worked so smoothly she did not get a good description of them.

LouisRugani on March 16, 2011 at 12:35 am

(June 6, 1953) $20,000 Damages Awarded by Jury

Third Trial of Case on Spitball Injury in Geneva Theater

Personal injury damages of $20,000 were awarded Robert Pfeiffer, Lake Geneva, late Friday afternoon by a circuit court jury here. The court also assessed the defendant in the case $1,500.92 in damages for Pfeiffer’s father, George, for medical and travel expenses.
The Pfeiffers had claimed that Robert’s sight was impaired when he was hit in the eye with a spitball while attending the Geneva Theater, Lake Geneva. Defendant in the case was the Standard Theater, Inc., owner of the Lake Geneva establishment.
The jury verdict found the theater management negligent on the following counts: (1) in not patroling the theater, and (2) in not maintaining reasonable control of the conduct of its patrons. Such negligence was held the cause of the injury to Pfeiffer’s sight, the jury said.
The case was heard before Judge Francis X. Swietlik, Milwaukee, since an affidavit of prejudice had been filed against Circuit Judge Alfred Drury, who heard two preceding trials of the same suit.

LouisRugani on March 16, 2011 at 12:16 am

June 29, 1954: New Management at Geneva Theater
LAKE GENEVA – New lobby, new box office, new management â€" all are ready to greet patrons of the Geneva Theater tonight.
Leo Kulik, who replaced Marvin Coon as manager last week, said work will be completed by the time the theater opens tonight. In celebration of the new theater’s “face”, Kulik said three CinemaScope pictures will be shown in succession this week. Beginning tomorrow night, the feature attraction will be “Three Coins in the Fountain.” This will be followed by “The Student Prince” and “Demetrius and the Gladiators."
Before coming to Lake Geneva, Kulik was manager of a Madison theater. Coon is now manager there. Both men are employees of the Standard Theater chain, Kulik since 1934. During Coon’s stay here, many improvements, including the work now being completed, were undertaken. Among the more outstanding was the installation of the CinemaScope screen. Long-range remodeling plans include complete new seating facilities.
Kulik and Coon have gone a step further than the exchange of jobs and theaters. Coon’s family, now living on Geneva Street, will join him in Madison Thursday. After their departure, Kulik’s family, still in Madison, will move into the Coon apartment here.

LouisRugani on March 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm

January 8, 1949: Russell Mortenson, manager of the Geneva theatre, announces that the Standard Theatre chain, which owns approximately 30 theatres, has been sold to Ted Gamble who owns other movie
places in the midwest. Change of ownership will in no way alter
the personnel or policy of the Geneva theatre.

LouisRugani on March 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm

The Friends of Geneva Theater are campaigning to have the GENEVA Theatre bought and restored for use as a community, cultural and arts center, along with some retail.

The theater has been for sale for some time, and is in need of much repair. The structure has not seen basic maintenance for quite some time.

A planning meeting will be held tomorrow by The Friends of Geneva Theater to consider how the building can be renovated and reused. Among those in attendance will be Ken Etten of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Committee, and Elizabeth Chappell of the Lake Geneva Art Museum. Etten is also a principal with McCormack + Etten Architects of Lake Geneva.

The building is a local historic landmark that had replaced the old Ford Opera House. The June 6, 1928, grand opening of the Geneva Theater attracted the state’s 25th governor, Gov. Fred Zimmerman. Past performances at the theater include sets by the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers and Bela Lugosi.

The planning group hopes to work with potential developers or buyers to create the community center. Money may be provided from the private sector and through a variety of grants.

The Lake Geneva Economic Development Corp. supports the plan, although there presently is no money available for the project.

aek316 on March 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm

I was in lake Geneva last week and it looks like they’re showing movies again. They were showing “Frost Nixon”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, and “Revolutionary Road”. It also looks like they do live performances as well. Good to see this place alive again!

CatherineDiMartino on October 22, 2008 at 3:56 am

I was in Lake Geneva recently, and it does appear that this place will be used for live performances from now on. I’m surprised it lasted as a cinema for as long as it did, because the nearby Showboat of Lyons is right on the edge of town.

Trolleyguy on September 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

This theater has reopened as a live music venue according to the Nova Cinemas website.

Trolleyguy on August 11, 2008 at 12:48 am

Today the sign reads “Open soon.” Another indication that the theater will never show a film again. Nova’s 4-plex in nearby Whitewater, Wisconsin is still open, but also for sale. Never a good sign.

wimovies on April 21, 2008 at 3:47 am

As of this date, according to the Nova Cinemas website, the theatre is “closed for remodeling”. It has been closed for a while now, and I suspect they aren’t planning on reopening it. It had been recently remodeled in 2001. Also, in a related matter, the “Showboat” theatre that is also located in Lake Geneva owned by them,is currently for sale. The last time I was at the Geneva theatre it was run by Carmike. I worked for Marcus at that time and was in town for a managers meeting at the Grand Geneva.We decided to see Forrest Gump again, there wasn’t even glass in the projection port…Made me laugh :)

kencmcintyre on February 27, 2007 at 12:48 am

At least they weren’t running with scissors:

LouisRugani on October 17, 2006 at 10:47 am

The Geneva opened on June 6, 1928. I suspect that the automaker “William Alfred” referred to as an investor in the original article may actually be Walter H. Alford of Kenosha, the vice-president and controller of the Nash Motors Company.
Today the Geneva’s auditorium is still intact, with the multiscreening achieved in the balcony. The lobby features displays of historic Geneva Theatre articles and photographs.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on September 9, 2006 at 10:33 am

This theatre is owned by Nova Cinemas as is the nearby Showboat of Lyons (odd name as that place is also in Lake Geneva), They have a nice deal here on Tuesdays. Per Nova’s website: “FREE POPCORN DAY!!!!!!TUESDAYS!!!!!! BRING IN YOUR OWN BAG OR BOWL. 3 Free scoops.”

Broan on July 4, 2006 at 4:33 pm

I should add that this is all from a bizarre Chicago Tribune article saying comic strip character Andy Gump told them this

Broan on July 4, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Theater originally sat 711, was designed by Graven & Mayger, and cost $125,000. Apparently, the stockholders included William Wrigley, Jr., William Alfred, a car manufacturer, John Lane, Walter Moore, and Mrs. S.J. Llewellyn.