Venetian Theatre

505 Main Street,
Racine, WI 53403

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VENETIAN Theatre, Racine, Wisconsin.

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Built on the site of the Palace Theatre, the Venetian Theatre was similar to the Venetian Theatre in Milwaukee, and also built by Universal Pictures' short-lived theatre circuit. Racine’s Venetian Theatre was a larger and more sumptuous Atmospheric style, designed by United Studios of Chicago in an Italian Renaissance style that seemed to have some Ancient Roman thrown in. The rear section of seats in the large balcony was covered by a portico supported by columns. A long entrance lobby was two stories high, with a beamed ceiling.

The Venetian Theatre opened on April 12, 1928.

Over the years, the Venetian Theatre passed through several ownerships, but was always one of Racine’s top theatres. But by 1971, the city’s downtown area had declined to such an extent that the Venetian Theatre was forced to close. It stood empty until demolished in 1977.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

LouisRugani on October 19, 2006 at 5:40 am

Here’s more on the demise of the Venetian.

The Racine Journal Times, which i the mid-1970s would editorialize loudly for its demolition (“Tear it down!”) told in an October 30, 1971 “Venetian To Close” article that the theatre was reopened in July of 1970 after a 16-month closure by a Donald Thomas and James Turner, operating as Venco, Inc., which had then announced plans for a “young adult recreation center” including the theatre as a “rock concert hall” and an “old town arcade”. None of that was realized and the Venetian reopened with local notoriety and some initial success as the venue for such well-publicized fare as “I Am Curious Yellow” and “Oh Calcutta”.

Soon the adult fad slowed and lesser-known “skin flicks” became the norm to decreasing numbers of attendees. During all of this, the City of Racine was unsuccessfully attempting all sorts of legal actions to shutter the Venetian or at least intimidate the operator(s) to change their policies. The City hardly needed to have bothered as routine police visits in the Fall of 1971 reported fewer than thirty attendees at screenings. The need to reorder coal was apparently the deciding factor in the decision to close.

The last film was apparently shown on the night of November 30, 1971. Apparently the Venetian opened one final time, on December 3rd, 1971 for a rock concert as Turner said there was still enough coal left to heat the theatre for one night and “After that I seriously doubt youll ever see the doors of the Venetian open again.”

(The newspaper also reported that Turner and Thomas, as Venco, owned title to the Venetian and that he doubted it would be saleable. Interestingly, Turner and Thomas were also operating the Parkway Theatre in Milwaukee as “Detco, Inc.” with a similar adult policy and said that continued operations there were also “questionable”.

spectrum on October 20, 2007 at 11:05 am

The architect for the Venetian was J. E. O. Pridmore

LouisRugani on December 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm

LETTERS to the Journal Times, Sunday, Aug. 25, 1974 – 11 A
Racine. Wis.

Urges rebirth of Venetian

To the Editor: Suggestions for helping the Racine Symphony from Mrs. Leo Draves in her letter a few weeks ago were excellent.
One additional requirement for a good attendance and performance is the necessity of a good home, one which is permanent, and can be shared with the many other fine musical and stage groups of our community. Excellent acoustics are an absolute must, as are good sight lines. All this awaits us in the elegant auditorium of the Venetian Theatre now waiting for rebirth as a
performing arts center. Excellent acoutstics are elusive and difficult to engineer into an auditorium as demonstrated by terrible acoustics in some recent multimillion dollar centers.
In the past few months many letters to the editor have appeared with the constructive suggestion, “Use the Venetian as a civic auditorium.” Many communities have already done this with good
sound theatres in downtown areas.
The city most recent to ‘see the light’ is Madison (I had hoped Racine could be the first in Wisconsin). Their mayor has just completed negotiations for the Madison Capitol Theatre as their performing arts at a price of $600,000.
It is reported Racine could have the Venetian for about $100,000. This is many millions of dollars less than new construction which doesn’t even guarantee good acoustics. The Madison Capitol
Theatre had about the same seating capacity of the Venetian but is not nearly as elegant.
If our city is ever to have a fine civic auditorium for its symphony, large stage productions, community concert series, and many other uses in a convention center setting, now is the time to
act. Think of the Main Street Theatre fiasco a few years ago. We should contact the most obvious purchasers of the Venetian.. .our good mayor, council members, Central City Commission, also
chairman and members of the Racine County Board.
The Venetian Theatre was built as a tribute to Racine’s citizens (see special 10-page edition of the Racine Journal Times on Venetian’s opening April 11, 1928.) Quoting from a large ad by
Edward Zahn, then owner of .Zahns, “Congratulations to Mr. Carl Laemmle in giving to Racine this beautiful new playhouse, comparable with the best in cities many times our size. The Venetian marks another milestone of greater progress for this splendid city.
Civic loving citizens extend their acclaim to those who have shown their faith in the future of our city — another monument for a better greater Racine.“
Let us use this beautiful theatre as a civic auditorium for all to enjoy. If we ever lose it, it will be gone forever.
1710 Heather Lane

BobbyS on July 13, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I know Fred and have been to his beautiful “Basement Bijou"What a dream place. Too bad the Venetian is not here today-short sighted
to say the least!!!!

BobbyS on November 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Thanks Life’s too short for the photo of the Venetian Theater and related story of another movie house coming down. I may have to take a ride up there and look at it. Too bad the North Shore isn’t still running!

LouisRugani on January 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

(Racine Journal Times editorial, January 7, 1956)
TWO YOUTHS who severely injured a theater manager in an unprovoked assault after creating a disturbance New Year’s Eve have already
learned that such “sport” is expensive.
Richard Rothering, 20, of 2016 Washington Avenue, was fined $50 for disorderly conduct and $25 for assault and battery, plus costs, in
Municipal Court Tuesday. His companion, Donald Rasch, 20, of 1404 Eleventh Street, was fined $25 and costs for disorderly conduct. But now there’s a possibility that the price of Rothering’s “fun” may go considerably higher. A civil suit for $7,500 damages has been filed in Circuit Court by Stan Gere, manager of the Venetian, for medical expense, doctor bills, pain and suffering due to injuries to the head, mouth, teeth, hands and body.
The two youths admitted the assault when they appeared in Municipal Court. They had been ejected from the theater once that night for causing a disturbance. They came back. When a policeman went after them again, they fled to the balcony. And it was while running from the policeman that they attacked Gere. Rasch bumped into him and swung him around. Then Rothering came along and smashed him in the jaw. As pointed out here the other day, this was a particularly vicious and unnecessary attack because Gere is a quiet, reasonable sort of a guy who would go out of his way to avoid trouble with anyone. But maybe this case will help to clear up the “hoodlumism” that has been causing a lot of difficulty in theaters here. Though the incident related here occurred on New Year’s Eve, many somewhat similar episodes have taken place frequently. A small gang of young wise guys go to theaters. Sometimes some of them are partly drunk. At other times, all are sober. But always, they spoil the evening for people trying to enjoy the movie, by loud talking, sometimes
off-color language, putting their feet on seats in front of them, etc. And when theater attendants warn them, the smart alecks become defiant.
On occasion, they sneer at police trying to help keep order, and “dare” officers to do something about it.
It should be emphasized that such trouble-makers are an extremely small minority. Most young fellas and girls who attend theaters are decent and orderly. But, the few have been spoiling it for the many, and it’s time that they suffered a real “crack-down.” Maybe the current case will be helpful in that direction.

BobbyS on January 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Thanks for sending. And that was 1956! Can you imagine if the Venetian were still operating today what kind of a crowd would attend. A “Home” to the homeless and many unmentionables that roam Racine streets. It would
have to be ushered by military police from Great Lakes. and you know what that would cost!!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 5, 2012 at 7:31 am

There are several photos of the Venetian Theatre at this post from the weblog of the Racine Post.

BobbyS on April 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Thanks Joe for the post…… It must have been great!!

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