Retlaw Theater

23 South Main Street,
Fond du Lac, WI 54935

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Retlaw Theater in 2008

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Retlaw Theater opened to the public on December 25, 1925 as a venue for vaudeville and movies. Eventually, movies became the sole form of entertainment, and by 1941 it was operated by Alliance Theater Corp. Around 1990, the Retlaw Theater was twinned. The theater closed in 1998.

The building was sold in 2000 and in 2001, it re-opened for a time as the Bravo Performing Arts Center. This was a venue showcasing various arts, including a dinner theater situated in the former lobby, a dance studio on the third floor, and live theater for children and young adults.

By early-2008, the property has been sold again and the possibility of a restoration project has been mentioned.

Contributed by Bryan

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on April 27, 2008 at 11:41 am

Here’s a link to contemporary photos of the Retlaw Theater’s exterior: http://webpages.charter.net/nlenburg/retlaw/

Jason Fox
Jason Fox on April 28, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Norm, Thanks for the inforamtion on the current status of the Retlaw. Its encouraging that there is a move to restore the theatre for the community, hopefully it will come to pass.

One question for anyone who may know…does/did the Retlaw have a balcony? The Sanborn maps that I’ve seen seem to indicate that it did not.

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on April 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm

I can tell you the Retlaw NEVER had a balcony. At the time it was built, one of its claims to fame was that it was the largest single-floor theater in Wisconsin (around 1140 seats). The benefits of a single-floored auditorium were excellent sight lines and lower construction costs. The down-side was higher cost for land because the auditorium occupied more space per seat. All in all, it was a pretty house, but not very ornate along the side and back walls. The proscenium arch, faux-boxes fronting the organ chambers, and the ceiling were quite attractive. All of this ornamentation survives to this day, but I do not have any photos to show it.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 3, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Here is a photo of the Fusion Restaurant.

DonLewis
DonLewis on September 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

From the early 1900s a postcard view of the Retlaw Theatre with Fond du Lac Theatre sign visible up the street from the Retlaw.

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on October 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The Retlaw property is currently for sale:

http://zacommercial.com/files/Download/Retlaw%20%26%20Main%20St.%20Properties%20-%20Brochure.pdf

LouRugani
LouRugani on November 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm

FOND DU LAC — A local developer wants to turn the historic Retlaw Theater into a boutique hotel. Commonwealth Construction Co. has a purchase option and is evaluating repurposing it into an upscale boutique hotel in the recently created Arts and Entertainment District with 34 rooms and retail space, to open in spring 2015. The Retlaw Theatre, opened in 1925 and closed in 1998, for a time served as home to a theater company and Fusion restaurant but has stood vacant for several years. It’s owned by Boyd Partnership. Commonwealth would restore the Retlaw’s primary façade on Main Street.

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on January 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I posted some photos of the Retlaw from the early 1960s: http://webpages.charter.net/nlenburg/retlaw/

LouRugani
LouRugani on March 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Commonwealth Companies' boutique-hotel plans in the Retlaw Theater have been replaced by a plan for office/ retail space and 10 apartments. Louie Lange III is president of The Commonwealth Companies. The Retlaw auditorium facing Sheboygan and Portland streets would be razed for parking. Commonwealth says it intends to renovate the Retlaw facade facing Main Street “in a way that would complement the historic nature of Main Street”.

Wempner’s School of Dance owner Ann Kelly has been opposed to demolition of the Retlaw Theater and is unsure if she would stay in the building. Her lease continues through 2016. Kelly said a group of people interested in preserving the historic theater has no imminent plans for action. Still, Kelly would like to see the theater brought to life. “Is it not worth a chance to make it work?” she said. Lange says the theatre portion of the building has “lost its viability” and questioned whether more theater space is needed in Fond du Lac. “Are there groups out there that right now don’t have theater space to operate?” he asked.

City of Fond du Lac Community Development Director Wayne Rollin said the condition of the buildings has worsened “alarmingly” over the past several years. He said the roof leaks badly, the basement floor is under water, mold is an issue and electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems need to be replaced, the elevator hasn’t been working since fall, and “it would cost millions to restore the theater”, Rollin said, adding “If this proposal doesn’t work out the community will face the probability of condemnation and complete demolition of the entire complex in the near future, at public expense,” in a memo to Fond du Lac City Manager Joe Moore.

Dyann Benson, the city’s redevelopment planner, said the Retlaw theater property has been for sale for about five years. No one has proposed restoring the theater during that time. “In order to really invest in restoration, you have to have a return on the investment on the back end,” she said, adding that there would continue to be operating and maintenance costs and other expenses.

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