Retlaw Theater

23 South Main Street,
Fond du Lac, WI 54935

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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Commonwealth Companies' boutique-hotel plans in the Retlaw Theater have been replaced by a plan for office/ retail space and 10 apartments.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.

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

I posted some photos of the Retlaw from the early 1960s:

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 October 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The Retlaw property is currently for sale:

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.

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

Here is a photo of the Fusion Restaurant.

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.

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 27, 2008 at 11:41 am

Here’s a link to contemporary photos of the Retlaw Theater’s exterior:

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on March 30, 2008 at 9:33 am

The building has a new owner. Chuck Boyd wants to restore the theater, but I don’t know what kind of progress he has made or what his timeline might be. He now refers to it by it’s original name: Retlaw,“ rather than Bravo Performing Arts Center. Nothing has changed in the signage, as the name above the canopy is "Fusion,” the name of the restaurant inside. I do not live in Fond du Lac and haven’t been inside the building for five years or more. I will be going to the city sometime in May, and will try to visit the theater.

Here’s a link to the restaurant web site:

Here’s a link to a story that appeared last fall regarding a commemorative holiday ornamant featuring the Retlaw:

A photo of the theater from late 1956 or early 1957 is included with the ornamnet design superimposed. The windows seen above the canopy were covered over sometime after the photo was taken in a remodel and remain covered today. There is a brief reference at the end of the “Retlaw Theater memories” article to Mr. Boyd and his plans for the theater.

Jason Fox
Jason Fox on March 28, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Since the Bravo Productions site does not appear to work, what is the current status of the former Retlaw? Has there been any movement towards restoration?

Norm Lenburg
Norm Lenburg on February 16, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Here’s a link to an early post card view of the Retlaw Theater:

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 21, 2007 at 8:23 pm

A Barton theater organ size 3/11 was installed in the Retlaw Theater in 1925.

JimmyC on October 1, 2004 at 7:13 am

One of my best memories from my childhood in Fond du Lac was going to see Disney’s Pinocchio at the Retlaw when it was still one large grand theater. This was in the late 70’s and the Retlaw seemed larger than life and breathtakingly beautiful with it’s ornate lighting and gilded ceilings and the grand lobby.

One correction I need to note about the theater’s history is that it was actually split into three screens in the mid-80’s. There was one larger theater in the middle with two small theaters on either side. In the later 80’s, two additional screens were built onto the back of the original building making it a five-screen. Each theater replicated and preserved the decor of the original. I was proud at the time to say my hometown had preserved and modernized a gorgeous, historical downtown movie house maintaining its original splendor.

My heart broke when I learned the Retlaw was closed in the late 90’s following the opening of the new (and un-originally named) Fond du Lac Theater multiplex on the west side of town by the freeway. When my parents told me the Retlaw was being re-opened as a performing arts center, my hopes were high that it would succeed and future generations could see how wonderful a place it truly is. I’m going to see my niece in a play there and will see it for the first time in years. I pray the new owners have done the old Retlaw justice.