Park I & II Theatre

3015 Washington Avenue,
Racine, WI 53405

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Capital Theater Racine, WI 1941.

The Capitol Theatre was opened May 30, 1928 as a neighorhood vaudeville and movie theatre the interior was beautifully finished with ornate plasterwork and stenciling. A large indirectly light oval covers three quarters of the auditorium ceiling. The proscenium is decorated with plaster ropes flowers and twists. Two pipe chambers complete with false boxes are located on either side of the stage. At one time the theatre boasted a 2/8 Wurlitzer pipe organ.

Twinned on March 5, 1976 when it was renamed Park I & II Theatre. The organ was removed and much of the plaster work covered. Closed on September 1, 1987 with “House II:The Second Story”, it has since been allow to suffer much decay and water damage.

Contributed by Paul Grant

Recent comments (view all 22 comments)

davidplomin on December 6, 2015 at 8:27 pm

According to this site, Racine had 17 theaters at one time, and ZERO today! What happened? Two of these are supposedly going to be renovated, but I see no follow up articles. How could a city the size of Racine have no theaters open?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 6, 2015 at 11:25 pm

The nearest movie theater to Racine is in the outlying village of Sturtevant, and the next nearest is in Kenosha. It does seem odd that a city of almost 80,000 would be entirely without a movie theater of its own while Sturtevant, with only about 6,000 people, would have a large, modern multiplex.

My guess would be that Sturtevant has been very aggressive at attracting businesses, probably through large tax subsidies. If Racine wants a movie theater it will probably have to cough up a hefty subsidy itself to convince an exhibitor to compete with the Marcus Theatres venue in Sturtevant. Marcus itself probably won’t want to open another multiplex so close to the one it already runs.

rivest266 on November 15, 2017 at 1:08 pm

This opened on May 30th, 1928 as Capitol. It reopened as a twin cinema on March 5th, 1976.

stephny0923 on November 24, 2017 at 12:37 pm

My sister worked there. It was an oldie but classic. I watched many movies there. It looks like it is still up and running with classes or something like that.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 24, 2017 at 1:03 pm

The judo classes given at the Park Theatre are provided by Racine Youth Sports, a nonprofit volunteer organization. Most of their activities are held in Haban Park.

I don’t know the nature of the group’s arrangement with the theater. I’ve been unable to discover if it is still owned by the Westbury Group LLC, the investment bank that bought it in 2004 with the intention of renovating it for use as a performing arts venue. Thirteen years is an awfully long time for a for-profit company to hang on to a property that can’t bringing in much revenue, if any.

At least the fact that RYS is using the building for kids' classes indicates that it is unlikely to fall down from decay. The promised renovation for theatrical use, however, must be at the very least on hold for now, and has perhaps been abandoned.

AdajhaRacine on May 16, 2018 at 2:26 pm

I would love to see the inside of this theatre ! Anyone know how to contact someone uptodate i would like to look into renovations !

LouRugani on July 18, 2018 at 5:30 pm

From 1928 until the 1980s, the Park Theatre showed movies. Now, the building sits crumbling, cluttered and vacant. City of Racine Chief Building Inspector Kenneth Plaski ordered the building be razed because “the structure had deteriorated structurally to the point where the building was no longer safe to be inhabited.” Demolition won’t begin for several months likely, because the courts still need to review the order. Plaski reported that the building’s exterior is in disrepair. At a July 16, 2018 Landmarks Preservation Committee meeting, a photograph was shown depicting visible holes in the roof of the theater. “That didn’t happen overnight,” said Don Schumacher, a member of the committee. “It’s taken a few years to get to this point.” The committee accepted and filed Plaski’s order. It doesn’t have the power to stall or speed along the process. The building is also rife with plumbing and electrical violations, according to the inspector, and there have also been “related odors emanating from the building at the sidewalk.” This accumulation is the result of a pipe back-up, resulting in 5 inches of raw sewage filling the basement. There is also “pigeon excrement over the entire theater area,” according to Plaski. In August 2017, Plaski ordered a list of 24 repairs and inspections needed to make the building habitable again. He reported that none of them had been complied with in the last 11 months. The building’s owner, John Apple, ignored orders to repair the building, according to the city, resulting in the raze order. Looking through the former theater’s glass doors, piles of antiques can be seen filling the lobby, including two safes, a barber chair, at least 10 cash registers, several lampshades, a trash bin full of aluminum cans, several human figurines and a smashed smoke detector. One of the more-than-two-dozen violations Plaski laid out was a lack of functioning smoke detectors. Apple has until Aug. 3 to contest the raze order. If he doesn’t, the courts can decide the fate of the historic building. If the building is condemned and razed, it will be Apple’s responsibility to pay for it. On Monday, Plaski told the Landmarks Preservation Committee that Apple owes more than $1.7 million in back forfeitures and tax delinquency, in addition to $57,000 owed to the Department of Revenue and $45,000 to WE Energies. The Park Theatre is valued at only $108,000. In June, Plaski told Apple that the building was no longer suitable for human habitation. However, a tenant of Apple’s claims she was unaware of the issues. Neregin Paynes-Ramsey is the owner of the Regime Hair Studio, located in the same building as the Park Theatre. A wall separates the salon and the cluttered theater lobby. “I really didn’t know this was going on with Mr. Apple,” she said. Paynes-Ramsey said that she didn’t know there was any risk of the building being condemned until she was ordered to vacate in June. She asked the Landmarks Preservation Committee for an extension on the order to vacate, but the committee is not legally able to fulfill the request. That’s up to the courts. According to City of Racine Building Department documents, the building is supposed to be vacated by all tenants by Wednesday. The Regime Hair Studio is the only occupant, although there are empty apartments on the second floor above the lobby. Paynes-Ramsey claimed that more than $4,000 was spent on electrical work to make her salon functional, even though the building as a whole is now condemned. Members of the Landmarks Preservation Committee discussed ways to prevent situations like this. Committee member Pippin Michelli inquired if there were ways to help owners maintain their properties. “Public money is not the answer,” fellow committee member John Monefeldt said. “It (the raze order) probably should’ve been issued some time ago.” The theater was built in 1928, and Marcus Corporation purchased the building for $50,000 in 1981, after which it was renovated and renamed Park Cinemas 1 & 2, because the theater had two screens. It closed in 1987 and hasn’t shown another movie since. The theatre was sold four times between 1987 and 2006, when it was acquired by Apple. It was once recommended to the National Register for its Mediterranean Revival architecture but was never added. The building is not considered a landmark by any local or national entity. This isn’t the first time the city has taken a building from Apple. He once owned a building at 410 Main St., which he used to store antiques. The building was considered blighted and condemned in 2002, for which Apple was compensated $197,000 in 2005. It now houses Not Your Parents Basement Gaming Lounge.

LouRugani on July 18, 2018 at 5:42 pm

The theatre might have been saved had it been added to the National Register of Historic Places. According to a memo from Racine’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LRC) the building may have been eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but neither the owner nor the Landmarks Preservation Commission “took action to provide the property with a level of review and protection through a … nomination or local designation.” Property taxes for the years 2008 and 2010-2017 remain unpaid. With special assessments and penalties they add up to more than $123,000. The building and land are currently assessed at $150,000. Marcus Corporation purchased the Capitol Theatre from Carmichael & Associates in 1981 for $50,000. It was renovated and duplexed and renamed the Park Cinemas 1 & 2, mostly showing second-run films. Marcus closed the theatre in September 1987.

LouRugani on April 18, 2019 at 4:09 pm

The city ordered the demolition of West Racine’s former Park Theatre eight months ago, and for that span of time, it has seemed like a sure thing. It is run down, condemned, vacant and in dire need of repairs. But a small group of city residents is hoping to give the theater a second act before wrecking crews knock down yet another one of Racine’s 20 former movie theaters, of which just seven remain standing today. Originally opening as The Capitol Theatre in 1928, the Park went on to show movies for 59 years. The property, purchased in 2006 by John Apple, is currently used as storage. “I’d like to save this one, if nothing else,” said Nancy Simonson, treasurer of the neighborhood group West Racine Alliance and one of the organizers of Friends of the Capitol Theater, the group looking to salvage the theater. “This city needs a theater.”

Saving the decaying structure would be a tall order, according to city officials. Apple owes $140,975.16 in delinquent taxes on the building dating back to 2008, records show. If the Friends of the Capitol Theater group were to purchase the building from Apple, it would still need to pay all delinquent taxes and invest more than $800,000 to get the building into a basic usable state before any renovations could be done, said Ken Plaski, the city’s chief building inspector. “There’s more holes than there is ceiling, actually,” Plaski said. A flock of birds has also been living in the building for a decade or more, and there is 3 to 4 inches of bird excrement piled up where they nest, he added.

The entire property is assessed at $150,000, but the theater itself contributes only $107,800 of value to that total. “You’re looking at a structure that not only has low value and hadn’t been maintained, but has actively been demolished by neglect of the current property owner,” said Amy Connolly, director of city development.

Simonson acknowledged “there’s a whole slew of things to get done” with the theater, but said she still wants to salvage it. “It’s not in great shape, but it’s doable,” Simonson said. “If we do it right and we do it right the first time, we might be able to save it.”

While saving the theater would be ideal, Mayor Cory Mason said, it does not seem to be in the cards right now. “I applaud the sentiment of the folks from West Racine who would like to see this building saved,” Mason said. “I’d like to be in a place where it could be saved, too. … It is an unfortunate outcome that we would like to prevent from recurring moving forward. The Park Theatre is just the latest example of demolition through neglect by an irresponsible landlord who’s let it get to this point. I would love to see the theater saved, too, but I can’t ignore what Ken (Plaski) has found there in terms of the structural integrity of the building — or the lack thereof — that would jeopardize health and safety.”

The topic of saving the theater will be brought up at the West Racine Alliance’s neighborhood meeting 6 p.m. Thursday at Wilson Funeral Home, 1212 Lathrop Ave., Simonson said. she plans to start a fundraiser by the end of the week with the goal of raising $2 million. By the time the group could raise that money, it may be too late. The demolition order is currently on hold after Apple filed for a temporary restraining order against the city. His lawyer, Peter Ludwig, erroneously filed the suit against the Village of Wind Point in August after the deadline, and Racine successfully argued the case was improperly filed, resulting in a dismissal. Apple appealed the dismissal in October and the case is still in appellate court waiting on a decision. The city is expecting a decision in April; if the case is again dismissed, Plaski said he expects demolition to begin in June. If Simonson’s group acquires the building and brings it up to regulation before the case gets out of court, the city may have further discussion with the group, City Administrator Jim Palenick said. “We wouldn’t have the conversation until that occurred,” Palenick said.

On August 28, 2017 the city issued a list of 24 repairs and inspections that needed to be done for the building to be habitable again. Apple did not fulfill any of the orders, Plaski said. In a phone call with The Journal Times, Apple claimed that he never received the list, the building is in fine shape and he “did a lot of” repairs. He also denied the city’s report that there was a pipe backup that filled the basement with 5 inches of raw sewage, claiming it was just water from a toilet overflow. “These people have their head up their (expletive), as far as that goes,” Apple said.

Apple declined to let a Journal Times reporter see the condition of the theater’s interior. Court records show that Apple was ordered not to let anyone in the building besides his son and himself, and is not allowed to put anything more into storage in the building. He paid $130,000 for the building in 2006. When asked twice what he would be willing to sell it for, Apple did not give a price and instead said he would like to stay involved with the building in some way. He added that he hopes the building does get saved. “I like old buildings. I like old houses, antiques. I like saving things,” Apple said. “I would hate to see it get torn down. It’s a solid building.” But city officials said Apple was wholly neglectful of the property, not reverential as he painted himself to be. “That would be like saying, ‘I bought this dog and decided not to feed it for three weeks because I love dogs,’” Palenick said. “Really? Come on.” Plaski said the theater stuck out as one of the worst buildings he has inspected and condemned. The exterior walls have not been maintained and the steel roof structure is compromised — and the whole building could have collapsed from a heavy load if winter had produced a massive snowfall, he said. “I didn’t feel safe being in there,” Plaski said.

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