Esquire Theatre

310 W. Wisconsin Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53202

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DaveT on February 21, 2016 at 8:31 pm

I worked for Mr. Luedtke in the early seventies at the Esquire. A truly old-school man with customer service sensibilities that are missing today. He would stand by the entrance (I was an usher) and tell the patrons as they entered that there was ‘good seating on the left or the right" We had two entrances to the theatre. He enjoyed customer interaction and when he stood in the lobby he would rock on his feet, from the balls of his feet to the heels. He was also full of what might seem dated witticisms like “There’s no sense hitting your head against the wall because it feels so good to stop” when a task seemed particularly onerous. Mr. Luedtke expected that every available seat in the house would be filled with patrons when a movie like “The Graduate” was shown, and thus he would make sure that the ushers went into the theatre and asked people to move over to create added space. He kept tabs on ticket sales from the cashier. Cleanliness was important to Mr. Luedtke and so the usher spent a portion of his time cleaning the theatre between shows, vacuuming the lobby and picking up debris in the waiting area in the basement. The usher was expected to perform light maintenance as part of his job duties, which included but was not limited to standing on a twelve foot ladder in the lobby to change lights in the ceiling, or shoveling the sidewalk in front of the theatre(not much of a job with the marquee awning). Perhaps the best job was changing the marquee sign when movies changed. As noted in previous comments, the marquee was accessed from a small door on the second floor. Getting out on the marquee was a treat in that it offered a unique perspective on Wisconsin Ave. There was more than one occasion during the year and a half I worked there when Marquette University’s basketball team would win a big game, the dorms would empty, and a flood of students would come down the avenue, chanting and blocking traffic while they inexorably moved to the lakefront. I will add comments as I think of them. As with the best times in life, the camaraderie of the employees and the firm but friendly guidance of Mr. Luedtke are a great memory. All for $1.75 an hour. Yeah, I still have a pay stub.

DavidZornig on February 13, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Photos of the Esquire, Strand & Wisconsin Theatres in below 2/11/16 link.

rivest266 on October 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

October 22nd, 1965 opening as Esquire ad is at View link
larger ad from October 21
View link

rivest266 on October 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Mark, That 1947 ad that you mentioned can be seen on this page at
View link

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 12, 2010 at 2:37 am

I think there might be an error in the architect field. Boxoffice of February 2, 1946, attributes the design of the Telenews Theatre, then about to begin construction, to Milwaukee architect Richard Philipp (though the item misspells his name as Richard Philip.) Richard Philipp (1874-1959) was a well-known Milwaukee architect who, from 1906 until about 1938, practiced in partnership with the even better-known architect Peter Brust.

I’ve been unable to find any other source confirming the attribution in Boxoffice, but a thorough Internet search fails to turn up an architect named Ralph Phillips at all. There might have been a transcription error of some sort in Jim Rankin’s notes, turning Richard Philipp into Ralph Phillips.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on August 10, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Here is a partial photo of the Esquire. View link

The movie appears to be LITTLE DARLINGS, which would place the photo sometime around 1980. Many of these “transit fan” sites have good pictures of theatres too! These sites have vintage buses and streetcars photographed by then-well-known landmarks.

kencmcintyre on June 15, 2007 at 8:44 am

Thanks for the info.

fmbeall on June 15, 2007 at 8:24 am

Ken, this is actually a photo of the grandest Esquire of all – the one in Chicago. Pictures and an article on it is in Marquee, Vol. 21 #4, pages 12-13.

kencmcintyre on February 17, 2007 at 7:53 am

This is a 1940 photo, but it does not identify the city in which the Esquire was located:

JimRankin on February 15, 2006 at 2:14 am

Thanks for a wonderful Comment, Mr. Zimmerman. It is the first-hand reports such as yours which bring alive the vibrant history of our theatres. If you are still in the Milw. area and would like me to add your E-mail address to my list of those receiving occasional bulletins about local theatres, just click on my name in blue below and you will be taken to my profile page where under Contact you will find my address; just send off a message and all will be set. And welcome to this CT forum. If you click on “MILWAUKEE” in brown above you will see all the MKE theatres now listed here, and we would welcome your comments on any of them. Don’t see a name listed? Feel freeb to add the theatre/cinema yourself (due to peripheral neuropathy destroying the use of my hands, I will not be writing any more long descriptions/histories). Perhaps you can take over.

markzim on February 14, 2006 at 3:55 am

Hi. My name is Mark Zimmermann, and I wanted to share some information on the Telenews/Esquire Theatre in downtown Milwaukee. I worked at the Esquire from 1971-1973. I was trained and had the good fortune of working with Mr. Elroy Luedtke, the
Manager at that time. He was very experienced, having started working on opening day at the Modjeska Theatre back in 1927. Also our cashier, Ms. Elinor Scheinbien had been working at the Modjeska in 1927. Both loved to talk about the good old days, ballyhoo, and showmanship and I was an avid listener. Previous management had saved photos and ad copy from opening day and I was able to see it.
Here’s the text of the opening day ad copy they sent to the Milwaukee Journal for Friday, July, 11, 1947.

“Opens Today at 9:45 AM. Continuous to Midnight. America’s Finest Newsreel Theater Presenting Milwaukee’s Fastest Moving Program. A New Form of Entertainment! Our programs consist of one hour of the LATEST NEWS events gathered by leading newsreel companies throughout the world… Edited by experts and augmented with the FINEST SHORT SUBJECTS, providing Milwaukee with UNEXCELLED, DIVERSIFIED ENTERTAINMENT. It keeps you abreast of the times…HISTORY IN THE MAKING! Inaugural Program! 40 World News Events 40
Actual Films! Jap War Criminal Executed in China! Truman Rebukes Russia! Latest Flood Disasters! Texas City Rebuilds! Hunger in Germany! Circus in Moscow! First Showing! Telenewshorts: Radio’s Famed ‘Answer Man’ in ‘Storm Warning’ Sportscope! Track Expose ‘Racing Sleuth’ Milwaukee’s Greatest Entertainment Value! ANY SEAT 33 Cents plus tax Anytime. EXTRA! ‘Salute to Milwaukee’ Relax in Milwaukee’s only Theater Radio Lounge and see actual broadcasts by radio station WFOX! The New Air-Conditioned TELENEWS NEWSREEL THEATER Wisconsin at 3rd.”

I saw several pictures of the radio station downstairs in the basement lounge area. The studio where the broadcast was originated was in the back with a glass window and door. By 1971 it was a storage room and it still had soundproofing materials on the walls. The outdoor café look was still there, but was looking ragged. There was a working fountain
that was used for donations for charities, but by 1973 the fountain was broken and lay empty after that.

I don’t know how long the newsreel format ran, but I do have a 1952 newspaper page of Milwaukee movie theater listings that had a display ad showing the Telenews had the
Milwaukee premiere of “Les Miserables” starring Michael Rennie. So the newsreel concept must have discontinued just as television news became popular. Also while I worked there I talked to customers who told me for a couple of years in the mid-50’s
played double-bill B-Westerns like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Lash LaRue. By the mid-60’s when Marcus Theatres bought it, the Esquire started showing prestige foreign films like Ingmar Bergman and Bridget Bardot. Then they had the Exclusive Milwaukee
showing of “The Graduate” for 68 weeks. Other movies that they had for runs of 4 months or more were MAS*H, Romeo & Juliet, Love Story, Harold & Maude, and
Slaughterhouse 5. By the 1970’s things started going down hill. We stopped getting exclusive premieres and started sharing playdates with Southgate & Mayfair mall theatres. Then we started running double-bills along with second-run neighborhood
houses and then started showing Swedish X-rated movies. The one thing we did start at the Esquire that was ahead of it’s time was Midnight Flicks. We first aired the infamous
John Waters film “Pink Flamingos”. The Milwaukee Police shut the theater down after the second Saturday showing. After 3 weeks of debate in the Common Council they allowed us to show it again. Next we played “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for about 6
Saturdays before it moved to it’s permanent home the Oriental.

Another thing I wanted to mention was that the Esquire did have a small balcony of 52 seats. I’m not sure when they added it, but we did use it on the weekends.

JimRankin on January 12, 2005 at 7:35 am

Marcus Theatres bought the old TELENEWS cinema and drastically remodeled it into a theatre with a more elegant name: the ESQUIRE. New art moderne elements constituted the decor including a 2-story facade of plain white limestone tiles surmounted along the parapet by a single line of light bulbs in a shallow arc from one side pilaster to the same on the other side. The marquee was a 3-foot-high band of light bulbs that swung outward from one side of the facade to the other, having only the name outlined in contrasting color bulbs. Mounted above this canopy was a double sided attraction board bordered in light bulbs but backed in fluorescents. This was one of the first of local Poblocki Sign company’s new “Inside Service” marquees, where a door was on the second floor level and opened directly from the facade into the attraction boards so that they could be changed without the old fashioned placing of a ladder upon the sidewalk below. It was more efficient and a lot more healthy in Wisconsin’s sometimes difficult climate. Such “Inside Service” marquees were subsequently built across the Mid-West.

The auditorium of the 470-seat cinema by Ralph Phillips was not at all noteworthy, having no balcony or stagehouse and almost nothing in the way of ornamentation, but there was a memorable feature in the basement below the lobby that served as the lounge for the restrooms: a street scene from Paris, complete with wire tables and chairs, concession stands made up to resemble cafes with awnings, and a mock sky ceiling above with a cobblestone floor below. It apparently didn’t work out as intended, since the stands were closed soon, and all refreshments had to be bought at a smaller stand in the lobby above.

The ESQUIRE was going strong when it was announced that the city was condemning the entire block in preparation for the new Federal Office building to be built there. That blue glass walled office building that did arise was the tombstone for a number of theatres on that block: The ALHAMBRA, TELENEWS/ESQUIRE, VAUDETTE/MAGNET, WHITEHOUSE, MILLER/TOWNE, and the notorious NEW STAR/SAXE/ORPHEUM/GAYETY/EMPRESS.