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As the Rosebud prepares to reopen in East Tosa after three years, we look at its past, present and future.
By Bobby Tanzilo, Senior Editor/Writer ( Dec 05, 2023) …
Wauwatosans and Milwaukee West Siders rejoice: the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, 6823 W. North Ave., is reopening. However, predictions as to when that’s happening have been premature, and based, it seems, on a false presumption. The theater has been closed since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. While its sister Neighborhood Theater Group venues, The Avalon and The Times, have reopened, things have moved more slowly at the Rosebud, which opened in 1931 as the Tosa. “We’ve known for quite some time that the community wants to have the first-run theater back up and running and we want to see the building back up and running, too,” says David Snieg, who is the experience officer for Neighborhood Theater Group. “For us it was a matter of trying to bounce back from Covid and we needed to make sure that we had things solidified at the Avalon; so dealing with that and then having The Times up and running, and just ensuring that when we do open the doors here, that we are functionally able to open the doors.” Staff has been inside the Rosebud testing the equipment, cleaning up and getting the theater ready to reopen, and the carpets are set to be cleaned this week. But another big factor is the theater’s various licenses (occupancy, food, liquor, etc.) from the City of Wauwatosa, Snieg says. “It is just a matter of doubling back and seeing where our licensing is at,” he says. “We’ve submitted a lot of stuff to government officials for licensing and we’re hoping to hear within the next 48 to 72 hours. Tosa has been phenomenal to work with. “We haven’t had to do a ton of repairs or anything on the building itself. Just regular stuff that happens along the way. We’ve got a lot of great long-time staff members that are with us and ready to go at the Rosebud.”
So, the opening date? “Opening for us depends on licensing,” Snieg says, adding that he figures that staff could have the venue ready to open within about a week of getting an official OK. As for the "opening date” you may have read about in January, Snieg says there is no such date. What some have reported as an expected opening date is nothing more than a placeholder that exists for the company’s website. “We went to a new website provider that has all of our sites aggregated together,” Snieg says. “So if you go to ntg-wi.com, you can see all of our venues and you just select in your venue to see what’s happening from there. But when we launched it in early October, they had the Rosebud listed with a date of Oct. 12 or something.” But that was just a random date the web designer used, based on nothing official. “I was like ‘no, no, we’re not there!’ So we just have (moved) the date out there to Jan. 9 as a placeholder.” Snieg says the theater could open Jan. 9, but it could open sooner, or later. Also still unknown is what the first movie to screen will be. “We have not officially booked anything yet,” Snieg says. “We do know Wonka’s coming up Dec. 15, ‘Aquaman 2’ is coming up Dec. 22. Past that we’ve got some January release dates that are out there, too. We tend to work in two-week increments or so. We’ve just started looking at things since we submitted for licensing, What we do know is that it will be a first-run theater.” When it does re-open, the Rosebud will bring back a theater that’s long been a part of Tosa life. A little history: On Jan. 22, 1931, Ross Baldwin paid $22.62 to the City of Wauwatosa for a permit application to build a 600-seat theater and store building of steel and concrete block on the south side of what was then called East North Avenue, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, in the business district of the Inglewood Subdivision. The then-36-year-old Baldwin, was living on 24th and Michigan at the time with his wife Dorothy and their two children, 8-year-old Franklin and 5-year-old Jean Mary. Ross Jackson Baldwin, who was born in Cobden, Illinois in 1896, had moved to Milwaukee by the time he registered for the draft in 1917. After serving in the military during World War I in 1919, Jackson returned to Milwaukee by Oct. 9, 1920, which is when he married Dorothy Toepfer, and he’d been in the film business for a while. In 1917, he was working as a booker at Universal Film Inc. in an office in the Toy Theater Building Downtown on North 2nd Street. In the 1930, Baldwin was working for a film exchange as a “commercial traveler,” which was a salesman. His $50,000 theater building – 45.5 feet wide by 113 feet long – was designed by architect Paul Bennett and to be constructed by Byrnes Brothers. Why Baldwin tapped Bennett, who doesn’t appear to have specialized in theaters, is unknown. In fact, not a ton has been said about the architect, who seems to have mostly done residential and some small commercial (aka storefronts) work, and mostly on the West Side and nearby suburbs. Bennett was born in Fulton, Kentucky in 1887 and one city report suggests that he, “arrived in Milwaukee as a trained architect and worked at the George W. Adams Building Company as one of his first jobs in the city. Bennett likely worked as a protégé to Walter F. Neumann, the resident architect and vice president.” In 1917, Bennett, however, was a building superintendent at the Public Service Building on Michigan Street. The following year, he married Cora C. Spetz. That city report adds that, “by 1923 records indicate that Bennett was working as an architect for the Robert L. Reisinger & Company, which primarily dealt with general contracting and concrete construction. In 1925 Bennett opened his own architectural company; however, the Depression took a toll on his workload. During the early 1930s Bennett briefly worked as an inspector before returning to his architectural practice.” Both the 1930 and ‘40 censuses record Bennett as an architect. The 1950 census found Bennett and his wife living in Vancouver, Washington, however, where he was indeed working as a building inspector. The city report suggests he left for the Pacific Northwest potentially as early as 1941. Bennett, by then retired, died in Vancouver of a heart attack in 1961. Anyway, 30 years earlier on the growing east side of Wauwatosa, Bennett’s building was a rather small theater, with Art Deco elements. Work began on the theater on Feb. 13, 1931, but by April, there was controversy. One neighbor, Earl R Sovereign, who owned property on 69th Street, adjacent to the back of the theater site, sought an injunction against Baldwin and his builders to stop construction of the building. “Sovereign said that the theater would destroy the neighborhood quality of the subdivision,” wrote the Journal at the time. “Testimony at the hearing was that Inglewood subdivision was platted as an exclusive residential district with building restrictions. However, the Wauwatosa zoning laws designate all of E. North Ave. as a business district. Mr. Baldwin obtained permission to build the theater from the town government.” Judge Daniel W. Sullivan of circuit court heard three days of testimony on the matter and was to determine, “whether the Wauwatosa zoning laws of the deed restrictions of the subdivision are to be given precedence.” Though there was no follow-up that I could find, work resumed, suggesting Sullivan sided with Wauwatosa, and by August, further contracts had been awarded for the construction. On Oct. 22, 1931, the Tosa Theater opened to the public. “The projection machines, two huge affairs, are of the latest model and will provide the best synchronization of action with sound,” The Wauwatosa News reported. Soon after, Baldwin and his family moved to a house a couple blocks from the theater, on 69th and Wright Streets, and according to “Silver Screens” by Larry Widen and Judi Anderson, the whole family was involved in running the Tosa. “Baldwin was manager and projectionist until the mid-1930s, when the union picketed to have him hire a union projectionist,” the authors wrote. “His wife Dorothy sold tickets and son Franklin was the usher. His daughter Jean Mary took tickets at the door. “Because of its indie status it could not get first-run pictures, so Baldwins used other ways to get attention: Tuesday bingo, giveaways (pots and pans, vases, candy bars, dishware sets, cosmetics) and Baldwin shot 16mm footage of Tosa residents and events and showed them at the theater and those became very popular.”
In 1938, the theater suffered a fire when a film ignited in the projection room – as was not terribly uncommon – forcing the evacuation of 400 patrons. The audience, “mostly children,” wrote the Journal, “was safely escorted out of the Tosa Sunday afternoon. Ross Baldwin, theater manager, his wife and two ushers quietly took charge of clearing the theater. Under their direction, the children and the few adults marched out in orderly fashion. “Once on the street, the crowd was put in charge of police. Tickets were distributed and most of the audience returned two hours later when the show was resumed. The fire caused considerable smoke to billow into the theater. It was extinguished when the projection machine automatically sealed itself after the blaze started. The damage was about $400.” The following year, Baldwin went toe-to-toe with the projectionists union, working up in the booth himself when a strike was called, as Widen and Anderson noted. “The owner of the Tosa Theater Saturday planned to operate his own projection machines because of the AFL Motion Picture Projectionists’ Union, Local 164, called a strike at his place Friday,” reported the Journal that October. “Oscar E. Olson, union business manager, said that the picketing of the theater was started after Ross Baldwin, the owner, had failed to meet the terms of a union contract which expires Oct. 31, “Olson said that Baldwin was permitted to cut wages about 20 percent below the contract price for 13 weeks during the summer ‘because business was bad,’ but that Baldwin had failed to resume full wages at the end of September. Baldwin said that the income of the theater did not warrant the $1.71 an hour or $70 average weekly pay demanded by the union. Baldwin said he was willing to pay $1.25 an hour with an average salary of $55 and the rest in promissory notes.” The two sides came to an agreement within a couple weeks, but Baldwin might have found running a theater more than he and his small family could manage because soon after they were gone. At least one source says that at some point the theater fell under the Standard Theaters Management Corp., which owned a number of area theaters, including the Riverside and the Times, though no specifics of that relationship have turned up. Equally confusing is Marcus Theaters’ initial relationship with the place. Some say Baldwin sold the theater to Ripon-based theater man Ben Marcus in 1940 and Marcus Corp. records say 1941 is when it took over the Tosa and the Times, making those the first Marcus Theaters in the Milwaukee area. However, even those company records conflict as they show that Marcus leased the theater from Jan. 1, 1946 until Dec. 31, 1950, then extended the lease for 25 years to Dec. 31, 1975 via a series of five-year options. This would suggest that Marcus didn’t buy the theater until, perhaps, 1975-6, maybe from Standard? (If you have documents that solve this puzzle, send them along!)
The fact that Baldwin was moving further afield from the theater, to a new house he was building on 84th Street, just south of Center, in 1941 does suggest that 1940-1 indeed was when he had ceded control of the Tosa. Later, from a West Bend address, Baldwin sold two lots adjacent to the 84th Street house and by 1950, he and Dorothy had moved to Pinellas County, Florida, where Baldwin died in August 1977. That management change also seems likely to have occured sometime in 1940, based on the much ballyhooed arrival of a new seating configuration at the theater that December. “Show business relies on innovations for its continued success,” wrote Sentinel columnist Buck Herzog. “We’ve been told recently that show business is suffering from another box office ailment and that it needs a new shot in the arm. “Well, maybe out at the Tosa Theater, they’ve found the solution. It is a seating arrangement – a two seater affair called a ‘love seat.’ It is devoid of arm rests between was would ordinarily be two regular seats. Thus, a boy and girl may bill and coo in parlor style and still enjoy the cinema antics of their favorite hero and heroine.” In a Dec. 16 Journal follow-up, Nate Cohan is named as the manager of the Tosa, and the thrill of the love seat had not waned in the week since Herzog’s piece appeared. The Journal’s coverage is so antiquated to 21st century ears that it’s worth quoting at length here: “The love seats were installed in the theater a month ago as a novelty and they are occupied whenever the theater is doing business and not always in the interests of wooing. Most of the time the 28 love seats scattered through the theater are occupied by young men and women who hold hands and whisper sweet nonsense into each other’s ears and act generally as if they were ready to swoon with devotion. But some of Wauwatosa’s fat men – this essay will not mention the names of any – have begun to usurp the love seats in the interest of their own comfort. The suburb’s broad beamed gentlemen find difficulty in squeezing themselves into an ordinary seat, but these love seats accommodate bulk nicely. The theater management has shrewdly taken the position that the love seats are not reserved for romance – bulk is also given its place in the sun, or love seat. First come, first served is the theater motto. Love seat addicts – the romancers, that is – head for the double barrelers with the unerring progress of homing pigeons. They sweep past the ushers, needing neither directions nor the finger of light from a flashlight. The upstairs retail space that was home to a music store and school, as well as other businesses. Newcomers who are trying out a love seat for the first time ask the usher for help in finding one. Usually it is the young man who asks hopefully, ‘Is there a love seat vacant?’ Often the young lady giggles. Ushers have grown callous to such youthful embarrassment. Theater Manager Nate Cohan thinks that his experiment with the love seats is a success. ‘The love seat is here to stay,’ he says.” A couple days later, the Sentinel chimed in again to report that the Tosa was then thinking of instituting an upcharge for the love seats. Also around the time, there was a music store and school located in the small office space upstairs (currently used as the Rosebud office). In the ‘50s, the space was home to Arkay Film Service.
Marcus remodeled the theater in 1958 and the seating capacity dropped to 585. Another remodel followed exactly 20 years later and this one featured a redecorated lobby, a new wider screen, and Soundfold curtains. After this work, capacity fell to 565 seats. At some point, the exterior of the theater was also redone in a mod style, though that facade was later removed. In 1986, the Tosa began to show first-run films, and in 1991 it was again rededicated after another remodeling. But just five years later, Marcus’s B&G Realty Co. arm sold the then-554-seat theater to James Farr. “He paid what B & G has said was well below the theater’s value in exchange for accepting a deed restriction barring him from showing first-run films within 90 days of their national release,” wrote the Journal Sentinel. But Farr couldn’t make a go of it. The theater was sold in 1999 to Jay Hollis, who said he’d only learned of the deed restriction just before he closed on the deal. Despite being reminded of it by B&G soon after, Hollis decided to show “State and Main” not long after its release date in 2000 and in 2001 the two ended up embroiled in a legal mess. It was Hollis who converted the theater’s traditional seating to the more sofa-focused living room vibe it has today, with a capacity of just under 160. One can’t help but think all those fans of the 1940 love seats would approve. He also added a kitchen, added beer, expanded the menu and updated the bathrooms, and renamed it the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse. Around 2007, Hollis had sold to Widen and David Glazer, who struggled against a bad economy and a shrinking movie theater industry, and in 2012 Anchor Bank took over the Rosebud and The Times, which was also owned by the duo. “These last couple of years have been tough economic times, and we’ve just been fighting valiantly, David (Glazer) in particular,” Widen told OnMilwaukee at the time. “We really tried our best. … The bank has chosen not to work with us anymore, and we’ve been asked to leave.” Interestingly, in an effort to keep the theaters open longer, the bank continued to operate them, hiring Hollis as manager. The theater is not terribly ornate inside, although you can see some little details that survive, including decorative brackets in the doorways flanking the screen. Now covered up from the front, but visible from the small space behind the screen – there is no backstage area with dressing rooms – you can spy a set of three inset arches forming a simple but attractive proscenium, which may or may not have had ornamentation. While there is no balcony in the theater, there is an “owner’s box” with its own rest room, accessed through the office and projection booth. Lee Barczak – who, along with his wife Jane Schilz, also owns The Times Cinema and Bay View’s Avalon Theater – bought the property via a sheriff’s deed in 2012, according to City of Wauwatosa records, and operated it until the pandemic shut everything down and it has not yet reopened, due, Barczak has said, to staffing issues. In late summer, Tosa resident Dave Celata kicked off a conversation about the future of the theater, the closure of which has been the topic of much discussion in the neighborhood. Suggesting that neighbors come together to talk about possibilities for the building, including everything from a partnership with NTG to purchasing the theater, were discussed at a packed house meeting in early September. In October, Celata said in an early November update, “we started organizing five different workgroups (programming, operations, legal, communications and fundraising). Each of these workgroups has met at least once with a number of people already leaning in and getting to work. Moreover, we now have a Coordinating Group, which includes two members of each of the five workgroups, to help us connect some dots and get a business plan for a nonprofit on paper. The Coordinating Group will be meeting for the first time next week. This will help provide each of the workgroups with further clarity on how they can align to a bigger vision.” In the same update, Celata noted the planned reopening of the Rosebud, writing, “(Barczak) was able to find the right staffing and shift some things across his three theaters to make a go of it in the near term.” But, he added, “There most likely will need to be a different long-term solution. (Barczak) continues to be receptive to the idea of a community group eventually taking over the theater to ensure it stays open for the long haul. When the Coordinating Group meets next week, this will be the top agenda item. That group will discuss the matter and help set a direction for where we go from here.” Snieg says that Neighborhood Theater Group is eager to be a fixture in the community again and will always listen to pitches from anyone who can help in that area. “Neighborhood Theater Group is built on the idea of ‘your neighborhood, your movies’,” he says. “When Jane and Lee initially bought the theaters, it was because they wanted them to be staples of their community. Anybody that has ideas, as long as we’re not damaging really expensive equipment and stuff like that and we can make it viable, we always approach everything with an open mind. When you’re a first-run theater, you just have to make sure that you’re taking care of your obligations with regard to your contractual rules.” But, at the same time, he adds, NTG has no plans to sell the theater. In fact, it has no plans beyond reopening as a first-run theater as soon as possible. "Our intention is to own and operate the theater,” Snieg says. “If we commit to opening it, we’re going to open it, own it, operate it. We’ve always known in the back of our minds, even before that meeting with Dave and community members, that we want to get the building back open. If we can get it open and make the Tosa community proud of having the Rosebud doors being open, and the community embraces it … as we know, it’s general economics. As long as people are consuming it, it makes it that much easier to keep the lights on and keep the doors open.”
Rita Rinelli gets into the act at the do-it-yourself HITCHCOCK poster in the grand lobby of the ORIENTAL Theatre.
“Preservation Chicago is working closely with Craig Loftis, leadership of the Great Lakes Elks Club, their architect and lawyers, and other stakeholders to prevent the demolition of the Lodge. Urgency steps are being taken to resolve and correct deferred maintenance issues that have been identified by city inspectors. Additinally, we have attended Building Court to stand alongside preservation partners to formally request a delay in any movement towards emergency demolition and to request additinoal time to raise funds and hire contractors to resolve specific code related issues. Significant progress is being made. Additionally, we are working to help resolve contradictory directives from the City of Chicago regarding the Elks Lodge status as a theater or a dance club.
The 86-year-old space–once a cinema and meeting point for the Chicago Suffragists–was opened as a private house music members club in 2015 by local artist Craig Loftis. He told Resident Advisor that he’s been battling with the City Council over “minor issues” to do with the building for several years.
Since 1937, the building has been under the ownership of African-American fraternity group The Elks. Members of the group have been throwing music and dance events for the local community for decades. Loftis, who is also a member of the group, told RA that without the means to stay open for business, raising the target amount has become a catch-22 situation. For this reason, Loftis has launched a fundraiser to help the cause. While he’s confident that he can make the necessary repairs by the chosen date, he said shutting the building down was ‘unwarranted when one branch of the city government said we were operating in complete compliance and the other decided we weren’t.’
Preservation Chicago, a local architectural conservation group, has joined forces with Loftis to help protect the venue from any possible future demolition threats, should it ever change hands. If granted, this would give the venue the chance to apply for city funding to help with restoration and renovation.
The group’s spokesperson, Max Chavez, told RA that an application to get the building landmark status was submitted to the local authority last week and achieving this will mean the building ‘would be well-positioned’ to receive the funds. He continued: ‘Preservation Chicago is proud to partner with Craig Loftis on this important effort to save this significant historic site. This building is too important to lose and deserves to be honored as an official Chicago landmark.‘ (Resident Advisor, 9/27/23)
The venue will go into receivership and shut for good without the necessary funding. (Resident Advisor, 9/27/23)
(© Preservation Chicago | All rights reserved)
Quincy Jones, actress/singer Jennifer Hudson, and entertainer Chance the Rapper and Quincy Jones have teamed up to reopen and revitalize the Ramova Theatre. Jones told the media “With Ramova, I see a future where the rich cultural heritage of Chicago shines even brighter alongside the country’s most talented artists, which will inspire future generations to come and bring glory to America’s Second City.” A press release said “Ramova will also offer educational programs [and] workshops, and amplify community initiatives from local nonprofits.” And the Ramova Grill, which closed in 2012 after 82 years of service, is reopening as a 20-seat restaurant.
No doubt there are people today who gaze at the long-silent theatre, and imagine all sorts of architectural wonders within. They’d be disappointed, since Charles Augustine had to work within a budget, and he saved most of the ornament for the outer facade (much of which is still visible). The Vogue Theatre got a handsome, well-proportioned face-brick facade heavily trimmed in cream terra cotta above and colored Irish tiles at ground level, in the American neo-classic architectural style. It was unarguably one of the best-looking of all exterior designs for a small theatre. Inside, though, the economies were apparent. A tiny lobby led directly to the auditorium; here the straight walls were relieved only by upright pilasters, panels of floral-print fabric, and double-candle light sconces of plaster with small shades. The lower walls were trimmed to resemble stone.
The reopened Ramova Theatre will also be home to Other Half Brewing, which will open a brewery and taproom inside the Ramova Theatre that will be a 1,500-capacity concert venue and dining destination in the coming months. Developer Tyler Nevius is spearheading the Ramova redevelopment with Emily Nevius, his wife. “This idea of creating a music venue and a brewery was really developed organically with them to a great extent.”
Other Half chose to join the Ramova project for one primary reason: music. Other Half’s founder Matt Mohanan said “It just seems like a natural evolution for what we’re doing. Adding a music component to what we do, we’re just lucky to be here and excited.”
Other Half Ramova will include a taproom along Halsted Street. Behind that will be a glass wall where visitors can check out the on-site brewery production floor below with around 20 draft lines available in the taproom.
Other Half Ramova will adjoin the 20-seat Ramova Grill, itself reopening after an 82-year run in 2012. Kevin Hickey and Brandon Phillips will oversee the culinary and beverage programs at the grill respectively, with a full menu available to OHR patrons.
The city bought the Ramova Theatre, closed since 1985, in 2001 to preserve it for development, but officials struggled for years to find developers willing to invest in rehabilitating it. In 2020, the Ramova was sold to a venture led by Nevius’ Our Revival Chicago LLC. The $30 million project broke ground in 2021.
There’s a plan to reopen the ROSEBUD Theatre after more than three years.
The theatre near North Avenue and 68th Street closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alderman Andrew Meindl, who oversees that district, told WISN 12 News the owner is targeting a Christmas return.
Meindl said the owner plans reopening the ROSEBUD as a first-run theatre with newly-released pictures.
A community-owned theatre group is looking to turn the ROSEBUD into a community-led nonprofit. The owner told Ald. Meindl he will continue working with the group on a possible transfer of ownership in 2025.
(Beginning a four-chapter feature article I wrote for the Midweek Bulletin starting November 15, 1988.)
Even today, passersby along busy 52nd Street might imagine, if they squint a bit, the old Vogue Theatre alive again, with several hundred excited kids in line for a 1940s Saturday-afternoon double-feature Western show, each clutching his or her ten-cent admission; and a harried staff struggling to keep up with the crush.
This fall marks the 100th year since the Vogue Theatre opened its doors on September 15, 1923. For the next 28 years, the Vogue was mainly an unpretentious neighborhood movie theatre, and it never attempted to outdo the bigger, grander movie palaces downtown. It fulfilled its modest role in Kenosha’s entertainment scene…until a sudden change in national trends sealed not only the Vogue’s fate but that of thousands of similar neighborhood movie houses across America.
In 1923, postwar America was basking in prosperity; President Calvin (“Silent Cal”) Coolidge took office, and Hollywood was in its lusty adolescence. Just ten years earlier, most movies were brief little novelties shown in “nickelodeons,” converted storefronts with blackened windows and rows of benches seating perhaps 75 people, with a sheet for a screen. (One of the first of these, the Electric Theatre, was operated by Adolph Alfieri on north Seventh Avenue east of Union Park.) But in the early 20s the movies were eager for respectability, so real movie theatres were being built everywhere by recently-formed chains or by single entrepeneurs eager to cash in on America’s growing love for the ever-improving medium of film.
Water Schager ran several theatres in Kenosha with his wife Rose. But Prohibition was on, and those who once sold or made liquor and beer were looking to invest in other ventures. As an example, Racine’s Klinkert Brewery had just built the BUTTERFLY (later, HOLLYWOOD) Theatre at 4902 Seventh Avenue.
In 1923, Kenosha’s operating film theaters included the Z Rhode Opera House, the new ORPHEUM, the BUTTERFLY, the BURKE (later CAMEO), the MAJESTIC, the LINCOLN, the STRAND (later NORGE), and the COLUMBIA. (The Kenosha, Gateway and Roosevelt Theatres were still four years in the future.) But in a time when people were much less mobile and by far more apt to function mostly within their home neighborhoods, Kenosha’s central city had no movie house of its own.
Schlager selected some long-vacant property at 1820 52nd Street and had well-known Kenosha architect Charles Augustine design a state-of-the-art theatre for the site. (Augustine lived then with his wife Lillian at 7428 22nd Avenue; his designs include the Terrace Court Apartments, the West Branch Library, the old Barden Store and the Roosevelt Theatre.) Then Schlager signed on long-time contractor George Lindemann of 4724 Fifth Avenue to build his new Vogue Theatre. Work continued throughout the summer of 1923 as passing motorists and passengers on the Grand Avenue line of the Kenosha Electric Railway monitored the theatre’s progress. The final touch was the installation of the vertical sign, traditional on theatres then, which spelled out VOGUE in white bulbs with a twinkling border; the sign was visible for over ten blocks in either direction. That was the clue the Vogue Theatre was ready, and in early September small teaser ads appeared in the papers - not that anyone needed teasing, of course. A full page ad appeared on opening night, Saturday, September 15, 1923 in which manager Clarence Eschenberg welcomed present and future patrons, concluding with “This is your theatre.”
The Vogue’s doors opened at six p.m.; adult tickets were 25 cents and children paid a dime.
The Majestic Theater was established in 1909 by the partnership of Italian immigrants Ciali (Charles) Pacini, Joseph Unti and Dominic Lencioni of Kenosha. The Majestic was located in a building owned by the estate of Rasmus O. Gottfredson. Though a lease agreement would have been approved, it was not recorded with the Register of Deeds. Prior to their lease agreement, the building had been occupied by the Oscar Robbel Laundry.
The grand opening of the Majestic was held on Saturday, December 4, 1909 following the conversion of the building into a moving picture and music playhouse.
The Majestic closed around April 27, 1912 when its last advertisement appeared in the Kenosha Evening News. When it re-opened on Saturday, August 17, 1912, it was called the New Majestic Theater. The Monday, August 19, 1912 issue of the Kenosha Evening News gave rave reviews about the New Majestic Theater, reporting eight shows on Saturday attracted 2100 patrons. The theater had been renovated with soft concrete floors and expanded seating. Most noticeable was the installation of the first “daylight pictures” system in Kenosha, where films were shown on a mirror screen 110 feet from the projector. The article said the picture on the screen was of such clarity that the theater was lighted at all times.
At the re-opening, Charles Pacini was the sole proprietor, Unti and Lencioni having left the partnership. Dominic Lencioni started his own business, a confectionery store. at 69 N. Main Street (5030 6th Avenue) in Kenosha. Joseph Unti left the theatrical business to work as a clerk for Dominic Unti at his confectionery at 317 Main Street (5824 6th Avenue) in Kenosha.
On July 21, 1913, the Majestic closed again for four days for the installation of new leather seats and other interior and exterior improvements. Pacini assured the public the Majestic would continue with the best in pictures, music and general features.
On April 25, 1919, Catherine Gottfredson became sole owner of the property and building as the beneficiary of a last will & testament, and by then, Pacini had established the Charles Pacini Amusements pmanagement company, with the motto “Go where the crowd goes.”
On December 29, 1919, the Kenosha Evening News reported on an ambitious expansion of the New Majestic Theater by Charles Pacini Amusements. Pacini had secured possession of the Matt D. Schmidt Building just to the north of the theater. The addition would have doubled the seating capacity to about 1,000, and the project was expected to begin in March, 1920 and be finished by early summer. On June 10, the Kenosha Evening News reported that builder George Lindemann of Kenosha was awarded the contract by Charles Pacini Amusements to enlarge the New Majestic, and the architect chosen was Kenoshan Charles Augustine (who would later design Kenosha’s 1927 Roosevelt Theatre). The cost of rebuilding the theater was estimated at $85,000. There would be two foyers opening into the enlarged auditorium, a right and left balcony with special exits for safety, a large organ and enlarged orchestra pit, a smoking room for the gentlemen and a lounge for the ladies. Pacini anticipated completion around November 1. But those hopes abruptly ended with the murder of Charles Pacini on August 15, 1920, shot by a lone assailant a block east at his car after he’d closed the Majestic for the evening. Though the expansion was cancelled, his estate under Charles Pacini Amusements continued with the operation of the Majestic and his other theaters. But on March 17, 1921, the Telegraph Courier reported the sale of all of Pacini’s theatrical properties and interests including the leases for the Strand, New Majestic and Butterfly Theaters to the Saxe-Dayton Orpheum Theatre Company for $100,000. The Saxe-Dayton Company was a merger of the interests of John E. and Thomas E. Saxe of Milwaukee and Edward and Fred L. Dayton of Kenosha. Willard C. Welch of Saxe Amusement Enterprises was installed as manager of the Majestic Theater, Saxe-Dayton dropping the “New” from its title to call it Saxe’s Majestic. By early 1924, Edward Dayton took over its management.
But by that December, the theater stopped advertising its listings in local newspapers, and it was not until October 1925 when advertisements resumed, and during all of 1926 the Majestic’s programs were overwhelmingly dominated by a Westerns.
Then on February 2, 1927, building owner Catherine Gottfredson entered into a lease agreement with the Kenosha Orpheum Theater Company calling for a monthly payment of $400 for a period of 15 years. The manager was James L. Morrissey. Still, it appears the Majestic theater may have closed that summer, as its last advertisement in a local newspaper was on July 9, 1927. On the following December 20, the Kenosha Orpheum Theater Company subleased the theater to Midwesco Theaters Inc. at the same rates as its then-current lease with Catherine Gottfredson. It is unknown if the Majestic re-opened following the sublease, as no advertisements were placed in the local newspapers during all of 1928. On December 11 of that year the Kenosha Evening News reported that Cunningham’s Clothing Store had leased the Majestic Theater from Fox-Midwesco Enterprises for a period of 14 years, the final curtain after nineteen years at Kenosha’s Majestic Theatre.
I see that the source didn’t make it onto the post, although I felt it should be known to the public. It was a message from the operators of the Keno Family Drive-In Theatre just after its closure to dispel any misunderstandings about the reasons.
We just want to let our followers know that the Keno Drive-In movie theater will not reopen. Our company has operated the Drive-In for 9 years. Our current lease was terminated and we were advised that the owners of the property made a business decision to find another use for the property and we would not be permitted to open the Drive-In. Every attempt was made by our company to continue the operation of the theater which included participation in the conversion to digital. My family has operated Drive-In movie theaters for over 60 years and we have a passion for the continuation of this American icon. We operate another Drive-In in Illinois, Cascade Drive-In which continues to operate successfully with top grossing movies usually in the top ten of all theaters in the country. Today Drive-In movie theaters are more popular then ever thanks to people like the Kenosha residents and beyond. Our hearts go out to every person that visited the Keno Drive-In for we really appreciated your business. We would like to extend an invitation to everyone of the Kenosha residents to visit our Cascade Drive-In in Illinois free of charge for a limited time to give thanks for all the years you supported the Keno Drive-In.
The HI-WAY’s final performance for the 1950 season, its first and last, was on Saturday, September 30th. Admission was $0.55 including tax; children under 12 were admitted free, and the final two features were “Three Came Home” with Claudette Colbert, and “Sand” with Mark Stevens, Colleen Gray and Rory Calhoun.
I always noticed the theatre as well in the opening segments of Bowery Boys pictures. I clipped the scene and posted it here today.
The picture was “Kingsman”.
Across the street was the Rex Theatre at 51 South Main Street which I’ve submitted several times to New Theatres here but have been unable to get it listed. For years it’s been a Sherwin-Williams paint store. I’ll post an original photo once the listing is accepted.
Opened on Monday, August 14, 1911.
May 7, 1955.
As Congress Theater Crumbles, Developer Wants $27 Million From City To Revive Logan Square Gem
(Credit: Block Club Chicago - By Mina Bloom, February 8, 2023)
The price tag on the long-stalled project keeps going up, and the delays are getting longer — but developers say they’re still committed to overhauling and reopening the beloved venue.
LOGAN SQUARE — Closed for a decade, the Congress Theater is a shell of the gleaming movie palace and music venue it once was. Water is seeping into the 1920s venue, badly damaging the original structure and its ornate details. The plaster walls are crumbling, and parts of the ceiling have collapsed, scattering debris.
The theater’s worsening condition, combined with sky-high construction prices and other mounting costs, is complicating a local developer’s ambitious — and much-anticipated — plans to revive the Logan Square gem.
Baum Revision, a developer with a reputation for restoring historical buildings, was winding its way through the city approval process last year, but the Congress rehab project stalled as costs increased and negotiations around labor and other issues persisted, said David Baum, one of the managing principals.
“It’s been a bit of a game of whack-a-mole. Every time we think we’ve figured it out, pricing goes up,” Baum said. “Construction pricing has not been going in the right direction, interest rates continue to go up, getting loans is more difficult and general costs — energy or anything else — has been going up. … Pricing continues to go up while the condition of the building is not getting better.”
The project itself hasn’t changed: Baum still plans to fully restore the 2,900-seat music venue at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. and surrounding retail shops and apartments.
But the renovation is now estimated to cost $88 million, up from $70.4 million last year, Baum said. The development company is seeking $27 million in tax-increment finance dollars to cover a gap in funding. That’s $7 million more than developers asked for last year and $17 million more than the previous developer secured for a similar project. Baum’s team is working closely with city officials to nail down a redevelopment agreement and secure financing as theater operator AEG Presents and local labor union UNITE HERE Local 1 battle over a “good jobs commitment.”
If everything goes according to plan, the redevelopment project could be introduced in City Council next month, setting the stage for subsequent approval, said Baum and other players, including Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), whose ward includes the Congress. “Trying to get this thing to work is a Rubik’s Cube,” Baum said. “We feel like we’re there, we hope that the powers that be will want to get this thing passed.”
The project is delicate, partly because there’s a lot at stake. A restored Congress will transform the abandoned Milwaukee Avenue stretch and give the broader neighborhood an economic and cultural jolt, neighbors and local leaders said.
Even though Baum is inching toward construction, some are worried the project is doomed after a series of setbacks. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned like everyone else is,” Baum said.
Baum’s project includes a rehabbed theater, roughly 5,400 square feet of retail and restaurant space along Milwaukee Avenue and Rockwell Street, 16 apartments and affordable offices and work space on the second and third floors. Fourteen of the apartments will be reserved as affordable housing.
The city’s Community Development Commission approved allocating $20 million in tax-increment financing toward the project last year, but the proposal never advanced to City Council.
After some adjustments, it seemed the revised proposal was finally headed for City Council in January with the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. But city officials pulled the proposal off the agenda at the last minute, La Spata said.
It also was yanked from the agenda of February’s council meeting, La Spata said.
One key issue holding up the project is the labor agreement between AEG, the theater operator, and UNITE HERE Local 1, La Spata said. Hospitality workers with the labor union are pushing AEG and the city to put a “good jobs commitment” in writing.
“UNITE HERE Local 1 opposes the use of TIF or any public subsidy for the Congress Theater redevelopment because there is no commitment from AEG that all hospitality jobs created by the redevelopment will be good jobs,” union spokesperson Elliott Mallen said in an email.
AEG didn’t respond to requests for comment. Baum said his company is not involved in labor negotiations.
La Spata, who’s involved in negotiations, said the two sides are “very, very close” to striking a deal. If the agreement is finalized, the redevelopment proposal — and the $27 million tax-increment financing allocation — will be introduced into City Council, then voted on by the finance committee and all 50 alderpeople.
La Spata and Baum hope the project will finally hit City Council in March. “We’re working on something that’s going to have a generational impact in Logan Square, and if that means it takes a few more months to get it right, I think that’s worthwhile,” La Spata said.
In Chicago, using tax-increment financing to support large projects is often controversial. Tax-increment financing districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur economic development and eradicate blight. City Council’s approval of $2 billion in tax-increment financing for megadevelopments Lincoln Yards and The 78 sparked protests and lawsuits.
Proponents of Baum’s Congress proposal said the $27 million the company wants is justifiable given the project’s large scale, the poor condition of the theater and rising development costs during the pandemic.
Aside from the lobby, which is in reasonably good shape, the entire theater is a “gut job,” Baum said. It needs a new roof, new electrical and plumbing systems and extensive preservation work, he said. “We’re talking about a project that is practically a city block long, multiple buildings, a 3,000-person theater. It does not surprise me that we’re facing a really substantial rehab,” La Spata said. “I 100 percent would not be supporting this [redevelopment] process if I didn’t feel like it came with robust and generous benefits for our community and that it was going to also have a truly catalytic effect in terms of activating some of the spaces around the Congress that we want to see get going.”
La Spata has represented the 1st Ward since 2019 and is running for reelection against three challengers, including former 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno. .
The Congress Theater was built in 1926 by Fridstein & Co. as an ornate movie palace. One of the last remaining theaters associated with famous “moving picture theater” operators Lubliner & Trinz, the venue hosted vaudeville acts and “first-run photoplays” for years, then screened movies through the ’80s. The Congress later was refashioned into a music venue, drawing famous musicians and performers such as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was designated a city landmark in 2002.
The city ordered the theater closed in 2013 following a string of code violations and years of negligence from embattled former owner Eddie Carranza.
The move also came after a series of crimes that occurred in and around the theater during shows, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl.
The city banned electronic dance music — the theater’s former music genre of choice — for all current and future owners.
Developer Michael Moyer stepped in to reopen the Congress in 2015. After years of community meetings and a multi-layered city approval process, Los Angeles-based lender and promoter AEG sued Moyer in 2020, alleging the developer defaulted on $14 million in loans. The legal trouble left the theater in the control of a court-appointed receiver.
Baum took the reins of the project in 2021. The development firm is known for restoring the Green Exchange and Margies Candies buildings, among other historical buildings.
The Congress has “been a hole in the community for a long time, but it used to be the center of the community for a long time. That’s what we enjoy doing — reimagining and bringing back things from the dead,” Baum said.
The price tag on the long-stalled project keeps going up, and the delays are getting longer — but developers say they’re still committed to overhauling and reopening the beloved venue. (Block Club Chicago)
Request For Board Action
REFERRED TO BOARD: April 27, 2022 AGENDA ITEM NO: 3
ORIGINATING DEPARTMENT: Community Development
SUBJECT: Consideration of resolution to finance the purchase of the Antioch Theatre by a private
investor in the amount of $350,000.00.
SUMMARY AND BACKGROUND OF SUBJECT MATTER:
The Staff has been working with the owner of the Antioch Theatre related to his wish to proceed
with a sale of the movie theatre. Mr. Downey has negotiated an agreement with the prospective
purchaser, Linda Monty, who wishes to purchase the theater for $400,000.00, Ms. Monty has been
before the Village Board several times and has outlined her business plan to continue to operate the
theatre as a first run movie theatre. Based on the purchaser’s inability to obtain a private bank loan
for the purchase, the applicant is requesting assistance from the Village to finance this purchase.
Staff has explored the possibility of obtaining a $350,000 bank loan, with a $50,000 down payment
from the purchaser.
The owner of the theatre has identified that prior to Covid, approximately 20,000 tickets per year
were sold. If the Village reimposed a $1.00 tax per ticket, the ticket tax would generate approximately
$20,000.00 per year. This does not include any revenue generated from a special event tax which is
being proposed at $2..00 per ticket.
Based on the proposed outline of the loan, the loan would be paid back over a 10-year period and a
ticket tax would be reimposed to assist the purchaser to pay back the loan during the 10-year loan
Staff is taking this opportunity to enclose an amortization table which shows the repayment
schedule. In addition, Staff is enclosing a copy of the Profit/Loss Statement from the current owner
prior to the Covid-breakout.
1) Village Board Staff Report
3) Amortization schedule
4) Profit/Loss Statement
Based on the foregoing analysis, Staff would make the following motion:
We move that the Village Board approve a resolution to direct the Village Attorney to draft a loan
agreement with the prospective purchaser, Linda Monty for the sum of $350,000.00 for the
purchase of the Antioch Theatre.
We move that the Village Board deny the request of the purchaser request for Village financing to
purchase the Antioch Theatre.
Old movies direct film lover into business (KENOSHA NEWS, April 1, 1984, by Dave Engels)
Henry C. Landa leads a double life. By day he teaches industrial management and engineering at the Kenosha and Racine campuses of Gateway Technical Institute. At night and during weekends the film lover is emcee owner and manager of the Gallery of the Audio Visual and Graphic Arts and Sciences, a respectable little theater on Milwaukee’s southeast side. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a family moviehouse: Dad runs the projector, Mom sells popcorn, and the kids lend a hand. too. But the unique nature of the theater doesn’t end there. To thousands of Milwaukee area cinema patrons it’s the place to go to see the greatest movies of all time - the “classics”, if you will. Landa, 49, calls it his “avocation" - a weak description, when you consider it took him eight years to build the theater and a sizeable capital investment to get the business up and running. “It’s an opportunity for people to see movies they normally wouldn’t get a chance to see,” said Landa. “A good movie endures. It can entertain and fascinate years after its release.”
Landa’s passion first produced results in the 1950s when he ran a film society at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “True film lovers are few and far between. Few people go to movies on a regular basis. Even before TV, a significant number never went to the theater.” From his college days Landa recalls a negative critic from the student-run Daily Cardinal newspaper who said “The movies coming out today are garbage.” Says Landa, “People were saying that in the ‘50s and they are still saying it today. Back then it may have been more true because some studios were putting out 50, 60, 70 films a year. "What is a classic? I don’t know. If we could define a classic, we’d probably make a lot more money. 'To Be or Not to Be’ starring Jack Benny is probably not a classic. It’s not a classic like ‘Casablanca’ because that movie-is certainly more well-known” Landa doesn’t have a list of all-time favorites and contends he could never sit and watch the same movie over and over again. Some of his personal opinions might irritate others. “'Gone with the Wind'“ wouldn’t be on my list. It’s a great sweeping story but technically not a great film. I like movies that offer insights; movies that provide some intellectual stimulation.”
Stimulation isn’t high on the list with fans of this theater. “Horror films stand head and shoulders above the rest in popularity. The original ‘Dracula’ holds our box-office record; ‘Frankenstein’ provided us with the first turn-away crowd. We’ve also had big crowds for the original ‘King Kong’, ‘The Wolfman’ and the ‘Invisible Man’ movies.” Landa’s opinion notwithstanding, “Gone with the Wind” drew a large crowd. So do Alfred Hitchcock films. Landa likes to talk about Hitchcock. “He used to spend a year planning his films. He would plan them shot-by-shot, scene-by-scene. He was bored with them by the time filming began because he had it in his head already.”
Landa began constructing the theater in 1973. It took eight years to complete the 123-seat building in less than 2000 square feet. A couple of minutes before the projector rolls, Landa takes on the role of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, telling his audience what the film is about and maybe a little of its history. He then takes a minute-long stroll to the rear of the theater where he turns on the sound system and operates the l6mm and 35mm projectors. “At first we were not going to bother with concessions, but later we found they are a necessity. Some people wouldn’t come to see the greatest of films if there were no concessions.”
Building the theater is a monumental task Landa wishes he could repeat with some changes. “I probably overbuilt. It’s almost too hefty, too durable; it has a double layer of fire-resistant masonry walls. I would work on it six or seven days a week during summers. During the school year, I would work on weekends and at night. A few friends helped here and there, and of course I had to hire contractors for the electrical and plumbing work.” Inside the theater is a tiny lobby. The auditorium has a flat level floor with upholstered seats mounted on steel platforms. Landa does not subscribe to the theory that back theater seats have to be at a higher level than those in front. “If you position the screen and seats the right way, everyone has a good view. You just have to use a little common sense.” Landa purchased used projectors from the empty Granada Theater on Mitchell Street on Milwaukee’s south-side. He once had an eerie experience across the street from his theater at a one-time moviehouse called the Bay Theater “A friend of mine had started a graphic arts busi-ness in the theater building and he told me the old projectors were still upstairs. When we got up there it was like a time capsule. A full reel was still in the projector. The Sunday paper was spread out on the table. There were old cigarette butts in the ashtray. It was as if the theater owner called on a Sunday night and told his crew not to open the next day. The projection room was left untouched for more than 30 years”
“Even though it’s a hobby, it has to be profitable for us to continue,” Landa said. "Right now we are breaking even out of pocket. We are losing on salaries and depreciation. But whether I have a theater or not, I’ll always go to see the great films of the past” (Kenosha News, 1 Apr. 1984, Sun, Page 11.
“YOURS TO ENJOY - A beautiful new building designed in the sumptuous architecture of the Spanish Renaissance period; a spacious foyer brilliantly lighted and decorated; an interior gay with color and breathing an air of comfort and refinement - that is the Tivoli Theatre. The realization of a long dream - a de luxe metropolitan theatre right in the heart of Chicago’s Western Suburbs.
Planned and executed with the utmost care and thought for your comfort and enjoyment, it brings to your very door the latest sensation in Cinema entertainment - Sound and Talking Pictures. Not only will the feature pictures be the same as at the largest Chicago theatres - synchronized with music played by large Symphony Orchestras, and containing actual sound effects and in many cases Spoken Dialogue by your favorite screen stars, but the surrounding program will contain the latest Vitaphone and Movietone Singing and Talking Acts. These will bring you the greatest stars of vaudeville and musical comedy. Also the Movie-events of the world both visually and in sound. Pres. Elect Hoover, King George, of England, King Alfonso of Spain, Premier Mussolino (sic), and many others will speak to you from our screen. Amazing in its scope, it puts you in direct touch with events and people the world over.
We feel therefore that the Tivoli can rightfully be called ‘The Wonder Theatre of Suburban Chicago’."
(Advertisement: Downers Grove Reporter; Friday, December 21, 1928)
“DON’T EVER MARRY” was released in 1920.
Plan New Theater At Soldiers Grove
SOLDIERS GROVE, Wis. (Special) Some time early in July Soldiers Grove will have a new and modernistic theater with a seating capacity of 400. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Larson have signed the contracts for a 40 by 100 foot building to be erected on the lot recently purchased next to the village pumping station. The Larsons, owners and operators of the Electric theater, have contracted for a quonset steel building, manufactured by the Great Lake Steel corporation, through the distributor, A. Grams and sons, La Crosse, and Lester Wiley, local representative. The fire-resistant building will be completely insulated and finished in a modern style carried out with glass bricks. A Milwaukee architect, who designed the new theater in Middleton, has drawn the plans and will be here this month to complete his work. June 15 is the date on which construction is expected to start. The foundations will be built before this date. (La Crosse Tribune, May 16, 1947)
Soldiers Grove Theater Reopened By Retired GI -
The doors will be open, the popcorn popping and the projectors whirring again at the Electric Theater in Soldiers Grove. A Bell Center couple, Helen and Ben Henderson, have announced that they will open the theater starting Friday, Oct. 4. The first movie will be the James Bond thriller “Live and Let Die.” Henderson, 44, is a retired Army sergeant first class. He spent 25 years in the service, including one year as a theater manager for the Army in Korea. Helen’s uncle managed a movie house in Kansas. The couple moved to Bell Center a year ago, making their home only a couple of miles from Petersburg, where Ben was born. The Hendersons plan to keep the theater open year-round if enough people attend the shows to keep the operation going. They plan showings at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and matinees for younger audiences on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. One of their first goals, Henderson said, is to attract enough moviegoers so the theater can be open during the week. Admission to the movies will be 50 cents for children under 12 and $1.25 for adults. Ben is the son of Mrs. Jerusha Henderson of Bell Center. (Boscobel Dial - Sept. 26, 1974)