State Theater

2612 W. State Street,
Milwaukee, WI 53208

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Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on June 27, 2024 at 6:42 am

Only the front of the building was burned. The theater is still there. Definitely not demolished.

rso1000 on July 25, 2018 at 11:16 am

The historic State Theater in Milwaukee’s SOHI District could be reopened for the first time in nearly two decades as an all-ages music club.

The project, called The New State, would also be a combination of non- and for-profit businesses, sharing and collaborating in the space at 2612 W. State St.

The venue will include sober music performances, a professional sound engineering studio, a consignment store for local artists, and classroom and performance space focusing on the development of young musicians and artists.

West Side Arts Un, Limited, a newly-formed non-profit organization that includes developers, architects and business owners residing in the Near West Side, have launched a public financing campaign to raise $250,000 for the project.

That money will be used to stabilize the building and winterize it, said Allyson Nemec of Quorum Architects. Another $2.5 million will then have to be raised to complete the renovations.

The group hopes to open the doors of The New State in 2020.

The building is currently owned by the Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority.

Board members include Nemec, John Hennessy of Hennessy Group, Charles Forsberg of Mammyth Audio and Andrew Parker of Manderley Bed & Breakfast.

The building was known as the State Theater from 1915 to 1955 and eventually became a well-known music club. The venue was at times also called The Palms and Electric Ballroom.

Well-known musicians including U2, Elvis Costello, The Police, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers all played at the club.

It was later renamed Hoops and became a strip club, that eventually closed in the early 1990s. The building stood empty and neglected since.

In February 2017, a two-alarm fire destroyed much of the inside.

Nemec, who also lives in the neighborhood, put together a group to come up with potential renovation and reuse ideas for the property.

In studying the project’s feasibility, creating space that would focus on music and provide a benefit to the community became the answer.

“We read a little bit about the demolition that was being contemplated by the city because no use had come forward, and wanted to do something,” Nemec said, adding that the space will also house Milwaukee businesses FREESPACE and Mammyth Audio. “We talked about it for a long time and decided that combining forces we could all come up with something that supported an all-ages venue at this location.”

ecips on August 15, 2017 at 7:55 am


The Electric Ballroom brought rock and roll to the former State and during its roughly four-year run, it brought in a number of big names, including AC/DC, Elvis Costello (on Dec. 1, 1977, with Bad Boy opening!), The Runaways, The Ramones, Welsh metal band Budgie, Eddie Money, Judas Priest, Hawkwind and Todd Rundgren, whose October 1978 gig there was released on CD last year.

It also booked up and comers like Rockford’s Cheap Trick, along with local bands, including The Lubricants, who did something – I’m not sure what – to earn the honor of being banned.

By January 1979, Chuck Vecitis and Peter Sobotka bought the place. They renamed it The Palms and spent a few weeks cleaning and painting before reopening it.

But the toughest thing to change, it seems, was the Electric Ballroom’s rough reputation.

“The people who owned it wouldn’t have gotten their license again,” Vecitis told the Milwaukee Sentinel that year. “We had to fight for our license for two months. When we took the club over, we had fights in here every night. We just put the security in and put a stop to it. No one gets hassled in here anymore.”

Among the earliest shows there were performances by George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Sad Cafe, Steve Forbert, Poco, Asleep at the Wheel, Peter Tosh, Dire Straits and The Police.

The list of bands that played The Palms by the time it closed in 1986 is impressive: Megadeth, The Replacements, Duran Duran, Dokken, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, The Stray Cats, The Stranglers, The Motels, Joan Jett, The Ramones and, on April 15, 1981, U2.

There were countless others, too. And the shows were a bargain. Gigs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Meatloaf and Eddie Money cost $1. One. Dollar. Admission to see U2 on its first American tour was $4.50.

Like the Electric Ballroom before it, The Palms also booked local acts, and I can remember seeing Kafka and St. Bernard there around 1984. Five years earlier, The Haskels had organized Milwaukee’s debut “New Wave Festival” at the club.

Guitarist Mike Ciaccio, whose band The Tense Experts opened that U2 show, remembers The Palms:

“I saw a lot of people there,” he says. “Not horribly cavernous sounding, but sort of. Somewhat seedy in the dressing rooms, but a step up from some, including wherever we lived for more than a few months. I liked it.”

His then-bandmate Bobby Steele says they used to do load-in and stage work at the club when they weren’t gigging.

“We lived about a half block away from The Palms, and often we would get roadie gigs. It was probably $20 and free shots. I roadied for the Ramones. One of my friends was stage manager and lived in the apartment upstairs for a few years.”

Don Hallen worked at The Palms and also briefly lived in the apartment upstairs.

“I was the stage manager there for two stints in the early ‘80s,” he recalls. “The first week I was stage manager The Tourists, with Annie Lennox, played and two days later it was The Pretenders. Was there the night of The Plasmatics. Did lights for Joan Jett and Hank Williams Jr. It was a great time.

“I only lived upstairs for a while, but it did have its times, when the place was used for a dressing room. I could tell you a story or two. The Palms was a cool place to work, worked with so many good bands, saw so many great shows, got paid for it, and could drink for free on the job. Who in their early 20s wouldn’t love that?”

But the neighborhood was changing and the business was changing and by 1986, The Palms had gasped its last breath.

davidcoppock on February 13, 2017 at 2:58 am

“Has any of the building survived the fire?”

bryceis7 on February 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm

In the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked in an auto body supply store on the southwest corner of 27th and State. We attended a few concerts at the Electric Ballroom and Palms. I also did some fill in work as a bartender at the tavern to the east of the theater. At that time it was “Wally’s”. A typical beer and shot joint. Open early in the morning for the 3rd shifters and stayed open till closing. It was also one of the hangouts (and I got to know) some of the AWA “second rate” wrestlers like Bob Amel, Frank Hill and sometimes Kenny Jay.

clarkw on March 27, 2012 at 10:57 pm

The State organ was a Kimball of 2 manuals and about 6 ranks. We used to have the Solo windchest from it plus a few other parts in the warehouse with the Oriental Kimball, so some of it survived.

rekrab on February 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm

In 1950 Peter Rehwaldt and I were 2nd year students at nearby Concordia College and both loved and played the college organ. Peter negotiated the removal of the non operating theater pipe organ and transported it to the attic of his home located just off campus. His Dad was a Concordia professor. We did not get anywhere started on reassembly due to Peter’s death from pneumonia in 1951. His family forfeited the organ to a scrap dealer. I don’t remember the organ builder name and I have no pictures of it; only memories. Maybe someone has info on the State Theater organ.

kstan48 on June 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Here is a video I completed a few years ago on the State Street theater. Thanks to all those who assisted in the background information.

State Street Theater (Video: Youtube) –

pauldrewry on November 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Later years it was known as the Electric Ballroom, which became an important role player in Milwaukee’s music sceen. Some of the acts to have performed were; Elvis Costello, AC/DC & Todd Rundgren. Later it’s name was changed to the Palms, hosting such acts as the Police, Metalica, Poco, Pretenders, the Cars and U2. Anyone have dates for when the ballroom open and when the Palms closed? Any photos? Judging from the description, a stage must have been added with a dressing room to the theater. I never had the chance to see any shows there.

LouisRugani on June 11, 2010 at 5:54 pm

(April 19, 1930)
Theatre Deal Goes In Effect At Midnight

Warner Brothers To Take Over Sheboygan Theatre And Other Theatres In Wisconsin

It was unofficially announced today that Warner Bros, one of the leading film companies in the United States, has taken over the Wisconsin branch of the Universal Theatrical Enterprises chain of theatres, and that the concern will assume ownership at 12 o'clock midnight tonight and will start operating these theatres Sunday.
Theatres included are the Sheboygan theatre, which was erected at a cost of $600,000 and which was opened to the public in 1928; Venetian theatre at Racine, Kenosha theatre at Kenosha, and all the Universal theatres in Milwaukee except the Alhambra. Among the Milwaukee theatres are the Lake, State, Downer, Juneau, Nation and Kosciuszko.
The deal, which has been in the course of consummation during the past week, involves millions of dollars in theatre values.
Manager K. G. Wood of the Sheboygan theatre today would not make official comment as to the completion of negotiations, but admitted that he was notified late Friday to take a complete inventory of his theatre, and to check meters at the close of business tonight.
The Sheboygan theatre is one of the most up to date in the state chain. It is equipped with the latest Western electric sound equipment, with new changes and installations made from time to time as improvements are made in the sound facilities. The theatre in Spanish atmospheric design has a seating capacity of 1,600.

NuclearArt on August 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

It opened in late December 1915 and there was a story about it in the Milwaukee Journal of December 19, 1915.

kencmcintyre on August 12, 2006 at 9:52 am

I drove by this theater a few weeks ago. I have a digital photo, but I’m still working on transferring those here. The ground floor was retail, including a Chinese resturant, if I recall correctly. The neigborhood was not that great.

JimRankin on August 12, 2006 at 1:15 am

A PS to DavidH’s item about Miss Sell is that she played a number of Milw. theatres at the piano of the ‘pit band’. It is not clear whether she began her singing career here, but there is a biography of her with a publicity photo of her in her pro days here: . She was 97 years at that time, but died about a year ago. Larry Widen has a more recent publicity shot of her in his 1986 “Milwaukee Movie Palaces” which is to be reprinted next year, enlarged, as “Silver Screens.”

JimRankin on August 12, 2006 at 12:52 am

Here is DavidH’s comment which had been posted on the VARSITY’s page:
In the 1920s' silent movie days Hildegarde Sell who went on to be THE INCOMPARABLE HILDEGARDE played the piano at the State. Hildegarde who was billed as the ultimate chanteuse had a popular national radio program THE RALIEGH ROOM in the 1940s and because of her affected mannerism was the butt of many jokes. She also wrote the best seller Over 50 So What?
posted by DavidH on Aug 11, 2006 at 6:56am

JimRankin on September 21, 2005 at 11:06 am

The STATE was a modest single story affair with a small lobby and 4-aisle auditorium on one level. The specifications of the small organ are unknown, but the space for any chambers was very small. There was never a stagehouse, so only a platform served below the screen upon the back wall, but a modest proscenium arch held a single line of draperies. It was typical box beams and pilasters decor with the wall panels being from seat back level to ceiling of panels of a damask fabric. The building had been reseated at least once. Behind the mansard roof over the projection room over the lobby, the remainder of the buiding is of cinder block construction. A scandal about a local athlete and a stripper there, ruined its faint image in the 1980s. One can only hope that this decaying neighborhood will see some enhancement if this movie house which was never a movie palace, is revived.

lilpc on April 26, 2005 at 5:16 am

I got the information from the City of Milwaukee website, under Dept of City Development, Near West Side Project Updates:

Renovation plans are coming along for the historic theater building located on 2612 W. State Street. The Redevelopment Authority and Common Council have selected and approved the Nigerian Community to oversee the renovation. New uses will include a nightclub, restaurant and meeting hall.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on March 14, 2005 at 6:40 am

The State Theater operated from 1915 – 1955. The Film Daily Yearbook, 1941 gives a seating capacity of 1,206 and it was operated by Fox Wisconsin Circuit under the subsidiary Fox City Theatres Corp.

The architect was Frank Andree and it is noted it was equipped with a Kimble theatre organ.

It has been in use as a nightclub since (at least) the early 1980’s.