Riverside Theater

116 W. Wisconsin Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53201

Unfavorite 8 people favorited this theater

Showing 1 - 25 of 40 comments

HowardBHaas on March 30, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Last night’s “town hall” CNN TV Republican nomination presidential debate with the last 3 candidates still in the race was here. The auditorium was shown & looks great!

galloway on February 1, 2016 at 6:06 am

I was the Riverside Theater Organist, 1969 & 1970. I used to perform up to 10 shows each week from about January ‘69 until mid-Fall, 1970. I had free run of the place anytime I wanted. The organ was on the elevator that serviced the orchestra pit. I would literally climb over the pit railing and down into the hole to power-up the organ. From down there, I could control the theater spot lights as well as the elevator itself. I would I found the experience, musically speaking, challenging because of the echo off the back of the theater and the balcony. You could hear each note more than once. I never explored the basement but back-stage was cool (& dirty). The picture above showing the organ is exactly how it was. I would rise up out of the pit in the spot light playing. This is the only pic I have ever seen and I have none of my own. – very grateful.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on September 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm


A Mighty WuliTizer Theater Pipe Organ, Opus 1865, 3/13, manual/rank, keyboards/sets of pipes, was shipped from WurliTizer in North Tonawanda, New York, to the Riverside on March 24, 1928. 2 more ranks have been added which would now make it a 3/15. It has a curved console, over 1000 pipes, 49 note marimba, 25 note cathedral chime, 37 note xylophone, 37 note glockenspiel, 25 note sleigh bells, 49 note chrysoglott, bass drum, kettle drum, crash cymbal, cymbal, harp, snare drum, tambourine, castanets, Chinese block, tom tom, sand block, triangle, surf, auto horn, and door bell.

This Mighty WurliTizer was first played when the Riverside opened by “Winkel” the Whiteman, and was regularly used into the 1950’s. The theatre donated the organ to the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society and they began a restoration of the organ in 1980, repairing much water damage from a leaky roof, and ordinary wear and tear. Much to everyones chagrin the organ is rarely played!

More info, comments, corrections, and photos of the ORGAN are always welcome!

gill on March 2, 2013 at 6:13 pm

There’s a great 1928 photo of the Riverside on the Historic-Memphis.com website’s Theatre page. Here’s a link to the page.

rivest266 on October 15, 2010 at 12:41 am

Even better,
an ad for Milwaukee’s Proudest Possession, the grand opening ad can be seen at View link

Preopening ads is at
View link
View link

TLSLOEWS on August 21, 2010 at 3:05 am

Love that youtube clip Bob.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 21, 2010 at 2:49 am

FAntastic 1970 ad.

BobFurmanek on May 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Here’s amazing rare footage of Laurel and Hardy on stage, circa 1940! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti5EK_c5-Iw

moviez on October 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Hi. My name is Mark Zimmermann and I’m writing a book on the history of the Riverside Theater. I was manager there in the mid-70’s when UA was running it. While there I secured several old storage rooms on the second floor from vandalism, and I found two old scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and reviews from approximately 1942-1950. Luckily, the manager back then was wise enough to save this for history. I saved them for all these years, and after the success of Larry Widen’s recent book I decided to research the entire history of the Riverside at the Milwaukee Public Library. It’s amazing how many stars came to Milwaukee to perform for an entire week at the Riverside, from Bob Hope, Frances Gumm and the Gumm Sisters, to Abbott and Costello, Chico Marx, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Laurel and Hardy. The one thing I’m in need of is personal stories from people who went to the Riverside to see the Stage and Screen performances in person. I’ve interviewed 3 people who attended the Riverside regularly back in the 1950s. If there is anybody out there who attended shows from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and would like to share their stories please contact me at Thanks.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on February 5, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Here’s a YouTube performance by Ron Reseigh the Riverside’s III/13 Wurlitzer. Sounds like the old organ got a top to bottom make-over recently!

Astounding technique and humor by a first rate organist!

View link

kencmcintyre on November 29, 2008 at 2:21 am

Here is a 1958 photo from Life Magazine:

Broan on October 8, 2007 at 7:30 am

Recent photos of this theatre are HERE

JimRankin on October 4, 2006 at 4:44 pm

Well, “Life”, your imagination is good, and I too am disappointed in the results, especially after they made a public appeal in the newspaper to learn of the history of its signage and in response, I hand delivered a 6-page history with historic tinted postcards reproduced in color.

They may have run out of nerve or money when planning the current modest back-lit lithographed plastic sheets marquee in 1984, but I have a hunch that they were more determined NOT to recall any of the look of its movie palace days. Those days included an 8-foot high frame of skeleton light bulb letters above the 1940s replacement marquee of fluorescent back-lit letters, in addition to the 12-story high Vertical Name Sign (removed in the 1960s). Maybe their reaction was to go in the opposite direction away from light bulbs for a more ‘institutional’ look. Until recently, our PABST, an 1895 legit house, also had no light bulb signs ever since their 1928 Vertical was removed in the early ‘70s. This may have been their precident for a more modest —but unexciting— treatment. Most legit houses do not believe in garish signage to attract the passerby, but that their clientele will come on the reserved seat basis anyway, so the image and expense of movie house signage is avoided.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 30, 2006 at 8:41 pm

I can understand all of that. Basically I am just happy to see the place making money. But in an ideal world they would have an exciting electical sign in keeping with the building’s history. The Michigan in Ann Arbor is good example of what I am imagining.

JimRankin on September 27, 2006 at 7:44 pm

It is uninspiring, as I explained in a caption I added to the photo linked to by Lost Memory in the Comment above yours. We might be more patient with the 1984 remodelers if we realize that the original lobby is quite small for a theatre of this size, and when it was converted to a reserved seat, live action venue it had to have much more room for thousands of tickets than the old single person island box office it opened with in 1929 for movies. So they evicted the Buddy Squirrel Nut Shop from the space to the west, and constructed a larger box office there opening onto the side wall of the vestibule, and adding a line of doors along the sidewalk line to create a ticket lobby as well as space for smokers during the shows. It is never mentioned, but rumor has it that they also added that line of doors to keep street people from congragating there during foul weather, which is rather common here.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 27, 2006 at 12:09 am

I am glad the Riverside is still around. But what an awful entrance. Stick a doorman and a luggage cart in that picture and we could be looking at the Hyatt.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 11, 2006 at 10:11 am

I just read your opening description Jim. It is funny to hear about the alley problems. I wonder what sort of entertainment business relics they might find if they dredged the river next to this place?!?

JimRankin on August 11, 2006 at 9:14 am

The photo angle does make it appear that they are in the same block, but in actuality, there are two streets intersecting Wisconsin Ave. there between the theatres: Plankinton Ave (equivalent to 1st St.) and S. 2nd St. The Warner/Centre/Grand is therefore actually 2 blocks west of the Riverside, as their addresses indicate. The Pabst theater is only two blocks north of the Riverside which is why they will all be on the same walking tour on the Theatre Historical Soc. convention next summer of ‘07.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 11, 2006 at 12:19 am

I’ll be damned. The Riverside is right next to the Warner/Centre/Grand? I never picked up on that before.

kencmcintyre on August 10, 2006 at 11:12 pm

Here is an interesting photo from 1951:

kencmcintyre on August 10, 2006 at 10:20 pm

There are two contemporary photos on this page:

JimRankin on January 16, 2006 at 1:05 pm

P.S.: If you have a car, you can still get a nice Theatre Pipe Organ experience here, but not in a theatre (the ORIENTAL’s had a major failure of its electronic switching, I’m told, and the RIVERSIDE’s and the PABST’s are very rarely played), but in a unique restaurant: The Organ Piper at 4353 S. 108th St., (414) 529-1177; the hours that the organ is played vary, so phone ahead to confirm. It is a long drive from Marquette, but possibly worth it to you. The organ there is a 27-rank (voice) of three manuals and quite capable of major music; they take requests and sell CDs/DVDs of the organ. The restaurant is casual and is owned by the local heads of the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society.