Old Gem Theater
116 S. Knowles Avenue,
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Old Gem Theater (Official)
Functions: Live Performances
Styles: Art Deco
Previous Names: Gem Theater
The Gem Theater is in New Richmond, Wisconsin. Built about 1914 of poured concrete with a brick facade. Thomas Lynch was the original owner. Purchased in 1927 by Jack G. Heywood, a film salesman for National General Pictures. Heywood also owned and operated the Gem Theater, Amery, WI; the Lyric Theater, Cornell, WI; the Star Theater, Stanley, WI under the name Heywood Amusement Company. He also leased buildings in Osceola and Clear Lake Wisconsin and operated theaters there. Sound was introduced in 1927 to the Gem Theater and it was extensively remodeled in the 1930’s that incorporated elements of Art Deco and Moderne design. The basic design remained the same until 1977 when the building was redecorated with fabric on the walls of the auditorium and the metal marquee was removed for structural reasons.
The Gem Theater has a single level auditorium with no balcony. The projection booth and cry rooms are reached via stairs at the front of the building. It has a small outer and larger inner lobby, separated by the box office.
Technically the Heywood Amusement Company equipped the theater with state of the art sound and projection equipment. They installed the first generation of stereo sound and a wide screen in the 1950’s.
They operated the business until the 1950’s when Richard Sager leased the business. He operated the Gem Theater until the mid-1970’s. After a short attempt to operate the Gem Theater by a neighboring operator from Hudson, Wisconsin failed it closed for about two years. The building was renovated by Stan McCullogh and Roland Rivard and re-opened by Rivard in 1977. Rivard operated the business until 1988. An employee of Rivard’s attempted to operate the business and the projectors when dark in 1990.
The building was purchased from the Heywood’s by John and Judy Hackbarth and renovated to accommodate live performances in 1991. It was renamed the Old Gem Theater in 2002. The theater retains a distinctive Art-Deco decor with many original fixtures and renovated Art-Deco style murals on the walls. The facade has returned to its original 1914 lines.
The Gem Theater was the site of a campaign visit by John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Wisconsin primary. Kennedy’s campaign director, brother Robert, scouted sites for stops in Western Wisconsin prior to his appearance and picked the Gem Theater based on Richard Sager allegiance to the Democrats and the theater’s proximity to the Minnesota border the home state of Kennedy’s primary opponent, Hubert Humphrey.
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