Garfield Theatre

2947 N. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive,
Milwaukee, WI 53212

Unfavorite 4 people favorited this theater

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Saxe Amusement Enterprises

Architects: Alexander Hamilton Bauer, Gustave A. Dick

Firms: Dick & Bauer Inc.

Functions: Housing

Styles: Baroque

Nearby Theaters

GARFIELD Theatre; Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When pioneer theatres historian and then editor of “Marquee” magazine of the Theatre Historical Society, B. Andrew Corsini Fowler, printed a photo of the auditorium of the Garfield Theatre in their issue of the First Quarter, 1971, he labeled it “Milwaukee’s most elegant neighborhood theatre; a miniature Viennese Opera house.” He was the man in a position to know having seen a number of that city’s theatres during his leaves there during the Korean War. That issue had numerous photos of Milwaukee theatres, and while it showed that the Garfield Theatre on the city’s North side was not the largest, few would argue that it was not one of the city’s fanciest.

The Garfield Theatre was named after the nearby city park of that name, and it, of course, was named after the 20th President of this country, James Garfield (1831-1881). He was a remarkable man who was not only a Civil War general, but a member of Congress, a college president and a professor, and was evidently held in high esteem in Milwaukee for in 1883 the arterial seven blocks south of the theatre was also named for him. The Garfield Theatre opened on November 19, 1927, when the area was a prosperous German-Jewish neighborhood, and the local Saxe chain of theatres was eager to dominate upper Third Street with this, its 45th theater in Wisconsin.

EARLY DAYS

Saxe Amusement Enterprises had already had a long working relationship with Milwaukee architects Gustave A. Dick and Alex H. Bauer who had designed their Tower theatre and their ultimate achievement, the Oriental Theatre, was already open on the East side. Here in the Garfield Theatre it was not the exotic oriental decor, or Early American nostalgia as in their Colonial Theatre, but French Louis XIV design as the page “Salutation” in the inaugural programme describes it. This is one of the rare occasions where the opening-day programme survives,* and while it did not have photos, its 32, 8-½ x 11-inch pages do give many insights into the opulence of that night: November 19th, 1927. Crowds thronged upper 3rd Street that Saturday at 6PM not just to see the silent ‘photoplay’ “Adam and Evil” starring Aileen Pringle & Lew Cody as part of the 8-part program, but also to see this block-long structure ablaze with light and laughter. Theatre openings were becoming commonplace during the ‘roaring twenties,’ but in those days before television such events made the time after one’s workday more memorable than listening to the radio or playing ‘schafkopf’ - as the local Germans knew the card game of sheep’s head. The admission fee then was only 40 cents on Saturday evenings, the highest price they then charged, for a feature film, several short subjects, three acts of vaudeville, plus orchestral and organ accompaniments. One can’t buy even a box of popcorn for that little today!

As one approached the theatre in its early days he would have been impressed with the block-long structure having a 50-foot wide theatre entry flanked by polished brass showcases on the marble-veneered wall. The remainder of the face of the tan and buff brick building trimmed in polychrome terra cotta displayed eight storefronts on the easterly-facing facade with tripled windows of eight apartments above them. The shallow mansard roof of slates featured eight oculus dormers above them. The auditorium and stagehouse masses rise two stories above and behind this at right angle to the entry. They are ornamented by tapestry-set brick borders in their brick walls. A 40-foot deep stagehouse with full rigging allowed for large shows. Of particular note on the facade was the artistic marquee of French scrolls filled with light bulbs above the attraction boards of milk glass letters. The triple border vertical sign spelled out: “Saxe’s Garfield” some five stories high in light bulbs. A pediment with massive cartouche centerpiece, all in glazed terra cotta, capped the entry facade above a window of French curved muntins with ornate draperies behind the glass. Two massive terra cotta urns, encrusted with festoons and finials flanked the pediment.

Passing through the six entry doors, one came into the ticket lobby, a 50-foot square room with walls dividing their height in two by means of a heavy plaster rinceau frieze with faux marble piers below and fluted pilasters above. Centered in the room was the marble and bronze island box office with three windows and the whole long octagon form crowned by a double roofline of bronze cresting in the form of small finialed urns interspersed with small ankroters and fleur-de-lis. Below one’s foot were heavy waffle-pattern rubber mats atop the paneled terrazzo floor. Centered from the ceiling hung an opulent chandelier of hand painted milk glass panels of outward-curving design and below which were reticulated color glass panels forming a tight ‘waist’ above the bowl of glass bead strings pendant from it. The whole ten-foot-tall fixture was draped with crystal chains and orbs.

From here one passed through six brass and ten-light glass doors into the Grande Lobby, a 70-foot deep by 50-foot wide floor covered in a tight floral design Wilton carpet. The opposite (western) end was made up of a right angle white marble carpeted grand staircase to the balcony, but the large lobby was dominated by its three large chandeliers, also the products of Milwaukee’s Charles Polacheck & Bro. Co. (who also did those in the Oriental Theatre and other theatres). These delights hung on long stems wrapped in fringed velvet, and the body below was composed of three levels of milk glass, slumped through a filigree of brass ribs and ornaments, and supported six arms of sextuple candoliers - all electrically lit, of course. The bottom tier was a triple concentric ring of long prisms finished at center by a crystal orb.

The white marble fireplace on the left (south) wall was topped by an entire shallow ‘pavilion’ of pilasters and a broken pediment framing a mirror draped in brocade. Similar panels adorned the remainder of the walls with a gilded triple frame of banded reeding, plus acanthus and cabochons. The plaster frames, surmounted and covered with scrolls, enclosed a tightly patterned damask in an anthemion design (replaced in the ‘40s with a large overlapping leaf pattern). Beautiful sofas, settees, and wing chairs covered in a light silk brocade of classical motif accented the large room along with floor lamps and a curiously plain, white china pedestal drinking fountain - or 'bubbler’ as any true Milwaukeean would call it.

THE AUDITORIUM

Going through any of the five aisle’s double doors into the auditorium, one would enter under a shallow balcony and the first view of the room as the editor saw it. The impression of an opera house within a movie palace was due to the walls being broken up into two levels of a draped colonnade, with balustrades between the pilasters acting as columns, very much the way boxes look in the galleries of European theatres. Eight such mock boxes along a wall and an identical arrangement on the opposite sidewall did create a pleasant rhythm of repetition, and this was echoed by the similar 15 draped arches along the back walls. One would expect obtruding light fixtures on the pilasters acting as piers in traditional opera house form and precedent, but nary a fixture or chandelier is seen. Instead, the entire 1,800-seat auditorium is lit by nine domes surrounded by hidden cove lights, and these in three colors and eight control groups, all dimmed from the Hub brand interlock resistance switchboard backstage. This is another reason the ‘mock boxes’ (which were flush to the wall) were used in the design: lights could be hidden behind their balustrades at bottom and on the ceiling behind the draperies. This allowed for more variety in light as well as illuminating the painted garden murals which backed the upper ‘boxes’.

With dozens of rectangular panels of gilded frames dividing the auditorium walls, it was only fitting that the proscenium and organ screens were basically rectangular too. The organ screens ran almost to the ceiling, framed by rich, deep gilded coves of acanthus ornament. They were surmounted by a gilded pair of nudes flanking an urn-shaped finial atop the central cartouche. Another gilded cartouche framed by foliated ornament centered the space above the proscenium arch, right upon the lattice panels, which formed a frieze just under the ceiling all around the auditorium.

The proscenium arch was also a rectangle about 40 feet wide by 30 feet high made up of six picture frames of varying profiles and ornaments, some acanthus and some bead-and-reel. The grand drapery at the top of the arch was a series of six swags of a small pattern damask, the gaps between being filled by triangular jabot panels appearing to be fringed silver satin fronted by a single tassel each. Behind the legs of the grand drapery were the legs of a velvet tormentor, and behind this the styles (ornamented) of a rigid tormentor with the house curtain between being 16 roman fold panels of velour terminated in small swags at bottom overlaying the 18-inch deep fringe. The material of the grand drapery and the appliqued border topping it, was repeated atop the organ screens, with the screen cloth itself being appliqued with a giant vase of flowers upon a pedestal of French curves in outline form. The carpeted aisles and seats upholstered in a dense check pattern within gilded frames, completed the view of a French palace in the time of the Louis.

If the eyes were pleased, so were the ears as the house orchestra, the “Saxonians”, appeared complete with tympani, at evening performances. At other times it was the job of the organist to “perfume the air with music” (as famed 1920s organist Gaylord Carter so well put it in the video: “The Movie Palaces” by the Smithsonian Institution in 1988) and accompany the silent movies. The Garfield Theatre was well equipped for this with its Barton theatre pipe organ of 3 manuals and 11 ranks (voices) which was opened by organist Jack Martin. It rose into view from the orchestra pit upon its four-post Barton lift every time it started the overture.

An oddity of the design was the projection room which took the form of a plain rectangular box seemingly just hung from the rear ceiling as though it were an after thought. This was sometimes done when theatres wanted to bring the seats all the way to the rear wall, thus not allowing a crossover aisle at the top. In Milwaukee’s Warner Theatre (now the Grand Theatre), it was similar to this, but ornamentally integrated into the design. No doubt the architects were running short of funds on this million-dollar project and the projection room was not usually in view anyway.

LATTER DAYS

By the 1940’s, things were changing fast for the theatres. Sound pictures and large screen projection eliminated the orchestras and pipe organs as well as the gorgeous draperies on the stage, not to mention the stage crew. Modernism was ‘in’ and theatres had to compete for the modern generation. Sign companies such as Polacheck in Milwaukee exploited this trend and sold prefabricated aluminum marquees with the then new fluorescent lights and covered the outdated marble veneers with their own veneers of architectural porcelain panels and silvery aluminum poster cases. Gone was the light bulb extravaganza marquee and the graciously draped giant window above the marquee (who could see it with the new, larger marquee?) now filled with plain concrete blocks (sold as “no leaks, no maintenance, no drafts”) and no longer did daylight brighten the ticket lobby, apart from what came through the now eight doors once the new sidewalk line ticket booth was installed between them. When movies were not paying the way, the Garfield Theatre took special events, such as the photo of a fashion show in the World War II years shows. The man at the organ provided the background music as ladies paraded down a runway temporarily placed above the seats out to the 15th row.

By 1965 the neighborhood had changed drastically (the race riots across the nation would occur in Milwaukee two years later in this very neighborhood) and the theatre closed for good. Steel gates and barred windows now fronted the eight store fronts and the marquee was reduced to a canopy with the attraction board above displaying the new name of the owner of the former theatre: The Opportunities Industrialization Center. It became a center for vocational training for disadvantaged youths. The chandeliers in the lobby were bought by a salvager and later sold to the Sanfilippo family for their 1992 mansion’s music room in Barrington, Illinois, at least a better fate than those of Milwaukee’s Uptown Theatre which reportedly ended up hanging in a barn where only the cows could appreciate them. Theatre historian Larry Widen related how he managed to get a look above the new suspended ceiling in the auditorium and saw the original darkened ornamental domes still there. The former Garfield Theatre had a new life, and no more will be heard the laughter of audiences in multi-part shows for 40 cents, and only 25 cents for matinees. Central Milwaukee no longer has any show houses, and we are the poorer for it. It was demolished in July 2023 with only the front section of the building saved to be converted into housing.


  • Courtesy of Larry Widen
Contributed by James H. (Jim) Rankin

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on January 14, 2005 at 6:14 pm

You can view the The Perlman chandeliers here;

View link

There may also be some future opportunities for this building as OIC (The Opportunities Industrialization Center), current owners of the building are experiencing some great difficulties.

TimothyRuf
TimothyRuf on January 27, 2006 at 5:46 am

The building is now being operated by “The Greater Phidelphia Church of God in Christ”. They have put a new sign in place of the OIC-GM one. Workers were at the site for several weeks, I do not know what work was done to the building.

JimRankin
JimRankin on January 27, 2006 at 7:15 am

Thank you for the update, Timothy. This implies that at least part of the seating still remains.

rivest266
rivest266 on October 11, 2010 at 9:46 am

Grand opening ad with picture is at
View link

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Actually, Google Maps puts 2933 N. MLK Drive about 50 feet south of the theater’s front door, as seen in Street View. That’s actually in front of the vacant lot between the theater and the MLK Library. As the text on the Street Views says, address is approximate.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm

2933 is the address of the theater’s entrance, and 2947 is the address of the entrance to the Garfield Building’s second-floor offices. As the distance of addresses from their associated intersection varies even from block to block, nobody has any software that would pinpoint every address exactly. Fifty feet off is not a big deal, and the image can be easily adjusted to the right spot.

I’m far more annoyed by visitors to the page who update the Street View image without first adjusting it correctly than I am by Google being a short distance off from the exact spot.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on July 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

In 1927 a Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, 3/11, manual/rank, keyboard/sets of pipes, was shipped 81 miles from the factory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to this Theatre. Does anyone know what happened to the organ?

Aaron Giese
Aaron Giese on May 30, 2018 at 3:19 am

So does anyone know what condition the interior is in? Has the church been able to maintain the interior or did the remove or cover up portions of the auditorium?

Trolleyguy
Trolleyguy on July 21, 2023 at 11:38 am

This theatre is essentially being demolished. Part of it will remain, converted to townhouses and retail. Details here

LouRugani
LouRugani on December 25, 2023 at 10:40 pm

Urban spelunking: The Garfield Theater (Bobby Tanzilo, OnMKE) Like most cities, Milwaukee was once dotted with movie palaces - stunningly ornate structures that served to entertain a hard-working public with moving pictures and live performers during the vaudeville era. Here’s a look at the most recent to fall. Very few of these survive today – the Oriental, the Avalon, the MSO’s Bradley Symphony Center. But, somewhat amazingly, until now, all three of the movie palaces designed by local architects Gustave Dick and Alex Bauer in 1926-27, have remained on the landscape. While the Oriental, which opened in July 1927, is still up and running, surviving for a variety of reasons, including its division into a triplex, and the empty Tower Theater (1926) awaits redevelopment, the last of the bunch to be built – The Garfield Theater, 2933 N. King Dr – which opened in November 1927, has reached the end of its life, although not entirely. While the auditorium and lobby of the theater is coming down as part of an ambitious residential and library development on King Drive and Locust Street, the facade and foyer of the theater, as well as the long row of retail spaces with offices above, will remain. They will be converted to townhouse-style residences. The site occupied by the auditorium will become parking for the library and residents. The Garfield was built by the Saxe Brothers Amusement Enterprises and developer Oscar Brachman, who had also built Walter Schroeder’s Astor Hotel in 1920. Among his other theater projects were the now-demolished Uptown Theater (1927) and the Downer Theater (1915). Saxe was a local theater chain founded in 1902 by two brothers, mechanics Jack and Tom Saxe. By the time the Garfield opened, the Saxe Brothers possessed an empire of 44 cinemas, a number that would grow to nearly 60 within another year or so. In 1927 (a busy year for theater construction; 16 went up in Milwaukee that year), Saxe controlled a baker’s dozen Brew City venues, including the Uptown, the Modjeska, the Savoy, the Tivoli, the Tower, the Oriental, the Strand, the Miller, the Princess, the Merrill, the Mirth, the Plaza and its local flagship, the Wisconsin on 6th and Wisconsin. Construction on the theater and its row of retail and office buildings along King Drive began at the start of 1927 and there was a steel frame rising by March. By April, the retail portion was taking shape and the following month, more of the auditorium began to rise. By June, the exterior of the theater box was veneered in brick. Early in July, the Oriental opened, and soon after, the Uptown followed. By October, the retail and office spaces were ready for tenants and work proceeded inside the theater, where National Theater Supply Co. was installing the rigging and stage lighting, Heywood-Wakefield was installing the seats and Chicago’s Albert Pick & Co. was painting, decorating and installing drapery. On Nov. 5, the million-dollar theater opened to great fanfare. “The attendant throng of thousands of persons from all parts of Milwaukee who attended the opening performances gave the rapidly growing upper Third Street a holiday appearance,” wrote the Sentinel the following morning. Predictions were made that the new theater will be a leading factor in the development of of real estate values in the community. “The event marked the completion of the 45th theater in the chain of playhouses throughout the state of the Saxe Amusement Enterprises. Those immediately connected with the new theater believe that the Garfield is one of the most beautiful and modern theaters in the midwest and that it will be the forerunner of even greater strides in building and other developments in that section of the city", it was stated. The theater, the Sentinel added, “exemplifies a decidedly French architecture of the early 18th century, which is characterized by its elegance and piquant motifs.” Patrons were treated to screenings of “Adam and Evil,” starring Lew Cody and Aileen Pringle, as well as vaudeville performances by Betty Ouimet, dancer Olga Mishka, and Ford & Harrison. (Ouimet was the daughter of Frances J. Ouimet, who in 1913 was the first amateur to win the U.S. Open golf tournament. Her son John Zielinski would go on to become a big league prospect with the St. Louis Cardinals. Mishka – despite her exotic name – was an American dancer and vaudevillian whose real name was Gladys Buckley. Ford & Harrison may have a connection to the somewhat eponymous actor Harrison Ford, who has a family link to vaudeville.) During its first week, the Garfield would screen a number of films, including “Shanghai Bound” Sunday and Monday with Mary Brian and Richard Dix, followed Tuesday-Thursday by “What Price Glory” with Victor MacLaglen, and then Richard Barthelmess in “The Drop Kick” Friday and Saturday. Arriving at the theater, patrons would surely have noticed the gorgeous terra cotta decoration on the facade above the marquee and entrance. In the foyer – the 50x50-foot area where the ticket booth was located – and in the lobby beyond there were lavish decorations, including mirrors, terrazzo floors, a regal staircase up to the balcony level and even a white marble fireplace. The 50x70-foot lobby was illuminated by a trio of large chandeliers, made by Milwaukee’s Charles Polacheck & Bro. Five sets of double doors each opened to an aisle inside the 1,800-seat auditorium. Patrons entered beneath the low ceiling of the balcony above, which created a feeling of compression. Walking forward, one was then hit by an awe-inspiring sense of release provided by the soaring expanse of the theater. There were murals on the side walls and, as was common, ornate painted plaster details everywhere: on the ceiling, on the proscenium around the 40x30-foot stage opening, on the walls. Thanks to a series of colonnades on either side that mimicked opera boxes, offered the look and feel of a European opera house. Carytids stood sentry between these openings. There were damask, velvet and satin drapery and other elements. Described later as “Milwaukee’s most elegant neighborhood theater; a miniature Viennese Opera house,” admission was 40 cents on Saturday evenings – less at other days and times – which got you a feature film, several short films, three vaudeville acts and musical accompaniment by an orchestra and organist. “If the eyes were pleased, so were the ears as the house orchestra, the ‘Saxonians,’ appeared complete with tympani, at evening performances,” notes CinemaTreasures.org. “At other times it was the job of the organist to ‘perfume the air with music’ (as famed 1920s organist Gaylord Carter so well put it in the video: ‘The Movie Palaces’ by the Smithsonian Institution in 1988) and accompany the silent movies. The Garfield was well equipped for this with its Barton theatre pipe organ of three manuals and eleven ranks (voices) which was opened by organist Jack Martin. It rose into view from the orchestra pit upon its four-post Barton lift every time it started the overture.” However, by the time the Garfield swung open its doors, Saxe was feeling pressure from the big Hollywood studios like Loew’s, Warner Brothers, Fox and Paramount, who were swallowing up indie theater chains. In December, Saxe sold its theaters to the California-based Midwesco Theaters Inc., which already owned a couple hundred theaters. Soon after, Fox Film Corp., in turn, gulped down that chain and Fox-Midwesco became the big kid on the block in Wisconsin theaters for a quarter-century, and it put veteran theater manager Milton Harman in charge of the Garfield. Meanwhile, the Saxe clan busied itself with businesses like the White Tower fast food chain and later, Thomas Saxe got back into the theater game during the Depression, buying back his theaters and running them until his death in 1938. As the movie business and entertainment landscape changed, so did the theater. By the 1940s, the Saxonians were gone. The marquee was changed and the large arched window in the facade was covered. Sometimes movies weren’t earning enough and other events were held, including concerts, fashion shows, union meetings, teen dances and conventions. With TV taking over, the Garfield closed in 1965. After some changes in 1967 – including the removal of the seats – the building was occupied in 1968 by The Opportunities Industrialization Center, an apparently windowless vocational school. The OIC was founded in Philadelphia and opened its first Milwaukee site in the old Rosenberg’s department store on King Drive at North Avenue in March 1967. Some of its lavishness was sold off, including the Polacheck lobby chandeliers, which ultimately ended up in the Barrington, Illinois mansion of the Sanfilippo family. “The once fashionable Garfield Theater, a flashy but fading dame on Milwaukee’s near north side, is trying to recapture her youth,” wrote Barbara H. Kuehn in the Sentinel in January 1968. “She’s likely to pass her new lease on life to people in the neighborhood. But she’ll have to part with her frills first.” An OIC counselor told Kuehn that the goal was to “motivate self-renewal, so we start by trying to get the trainee to think for himself” in terms of selecting an area of study. “The theater was once a hub of community entertainment as people flocked to its movies, vaudeville shows and musical programs,” Kuehn wrote. “OIC hopes to transform it into a center where people in the surrounding inner city can get a new start in life.” After OIC closed in a swirl of controversy in the early 2000s, the Philadelphia Church of God in Christ purchased the building and converted it into a church in 2006. While the lobby and foyer maintained some of their grandeur, if dulled, a dropped ceiling that ran from the edge of the balcony all the way to the stage killed that sense of release, leaving only the feeling of compression. In order to suspend the ceiling, hundreds of holes were popped through the ornate plaster ceiling. Upstairs, the balcony was enclosed and diced up into a series of classrooms (likely by the vocational school). Before work to demolish the lobby and auditorium began, I was invited over for a full-on, Indiana Jones-style “spelunk,” as Jackson Lindsay II of General Capital, architect Keith Stachowiak – who, thankfully, brought a really powerful light source – and I climbed to the catwalks, opened a locked door via a convenient hole in the wall to access a bit of remaining balcony, explored the basement, nosed around the dressing rooms below the stage, peered through the openings in the projection booth, stuck our heads up into the upper level fan room and did our best to photograph what we could see from our limited vantage points. Alas, we never could find a navigable route onto those colonnades that looked like European opera house boxes. I’d been trying for years to get inside to see what remained and had heard that there wasn’t much to see, but as is often the case, this was not true at all. The exterior terra cotta is lovely and there for all passersby to see and enjoy. Just next to the main entrance, workers uncovered a vintage sign, reading “First run on the North Side,” which was removed and saved. While the elaborate ticket booth and chandeliers are long gone, the foyer decor is largely intact and quite beautiful. Fortunately, this space – as well as that terra cotta facade – will survive as a lobby for the new apartment building. Through the doors into the much larger lobby space, with its higher ceiling and grand staircase feels a bit like a revelation. Perhaps not on the scale of the former Warner Grand Theater Downtown – now the MSO’s Bradley Symphony Center – but still awe-inspiring with its marble fireplace and extant decor. While climbing the grand staircase is rewarding, entering the balcony at the top and the auditorium below are disappointing. There’s nothing to see in the balcony and in the former church sanctuary below there are only some hints (admittedly lovely) of what could be seen during the Garfield Theater days. The real excitement comes when we visit the backstage rooms (sadly stripped of their original wall finishes and any old performer graffiti that may have existed), the catwalks (creepy and alluring as any) and, especially, what little remains of the balcony, the projection booth and the organ loft. From these latter spaces, the awesome – if dark and crumbly – scene of that “European opera house” reveals itself. We can see the proscenium – though the top half or more of the stage opening is blocked up – and the ceiling with their elaborate painted plaster motifs. We can see the colonnades with their decorative railings. We spy the carytids standing tall and proud. We can see the project booth, tacked onto the back wall as if an afterthought. Later, looking at Dick & Bauer’s original plans, Stachowiak notices that they don’t match the built theater. The carytids, for example, are nowhere to be seen. In fact, neither are the colonnades. “I can’t find those caryatids in the interior sections / elevations – (it) seems like the design was changed,” he says. “They were never a part of the original plan – as a matter of fact neither were the side aisles/corridors, upper or lower. These plans had to have changed significantly during construction. Not all that surprising for the time – I also love how they reference ‘murals by decorator.’ Like the architects had no care about what was applied after the fact by someone else because it was ‘decoration’.” Stachowiak also sees later plans and notes changes that took place long after the original construction. “It was so poorly altered by two notable architects,” he says. “First the sloped theater floor was covered and the fly loft infilled in 1967 by Fitzhugh Scott for the Opportunities Industrialization Center. Then in 1983 Alonzo Robinson added this monstrosity of a floor plan to the theater along with the drop ceiling and fluorescent lights. Imagine going to a vocational school for the disabled and having no access to natural daylight.” While we’re there we see all those holes popped into the ceiling and we see that time has taken its toll on much of the splendor. While, perhaps, someone with absolutely unlimited funding MIGHT be able to return the Garfield Theater to its original splendor, what then? Few are looking to open new movie theaters, even if it were to be divided like the Oriental into a triplex, and the city, if anything, is reaching a glut of concert and event venues. Movie palaces were very specialized buildings that are difficult to convert. I’m sad to think that it will be gone forever, one more vintage movie palace condemned to history, but what Milwaukee does need now is housing, and especially affordable housing, and that’s what this site will provide. Fortunately, some of that will occupy the retail/office space, which will allow the street-facing aspect of the old Garfield Theater to not only remain intact, but to get a much needed restoration. The project will provide a new 18,000-square-foot library with flexible-use community rooms, a makerspace, improved access to technology, new furnishings and an updated and refreshed presentation of library materials and resources. The library building will also have 42 affordable apartments. There will be another eight in the former storefronts and 43 more in the building to the north. As Barbara Kuehn wrote of the Garfield in the Sentinel in 1968: “Sad, in a way, to see the old lady lose her ruffles. But she was past her prime in both beauty and usefulness. The face lifting may well put her back in touch with the neighborhood.” (Bobby Tanzilo, Senior Editor/Writer, OnMKE)

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater.