A guide to Milwaukee's historic theaters

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A number of old theaters are still being used in their original capacity: entertainment. Among them are...

The Tosa (6823 W. North Ave.), erected in 1931, has been transformed into the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, which screens independent films and dishes up food and microbrews.

The Downer (2589 N. Downer Ave.), built in 1915 and designed by Martin Tullgren, and the Oriental (2230 N. Farwell Ave.), a lavish showhouse erected in 1927, survive, albeit in altered form and are part of the Landmark Theatres chain.

The lovely art deco Fox Bay (334 E. Silver Spring Dr.), built in 1950, recently reopened as a first-run movie house, after spending a number of years laying dormant and serving as a second-run theater. The new set-up has two screens and serves food.

The Times (5906 W. State St.), an intimate movie house built in 1935, continues to screen second-run films.

The Miramar (2842 N. Oakland Ave.), was also known as the Oakland during its movie days, 1913-'54. After that it became the home to the Milwaukee Rep (when it was converted into a theatre in the round), the Metropole nightclub and a church. Recently, the building was purchased and turned into a recording studio and a place for concerts, plays and other performances.

The Varsity (1326 W. Wisconsin Ave.), which was built in 1938 and served as a movie house until 1976, is now a lecture hall at Marquette University, that also hosts concerts, readings and other performances.

The Avalon (1929 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), which opened in May 1929, was Bay View's last surviving movie palace until it ceased screening films in spring 2000. This gorgeous atmospheric theater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Russell Barr Williamson, still opens up to host concerts and other performances under its starry sky.

Similarly, The Modjeska (1124 W. Mitchell St.) is mostly shuttered, but opens occasionally to host a rock and roll concert or DJ dance party. The current building, built in 1924 to seat 2,000 people, replaced an earlier Modjeska on the same site, built in 1910 to seat a mere 900. Run by theater mogul Thomas Saxe, the Modjeska served as a sister theater to downtown's Princess (738 N. 3rd St.), which endured into the mid-'1980s as an adult cinema. It was razed for a parking lot.

The Pabst Theatre (114 E. Wells St.), built in 1895 to replace the Opera House that burned, and The Riverside (116 W. Wisconsin Ave.), built in 1929, currently host concerts, plays and other events.

For more information on Milwaukee's historic movie theaters, check out "Milwaukee Movie Palaces," a book by Larry Widen and Judi Anderson, published the great folks at Milwaukee County Historical Society. A new edition of this out of print gem is reportedly due for publication in 2001. Meanwhile, Widen also has a web site www.widenonline.com.

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Talkbacks

OMCreader | Jan. 30, 2006 at 1:13 a.m. (report)

NICOLE said: I am desperately looking for pictures or any information obtainable by internet about the old popular nighclub in milwaukee during the 80's called "the palms". I am out of state and used to live thier and wonder if you can help me out by getting this info?? thanks

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