February 1, 2010

Venetian was Racine's finest theatre


The Venetian Theatre in Downtown Racine.
Photo provided by Oak Clearing Farm & Museum


In celebration of Racine's 175th anniversary, RacinePost is running a series of stories about our city's storied history. Today, historian Gerald Karwowski recalls the city's lost treasures - its movie theaters. (As a sidenote, I just learned local theatres used to give out dinnerware to people who went to movies. Imagine going to see Avatar and coming home with a piece of a china!)


VENETIAN WAS RACINE’S FINEST THEATRE

By Gerald L. Karwowski

Many of us can remember the good times we had at one or more of Racine’s old theatres. Like the Sunday afternoon double features with three or four cartoons or specials featuring the milking of live cows on stage.

However, few people can recall W.C. Tiede, and his son Charley, showing Cameraphone movies at the College Avenue Orpheum, in the early 1900s, or Flickerless movies at the Crystal as it was called in 1914.

There are some who can recollect days at the Majestic Theatre, (Uptown) when the orchestra would slowly rise into view playing soft music, as a glow of colored light was cast against the huge curtain in the background. Or block long lines, when a hit was playing at the Rialto or Venetian.


The Venetian's screen and stage.

Theatres in downtown Racine included the Bijou, Orpheum, Rialto, Rex, Main Street, Palace, Badger, Racine, Imperial, Strand, White House and Dreamland to name a few.

Also scattered throughout the city were the Capitol, Granada, Crown, Allen, State Douglas, Grand, Princess, Star, two Majestics and more. Many of these date back to when admission was a nickel or a quarter and a whole family could have a night out for less than a dollar.

In the late 1920s “talkies” began to replace silent movies, which sparked the building of new theatres throughout the country. Racine was caught in this whirlwind of theatre-building in 1928, with four new theatres opening within weeks of each other. This were the Granada, April 7, Venetian, April 12, Majestic (Uptown) May 1, and Capital, May 30.

The largest was the Venetian, an atmospheric theatre with a $ 1 million price tag. Plaster art décor in Italian Renaissance design, with statues, enhanced this 2,100 seat showhouse. The north end of the Johnson Building now marks the site where the Venetian stood fronting Monument Square. It was razed in 1977.


Looking south inside the Venetian Theater.

The Majestic (Uptown) opened on Washington Avenue. The 1,500 seat theatre was built by Ernst Klinkert at a cost of over $250,000. Its interior is of Gothic design, some of which is still intact. However, all the seats have been removed and the lower areas were used for storage. The main corridor and lobby still has most of the original plaster art and trim.


Entry way inside the Venetian.

The Capitol, Douglas, Crown and Granada were smaller neighborhood theatres. Each had a seating capacity of about 1,000. They were equipped with stages and theatre organs.

The Granada was built with a Spanish décor inside and out, and was located on Charles Street near Douglas. The theatre was stripped of it 32-foot marquise in the late 1960s, when it was remodeled into a wholesale warehouse.

The Capitol was built in a Italian design and in later years was remodeled into a twin, Capitol 1 and 2 and in November of 1981, Park 1 and 2.

By far Venetian was Racine’s finest theatre with its ornate statues, twinkling ceiling stars and often long waiting lines. Today’s theatres are little more than boxes in comparison to the movie palaces which the city once had.


Venetian being knocked down.

49 comments:

  1. ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS

    Reading the stories brought memories flooding back and a feeling of being Back home. Watching "Old Yeller" with a couple thousand other kids right in those very seats.

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  2. What a loss. I hope we learn from our mistakes. It would have been a great theater to play Sundance-type or foriegn films . . .

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  3. SAM AZARIAN'S worst nightmare!

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  4. I remember watching The Blob and getting so scared I had to leave.

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  5. Great article, with wonderful pictures.

    Thanks

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  6. I copped my first feel there.

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  7. I WISH I was around to be a part of that piece of our history- but I DO have a Shirley Temple pitcher that my dad received one day at the theater- one of the dinnerware giveaways you refer to. How IT survived is no small feat- as my dad said many a piece of that giveaway glass was either thrown into the Root or target practice! What a shame we don't have those gems around today in full glory.

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  8. Looking at those photos of the beautiful Venetian makes me feel sick. I'm sorry I never got to experience it first-hand. What a loss.

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  9. Thank goodness someone is saving and sharing this part of Racine's movie going history with us. I myself stood in those block long lines to see "Old Yeller" and also the Beatles.

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  10. I bought the Granada theater on Douglas Ave, but haven't done anything with it yet as I have to find parking for 65 cars to get a occupany permit. But my research shows how special even these neighborhood theaters were. Giving away dishes was how the Granada and Douglas theaters competed. It was a nickel for a short, the movie and a dish. I was able to acquire an entire set of the dishes that the Granada gave away. The Granada theater sat 940 people but only had 2 bathroom stalls each for men and women. Guess no super-sized sodas in those days. --D. Namowicz

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    1. I would love a tour. 2624125837 Jessica

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  12. The demise of the downtown theatres was when the Racine Theatre Guild decided to build its theatre on Northwestern Avenue rather than using one of the exisitng theatres. That was an option at the time.

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  13. My sister worked at the Venetian in the 50's. I got in for free and all the popcorn I could eat.

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  14. Nothing has been "learned." Racine continues to tear down buildings in the hopes of enriching developers, and then the lots sit empty for decades. The 20 year hole in downtown was the prime example, but we still have most of State Street flattened and the mess in West Racine, and on and on. The greedy politicians just can't keep from trying to steal from the cookie jar, and Racine's residents have suffered for over 40 years because of it.

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    1. My exact thoughts. Look at the Oriental Landmark and what a success it's been.



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  15. One of the downtown theaters had what I think was called "Bonus Night". You could win $500.

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  17. In the first photo it looks like a church steeple (to me) at the very back, same side of the street as the Venetian, maybe around the corner of State and Main, or is this off in the distance but looks closer?

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  18. Hey anon 3:05 - he's probably just learning about "corridors" -

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  19. I think I found your building with the steeple.

    http://www.racinehistory.com/timeline.htm

    1882 - City Hall at 3rd & Main streets

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  20. 3:05 - This is a story about old theatres, not jealous rantings.

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  21. Thanks for the memories. Making popcorn at the Venetian was my very first job! I met my best friends there as they trained me!

    The biggest show I worked was The Graduate. By then I was a cashier. We collected so much money, I was told to throw it on the floor of the ticket booth, which, by the way, sat outside of the theater. As a 16 year old I walked in from the booth every night with the cash box!

    I was so sorry to see it go - it was a beautiful theatre.

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  22. I remember there was a Ace Grill & Cigar store in the Venetian Building. There was always a strong smell of tobacco and it had a pool hall in the basement. I also remember a few times my dad buying us lunch there and then giving each of us a silver dollar to see a show. The ticket lady would always slid the big coin off to the side. For that dollar you could buy all the popcorn, candy and soda you could eat.

    As a adult I understand my fathers motives of getting the kids out of the house. a little well deserved free time alone with mom.

    Also in the about 1963 there was a teen dance each Friday in a big ballroom on the third floor of the theater building. Some great local Garage bands like the SULTAN'S FIVE played there.

    What a trip down memory lane.

    Thanks

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  23. Thanks 4:52 for checking on the steeple AND that link - I didn't know about that site and it is an excellent history of Racine, with pictures, that everyone should see!

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  24. How about a Rialto story.

    Rialto was very easy to sneak in to. One afternoon the bunch of guys I was with decided to go to the show. We pooled our money and didn't have enough to even pay the 35 cents for one person to get in.

    Well where there is a will there is a way! We when up the fire escapes and got a ladder put it up so the smallest guy could crawl in the window of the girls restroom.

    The Rialto have fire exit doors right cross from the bathrooms on the 2nd floor. The little guy opened the doors and we all came in. Went in the bathroom and headed down the steps to the lobby. Here we come about 10 guys walking through the lobby. All the ushers and ticket takers looked in disbelief . We opened the door to the auditorium and there were only about 4 people in the whole place. We sat down and watched the movies. No ushers bothered us and not a word was said. Our naughty bunch got to see a free movie that day.

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  25. The Venetian did not take up the whole SE corner of 5th and Main, there was a bakery/deli of some sort on the corner but I have forgotten the name of it. Just to the east, on 5th St. of this establishment was a very elaborate exit for the Venetian from the lobby area which was only used when there were large audiences (like when "The Robe" was featured). If I am not mistaken the Ace Grill with pool hall in basement was located a few doors south of the Venetian and not part of that building. In the late 50's and early 60's Ray was the elderly gentleman who would rack the balls to start a new game...seems to me the cost was ten-maybe fifteen cents per game. "Rack 'em Ray !" I also remember a news and and rather risque magazine stand just to the right of the stairway to the pool hall entrance and I think that's why my mom frowned on us kids hanging out there. We felt so rebellious being in that basement pool hall!

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    1. the bakery that was on that corner was lindstroms and i worked there as a teen till i got a job at walkers in the factory. made a lot more money there even tho i liked the bakery work.

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    2. Me and a bunch of my high school classmates went there to see Bonnie and Clyde. We were lined up all the way around the corner to Lake Ave. When we got to those doors on 5th Street they opened them and started leaving us in. Never knew that entrance excisted.



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  26. You are correct the Ace Grill was next door not in the theatre.

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  27. Ace Grill was part of the Venetian Building and ---

    True there were two stores north of the Venetian building, Lindstrom's Bakery and Moskin's Clothing in 1960s.

    Next came the Venetian ticket Booth under the marquee followed by a small record store. Then Ace Grill& Pool hall and then the door way to a large hall on the 3rd level seen in the photo of the razing.

    For many years it was Eagle's Hall and it was a popular place for everything from Boxing events
    to Union Strike meetings. The hall had a mezzanine that wrapped around the auditorium.
    It was last used in the early 1960s as a dance hall.

    Next thing we know the Venetian Theatre was closed. Later it reopened with xxx movies. At the same a time Racine was being invaded by a series of topless bars. One downtown strip bar feature a very large dancer named " BABY DUMPLING" Advertised as 375 pounds of pure love!

    Mayor Steven Olsen and a very Civic Racine Alderman Frank Barry ( both deceased so we'll never know their true reasoning) were convinced that if the theatres were removed that it would end the threat of dirty movies. Redevelopment of the land was their smoke screen. The biggest issue was the was water in the basement.

    It's ironic within a few years video home tapes appeared the and the viewing of smut in theatres disappeared.

    The mind set of those old civic leaders their following wasn't bad, But today their same mind set would be destroy or ban computers to in put the end to porn.

    Alderman Barry was a fellow worker of mine we discussed many things the city was doing at the time. But we never could agree about the razing of the Venetian.

    Next on the Block Was Fish Furniture store the earlier home of Porter's. Baker Block then Fabulous Hotel Racine with the revolving doors on the 6th Street side. That's it for that block.

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  28. I played pool at Sailor's Grill in Uptown. I didn't like Ace's.

    This reminds me of two people watching a fight. Later each were interviewed and had different accounts of what happened. Guess that's why we have the program History Detectives.

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  29. Doug Wick at Old Time Photos at 3rd and Main streets had artifacts from the Venetian in the front window of his store last time I was down there. Doug also Made a movie showing the Venetian being torn down.

    Fred Hermes has parts of the Venetian Theatre in his home. He built a house to preserve the artifacts. I was with a group that watched a silent film at Fred's place as he played his organ. Fred's home theatre is local treasure. Like the "House on the Rock". If there is anybody in Racine that is "Mr. Cinema" it's Fred Hermes.

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  30. I was raised in Racine and we used to go to the Venetian and Rialto all the time. The other theater was the one on State and Main. This brought back memories.

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  31. LOVED this story,. I worked at the Venetion in the very early 60s (as a 16-17 year old), the Rialto was down in the same block. Now I am in my 60s, and I can look back at the best job and fun I ever had...

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  32. I would LOVE to see stories about the other theatres from old Racine. pictures, dates of birth/death, stories from the public...
    ahah

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  33. To find more RACINE HISTORY on RACINE POST.

    THE Labels are: 175th anniversary, Racine history

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  34. These pictures are great! Thanks for posting them.

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  35. Ray Pfremmer (The P is silent), was the manager of the pool hall of Ace Grille. Harry Cohen was the owner of the Ace Grille and Cigar Store. The record store was owned by Mrs. Gil Niesen who also ran the Plaza Record Store. Fiore's Barber Shop was next door. Porasik Jewelry, Ransom Opticians and Wick's Photo Center were also down by the Rialto.

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    1. Hi! Can you remember the name of the record store that was next to the Venetian Theater. I bought my 1st Beatles lp there back in 64'. I've been trying to find the name of the record store for years with no luck.

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  36. For those of you that would like to see other photos of Main Street, look at the small web site I have with lots of high resolution photos and vintage Racine post cards from my collection.

    racineco.net

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    1. Name Changed to: racinecounty.net

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  37. Mr. Namowicz,
    Why didn't you buy and tear down the flower shop when it was available and use that area for parking? And possibly a share with Walgreens and O&H for off-hours?

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  38. What a loss, know I believe the Johnson Building has taken the Venetian's place.

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    1. Boohoooo ������

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    2. Pardon me???

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  39. Also down the street next to the Rialto or close to it, was Joanne Winter's Candy Store. She was a star for the Racine Bells, and I remember going in there to see her during the years after the League folded..

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  40. Janell Jewell10/15/2013 10:27 PM

    I remember going for JI Case kids Christmas movies and getting a box of candy on the way out! That was so cool to us!

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  41. I was lucky enough to get inside the Venetian just before its total destruction. The wreckers left a gaping hole in the wall and we walked right inside where I pulled out a couple of the fancy seats. They were like fine furniture, embroidered with hardwood edging. Wonderful treasure. So sad that city leaders thought it was a good idea to destroy such a landmark. Matt Stanton

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