Friday, March 25, 2011

MKE History Lesson: The Riverside Theater

I really do love the Riverside Theater. The Pabst Theater may be my favorite, but I still love the Riverside. Everyone always raves about the Pabst--it's more intimate, more ornate, more glamorous, so the beauty of the Riverside sometimes gets overshadowed. It was built in 1927, designed by Charles Kirchoff and Thomas Rose as a grand vaudeville theater. Unfortunately, its original use was short-lived but do its size and downtown location it was repurposed as a theater, movie, house and now concert venue. The theater has a main floor, Second floor balcony or orchestral level, and two side boxes with a total current capacity for 2,430 people. A huge crystal chandelier hangs above the main floor and is lowered twice a year by a winch inside the dome ceiling to be cleaned. Alongside it, are four smaller medallion chandeliers. The building suffered a devastating fire in 1966 when a patron tossed a cigarette onto the stage, so the chairs, main curtain, and some other original details were permanently lost. The theater underwent a major renovation in the early 1980's by contributions from a local philanthropist, Joseph Zilber. Out of sight from most patrons, the theater still houses the original Wurlitzer pipe organ. It is located beneath the stage coming up through a trap door with the pipes traveling behind the side boxes. It has only been played a handful of times in the last decade, most recently for the Brewers Winter Warm-Up Show in the winter. Some remnants of the theater's vaudeville past remain, one being the eight small dressing rooms stacked on top of each other directly stage left. A narrow and steep spiral staircase connects them, but they are no longer used. The artist dressing rooms are now located behind the theater, part of the seven backstage floors. The theater has its own chef, Kevin Sloan and full kitchen on the 8th floor. However, to get the any of the backstage floors, one must either walk up the fire escape stairway or ride on the tiny original manually operated elevator. This undertaking may seem a little frightening, but a handful of staff, patrons, and performers can assure you that this is nothing compared to the dozens of paranormal incidents that have been documented inside the theater.

*Thanks to Matt at the Pabst Theater for the history and info
Photos: The talented CJ Foeckler

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