Group wants to acquire, renovate 1928 Lake Geneva theater
LAKE GENEVA In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, theaters in small towns were cultural centers. These theaters offered live vaudeville performances, plays performed by traveling troupes, musical performances, educational lectures and later, motion pictures.
The Geneva Theater, built in 1928, was described by one writer as “a modern play house offering stage and screen attractions of quality and equipped so attractively as to be a wonderful asset to any city, particularly one the size of Lake Geneva.”
Today, Lake Geneva’s “temple of amusement” sits idle. But a group of people have gotten together to form The Friends of the Geneva Theater. They are hoping to bring the building back to life as a cultural arts center, offering live theater, musical performances, old movies and visual arts exhibits.
A Fun-Raiser will be held from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. Because the theater was built during the Roaring ’20s, those attending are encouraged to wear costumes of that era. The benefit will be held at the Maxwell Mansion, 421 Baker St., Lake Geneva. Tickets are available online.
The theater had its own orchestra conducted by Roy Green and a Golden Tone Barton organ played by Buddy Noll, who had played some of the best houses in Milwaukee.
The grand opening was attended by Gov. Zimmerman and 1,400 other citizens (700 capacity with two showings). The program began with an overture by the Geneva Theater orchestra. Sydney Smith displayed a new Andy Gump cartoon. A small movie of Lake Geneva and local businessmen made specifically for the grand opening was shown. There were three Vaudeville acts and an organ-piano duet, all followed by the world premier showing of the movie “Telling the World.”
Over the next several years, in addition to smaller acts, the Geneva hosted a number of nationally known performers, including Will Rogers, Bella Lugosi and the Marx Brothers. By 1935 Vaudeville had faded away and the Geneva, like almost all theaters, only offered movies from then on.
The Friends of the Geneva Theater meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Geneva Lake Museum, 255 Mill St. in Lake Geneva.
The president is Ken Etten, of McCormack and Etten Architects. JaNelle Powers of Palajia Productions is the vice president and secretery. Sheree Carlson is the treasurer.
If you go
-- What: “A Theater is Born” fundraiser
--When: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
-- Where: Maxwell Mansion, 421 Baker St., Lake Geneva
-- Tickets: $75 per person, 21 years and older. Space is limited. www.friendsofgenevatheater.org.