2440 W. Hopkins Street,
2440 W. Hopkins Street,Milwaukee, WI 53206
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The Comfort Theater opened in 1914 and closed in 1934. In recent years it operated as a food and liquor store, and was destroyed by fire in May 2015.
Contributed by Lost Memory
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Recent comments (view all 5 comments)
The 600 seat Comfort Theater was being used as a tavern by 1986. Any update on that information please? Thanks
Just how much comfort the 600 wooden seats of the COMFORT provided to its patrons is not known, but recent photos show the facade of the single story building to be so altered that it is indeed difficult to believe that it ever was a cinema, since it never had a stagehouse. The front is now covered in false brick and wooden vertical planks, but something of the marquee remains in form of the suspended canopy which is badly banged up, but the amateur non-illuminated painted signs read only “Andy’s Place” or “Beer/Liquor,” but perhaps the single glass pane and security grilled door now does lead to something reflecting the building’s past, since a small sign on the side of the wall reads: “Giant TV.” The former COMFORT may now provide that only the form of a bottle to this deteriorating north side neighborhood, sad to say.
If you look closely just above the sign above the door, you can still see the letters of the name of the theater – COMFORT – molded in a cement sign.
Sadly, this building was lost to a fire this past week. An article here – http://shepherdexpress.com/blog-11654-eulogy-for-a-movie-house.html – discusses the theatre.
Eulogy for a Movie House - The forgotten Comfort Theatre burns to the ground (By Matthew Prigge, SHEPHERD EXPRESS, May 25, 20115) - Mother’s Foods, formerly the Comfort Theatre, was lost to a fire this week. - Last Tuesday, Mother’s Food and Liquor (2438 W. Hopkins) burned. The fire punched through the roof of the building, with witnesses claiming the flames shot as high as fifty feet into the air. The building was a total loss and damages are estimated at more than $1 million. Residents of the Franklin Heights neighborhood around Mother’s lamented the loss as the latest in a long, slow decline of the area. In this broadcast on the fire, Sidney Fumbanks, a nearby barber, said his shop was the last business on the block, the last gathering place for neighbors. “I guess that’s what happens in these neighborhoods, or when we don’t have the money,” he told CBS 58. “The dollar don’t stay, it just comes and goes.” Buildings like the long, two-story brick structure that housed Mother’s are rarely eulogized. In fact, had it not been for the store’s rather unique name, I probably would have missed the news of the fire and you’d be reading about something else right now. But I remembered the Mother’s sign from an afternoon in 2010 I spent with my photographer friend Erin Dorbin, documenting the city’s still-standing former movie theater buildings. The Mother’s building opened as the Comfort Theatre in 1914, the neighborhood’s first motion picture house in a city that had over sixty of them. No longer would the largely German and working-class residents of the Heights need to trek all the way down to the Paris or Oasis theaters on Center Street to watch single-reel chase-n-wallop comedies or starchy melodramas. The Comfort had a simple layout — an inclined floor with six hundred seats and a small stage — but was a veritable modern marvel when compared to the movie houses going into operation just a decade before. Most of those were converted storefronts, with a few hundred folding chairs, a white sheet tacked to one wall and little else. Fred Maertz commissioned the building and was the Comfort’s first proprietor. He had cut his teeth in the movie business by running the nearby Paris Theatre (which closed in 1930, but still stands today). Maertz made the Comfort a family affair, with his sons Edward and William learning the trade under his management. The Comfort also gave young projectionist Charles Trampe his first regular job. Trampe later went into the business for himself, running Milwaukee’s Climax Theatre and buying Bluebird Films, one of the city’s major distribution houses. He also (briefly) served on the Milwaukee Motion Picture Commission, the city’s film censor board. Franklin Heights’ love of the movies, however, proved to be more than the little Comfort could handle. By the mid-1920s it was clear that a larger house was needed and Edward began to raise the cash that would eventually build the breathtaking Zenith Theatre (which also still stands) just down the block at 2498 W. Hopkins. According to Larry Widen and Judi Anderson’s excellent history of Milwaukee theaters, Silver Screens, Maertz followed his father’s example and employed his children and other family members at the Zenith. When his daughter married in the 1930s, Maertz hired a Pathe News cameraman to film the wedding and featured it as a “special edition” newsreel at the Zenith the following week. The opening of the Zenith in 1926 could easily have been the death of the Comfort. However, the little house managed to survive for another eight years as Franklin Height’s “number two” house. While the Zenith could book films within a few months of their premieres at the downtown movie palaces, the Comfort was probably relegated to running pictures that might be a year or more past their release dates. Most weeks, the Comfort’s program listings did not even appear in the newspaper. The Comfort closed in 1934, at the tail-end of a national wave of theater closings prompted by the Great Depression and the conversion of the movies from silence to sound (no record survives that suggests the Comfort ever installed sound equipment). Shortly after the Comfort shut off its lights, the building was reopened as the Mayfair Café. Billed as “one the most unusual cafes in the middle west,” the Mayfair was the city’s first nightspot with terraced seating - using the theater’s old pitched floor to offer diners an uncompromised view of their nightly floor shows. Until the end, the old “COMFORT” engraving was still visible above the building’s entryway. The novelty of the Mayfair seemed to wear off pretty quickly because by 1935, the place was listed as the Aztec Night Club in the city directory. In 1941, a listing appears for the Comfort Bar and Tavern (the “Comfort” name, etched into the stone above the entrance, was still visible when the building burned). A bowling alley was installed in the building sometime in the post-war years, but was evidently gone by 1971 when it was known as the J&J Bar. After standing vacant for a time in the early 1980s, it was known as Andy’s Place and the Hop On Inn before becoming Mother’s sometime in the 2000s. I saw the building only briefly, just long enough for Erin to snap a picture before moving up the block to shoot the old Zenith (we were actually stopped between the two by a pair of police officers asking us what we were doing in the neighborhood). The trip took us to a number of Milwaukee neighborhoods that have undergone similar changes since the heyday of the movies. We talked with a couple of other people that day, mostly locals who asked what were up to, most surprised to hear that some old dumpy building had once been a movie theater. In the grand scheme, the loss of an old theater building is fairly inconsequential, much less so than the loss of a business in an area that badly needs them. But nonetheless, the loss of the building is more than just the loss of a store and a place to hang out. Soon, the ruins of Mother’s will be moved away and another empty lot will be left behind. Not just a vacant patch of land, but a place where something is missing. (Check out matthewjprigge.com for all kinds of fun stuff, and listen for the WMMF radio show on 91.7 WMSE. Matthew J. Prigge is a freelance author and historian from Milwaukee. He is the author of four books, and wrote weekly blogs for shepherdexpress.com on topics of local history.)