Parkway Theatre

3417 W. Lisbon Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53208

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Firms: Rosman & Wierdsma

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PARKWAY Theatre; Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Possibly built on the site of the Rock River Theatre on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The Parkway Theatre opened in 1921. In October 1932, a chemical bomb exploded at the theatre, the latest attack in a series of ‘stink bombing’ that resulted from an on-going dispute between rival projectionist unions. Six were injured in the attack and the crowd of 750 were quickly ushered from the building.

The Parkway Theatre was struggling to stay afloat when it was purchased in 1970 by two Racine men. The Parkway Theatre immediately began showing adult features and became one of several X-rated theatres in the city. However, the Parkway Theatre was the only theatre showing hardcore films and quickly became the target of numerous police raids. In December of 1971, the theatre opened “Deep Throat” to huge audiences. The film played for two months before an FBI raid chased the film to another city.

For 15 years, amid neighborhood protests and police harassment, the Parkway Theatre was Milwaukee’s most popular adult cinema. The theatre was closed in 1986 and razed a few years later. In 1993, before ground was broken for a St. Andrew’s Church building, a pastor ceremonially excorcised the ground on which the Parkway Theatre had once stood. It was the last X-rated theatre in operation in the city.

Contributed by Matthew J. Prigge

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

atmos on April 17, 2007 at 3:46 am

Information from the book Milwaukee Movie Palaces states that it became the Parkway in 1931 and closed in 1986.The architects were Rosman and Wierdsma.It was previously known as the Rock River Theatre,which opened in 1913.

LouRugani on July 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm

(Racine Journal Times, November 22, 1977)

Yorkville squelches ‘X’-flicks
By Thomas Roanhouse
Journal Times Staff

Y O R K V I L L E – Those X-rated movies may be legal, but they’re apparently not welcome in the Town of Yorkville. An estimated 100 Yorkville residents crowded into a hearing Monday, sponsored by the Racine County Board’s Land Use Committee, to publicly oppose a zoning change, which would allow the operation of a mini-theater. Some residents said they’d prefer an ammonia plant or a glue factory to a theater which shows X-rated movies. Mark Little of Kenosha had requested the zoning change. Little had leased a building at 2036 N. Sylvania Ave. (1-94 west frontage road), Town of Yorkville, for the purpose of opening a mini-theater. The building has been renovated by Little to accommodate a theater. Little and his attorneys, James and Giulio Fornary, both of Racine, were the only persons who spoke in favor of the zoning change proposal. The number of persons in opposition were seeemingly much larger. The Land Use Committee heard testimony from at least 16 persons and received three petitions and a letter indicating opposition to the change. One petition reportedly had 179 signatures, the other had 26 names and the third petition was not numbered. All this transpired while an overflow crowd in the auditorium of the Racine County Highway Building looked on and offered supportive applause after nearly each person opposing the change had spoken. James Fornary said the change “is more restrictive,” than the existing zoning status and added the proposal “would upgrade the zoning rather than downgrade it.” Also, he said in addition to the theater, Little intends to develop a mini-shopping center to house between 10-12 businesses. The mini-shopping center proposal was not listed on the zoning change request submitted to the county, Little said later at the hearing. Fornary contended the approval of the proposal “would be good for the community because the area should have a shopping center and it would bring in more revenue for taxes.” “It would elevate the area,” he said. Little, who holds a one-year lease on the property from its owner Al Buder, told the committee and residents, “when developed it would lend itself to the area and give residents a chance of of convenience.” He also said he has sublet part of it “which might be the cause of some of my problems.” He did not say to whom the property had been sublet to. However, after the meeting when questioned by a reporter, he said it was sublet to Don Thomas of Parkway Theater, Milwaukee, which shows X-rated movies regularly. Giulio Fornary testified under the existing zoning “an ammonia plant, asbestos plants, chlorine factory or glue factory, a foundry, a creamery or a cement plant are things you can do now. This zoning proposal is more restrictive.” Fornary continued “I know what you people are afraid of – X-Rated movies. There’s not a movie house that doesn’t show X-rated movies once in a while – it’s legal. "X-Rated is not porno. If you don’t want porno, fine – enforce the law. Mr. Little does not intend to show it.” he said. “You cant use zoning for censorship. That’s wrong,” said Fornary. Don Haas, who said he lived south of the property in question, was the first person to speak in opposition. He said he had read in an advertisment that Parkway Theater was planning on opening a Parkway South in the near future. “The stuff Parkway shows Is perfectly legal, but it’s trash,” he said. Hass said he telephoned Parkway and asked them where their new theater was going to open. “They told me at a site south of Highway K, west of 1-94, and north of Highway 20 and obviously that (Little’s leased building) is suppose to be be Parkway South. "I’ll take the ammonia plant or the glue factory before I take that,” Haas said. Yorkville Town Attorney Ken Hostack said “first of all, he renovated the building without a building permit.” And then he said, “lets look at this purely for zoning.” Hostack said a shopping center would not be consistent with the other types of businesses in the area, such as an automotive salvage yard and said the area “is zoned for where public sewer Is available.” And, he added, the Town of Yorkvllle’s proposed sewer collection system doesn’t go near the area where Little has plans to develop a shopping center. Marlene Hass told the committee “I was shocked when I heard the presentation tonight about a shopping center. I was in the zoning office Wednesday and the zoning request on file is for a minitheater only and there was nothing there for for a shopping center.” Plus, she said “Parkway is strictly trash. It scares me.” Marion Cole, who said she owns the motel across the street from the building, said “the roads are too narrow to serve a shopping center. They’d get congested, plus there’s no on-or off-ramps for the freeway.” She cautioned “once he gets his doors open, he can do whatever he pleases. It’s time we take a stand for morality once-and-for-all and say were not going to allow this.” Lila Neil, who echoed Mrs. Cole’s comments, also said “I think, in what he’s shown us so far, his word in no good.” William Swenson said “ I’m diametrically opposed and I’ll fight it all the way to the courts.” James Miller, who said he recently moved to the Town of Yorkville from Milwaukee, said “I moved to this town to get away from this stuff.” Art Osinga said “let’s not always think of the children, but lets take a stand as adults.” He then said “we may be from the country, but don’t think they can pull the wool over our eyes.” Berdette Gulbrand said he didn’t oppose the shopping center, but said “ I’m against a pornographic theater.” Jerry Olson suggested Little and his associates post a $1 million bond for 10 years. “If they’re so honest, put up the bond for 10 years and tell us there’ll be no porno.” Frances Nocarsci, who said she recently moved to the area, said “my first reaction was to sell my house when I heard about this. Now my reaction is not to sell it, but to stand up and fight against it.” Testimony opposing the zoning change also was submitted by representatives of area schools, churches, 4-H groups and parent-teacher groups. Apparently the testimony filed at the hearing, in effect, was nothing more than a public forum. Under Racine County zoning laws, if either the County Board or the local municipality goes on record of opposing a zoning change, the request is denied. Joe McGauran, a planner at the county’s zoning und planning office, said “We’ve received a letter from the Yorkville Town Board which said the board passed a resolution on Nov. 14 opposing this zoning change request.” The Racine County Board still must act on the proposal, but with the Town of Yorkville’s zoning change denial, any County Board action would be merely academic at this point.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 17, 2012 at 6:34 pm

The pastor exorcised the ground? Give me a break. I suppose he asked all parishioners to tithe 15% of their income to the church.

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