Walworth Theater

Beloit Street,
Walworth, WI 53184

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Architects: Robert Chase

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WALWORTH Theatre, Walworth, Wisconsin (1947)

The Walworth Theatre opened on April 25, 1947 with Joel McCrea in “Ramrod”. It had 700 seats. The auditorium was constructed with laminated wood beams, similar to a Quonset Hut style. It was closed in 1980.

Contributed by Ken McIntyre

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LouisRugani on August 8, 2010 at 6:27 am

The Walworth Theatre opened on the south edge of the Walworth town square in April of 1947. By 1979 it was being operated by Anne and Harlan Seaser.

LouisRugani on August 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

(February 8, 1957, Janesville Gazette)
Fontana Man Gets Year’s Probation
ELKHORN-James Marsden, 22, Fontana, was placed on probation for a year by County Judge Roscoe Luce here Thursday on Marsden's
guilty plea to burglarizing the Walworth Theater and Showette
lunch counter Feb. 6.
Judge Luce ordered Marsden to make restitution and pay court
Police Chief Carl Severt at Walworth said a small amount of cash
was taken from the theater and lunch counter.
The sheriff’s department here

LouisRugani on August 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

(Janesville Gazette, December 31, 1948)
In October Thomas Finin took over management of the Walworth theatre. Louis Simonini, who has managed the theatre since its opening in April, 1947, returned to the Saunders theatre in Harvard. In an industry magazine. the Walworth theatre was called one of the finest and best planned small town theatres in the country.

LouisRugani on August 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

(Janesville Gazette, November 1, 1955)
Walworth Theater Management Changed
WALWORTH â€" Announcement was made Monday by F. B. Schlax, district manager of Standard Theaters, that arrangements have been completed with S. J. Papas, owner of the Walworth Theater, for Standard to handle management and operation of the theater. The Standard Theater Co. is under the general managership of A. D. Kvool and has its main office in Milwaukee. The company owns and operates the Geneva Theater, Lake Geneva, and the Delavan Theater, as well as theaters in Beloit, Janesville, Kenosha, Racine, Waukesha, Oshkosh, Sheboygan and Green Bay. Tom Finin, local manager, spent the last few days in the film department of Standard’s Milwaukee office, where arrangements were completed to bring wide-screen productions to Walworth simultaneously with showings in metropolitan cities.

LouisRugani on August 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm

(Photo caption, Janesville Gazette, February 28, 1950)
STAGE-STRUCK TRUCK â€" Apparently intent on seeing the latest movie, this semi-trailer truck loaded with eggs skidded and nearly entered the Walworth theatre before overturning yesterday. Gordon Bubel, Milan, Mich., owner of the trailer and eggs, reported about a 5 per cent loss due to breakage. He suffered a cut on the forehead. Lawrence Fender, Alexandria, Minn., owner and driver of the tractor, was uninjured. Although the truck didn’t get into the theatre, it did get into the movies when local photographers showed up with cameras. At center: Policeman Doug Dunn and Marshall Elery McCullough, right, assist in unloading-operations.
(Photo can be seen in Wisconsin Theatres www.onelist.com/group/WisconsinTheatres

TLSLOEWS on August 11, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Was a nice looking little theatre.

LouRugani on July 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm

(BOXOFFICE, December 6, 1947)

Small-Town Theatre Designed for Public Service
by Hanns R. Teichert

There are many small towns now supporting an old grownup-with-the-town theatre that are wide open for a second new and up-to-date house. But Walworth, Wis. is not one of them. Venerable as the town is, its inhabitants and those of the surrounding countryside are the proud patrons of one of the most modern and delightfully functional theatres in their part of the country. This property, owned by the Harvard Theatre Corporation, composed of John Papas, C. J. Papas and S. J. Papas, seats seven hundred people. And the first illustration will show how smart the house is from the initial visual impression.

A Refreshment Bar

It will be noticed at once that the building incorporates a refreshment bar. And inasmuch as this issue is stressing that feature of service, we cannot think of a better example of smart handling in this department. For this little bar is unique in many respects. In the first place, there is a service counter running across the middle of the shop so that it is divided into two separate sales areas; that toward the front door, and that toward the side rear door. From the front are served the people who come in from the street and who are not just then patronizing the theatre. And from the rear door are served those who come in from the theatre. Thus there is no confusion of unticketed small patrons getting among those who have already paid their entrances.

The other side of the door to the theatre lobby can be seen in the second illustration, where it will be noticed how smoothly it is incorporated into the features of the lobby wall. But first, a glance through the large plate glass window between the Showette and the outer lobby arrests the patron as he comes in and by the time he reaches the door in the inner lobby he has likely made up his mind to step in for popcorn, candy or something at the fountain. At least, that was what the Showette started serving when they first opened; but the demand has been so great that now hot and cold sandwiches have been added and small lunches. They are also making their own ice cream, and all this is served both day and night. This provides a great service to the children who throng in from the grammar and high school next door. To say that the Showette is popular is a vast understatement. For those who do not want to go into the Showette when it is apt to be crowded with youngsters just before and after features, there is a bar at the head of the lobby where quick refreshments such as candy, gum and popcorn can be picked up in passing. Older people seem to find this a convenience. It will be noticed that both of these areas are incorporated into the architecture of the interior, and that they are neat, sanitary and a visual asset to the theatre instead of the messy and in-the-way afterthoughts that they sometimes are.

Smartly Functional

But enough for the handling of refreshments in this smart theatre and on to some of the other features it offers its patrons. On the opposite side of the lobby from the Showette are recesses leading to a modem ladies' powder room, the men’s smoking room, and a tiled inset containing the drinking fountain. Thus the necessary facilities for the service of patrons are distributed on both sides of the incoming and outgoing traffic areas so that a smooth flow is assured at all times. But it is the decoration of the Walworth Theatre that also keys it to what is best in its field. Foremost is the fact that everything has been so simply handled that it will date less quickly than most other houses: still, when the time comes for a general up-dating, the whole atmosphere of the house can be changed simply through an alteration of decorative treatment. Another color scheme, now motifs in the decorative panels, a few different accents here and there and presto! … a new interior!

The Color Scheme

At present, the color scheme in the lobby consists of coral red, warm off-white and gold, with carpeting that tones in well and is the same throughout the house. Plain surfaces on the side walls act as a foil to the rich squares of custom-made marble textured paper applied where the walls break toward the auditorium. Between these two marbleized areas is the centered candy bar backed with a decorative panel in an abstract floral pattern, well illuminated from the trough above. In fact, the illumination throughout the theatre is one of its most distinctive points. It was all especially designed and custom-made, much of it in pierced brass of classically fine design that will go with any subsequent redecorations. Another distinctive feature of the Walworth Theatre is its woodwork, which is finished in a natural light tone throughout to emphasize its good graining. This, too, is a permanent asset of the interior and requires no great working over in case of later changes.

The auditorium does not show the mistake made by so many of the smaller houses in going fussy or cute because of its size. The Walworth auditorium is executed with a dignity and simplicity that increases its size rather than diminishes it. The coral seating gives life to the area while the walls of deep turquoise are inset with sand-toned panels displaying free rhythmic leaf forms in a modern sketchy style. These are illuminated by curved light troughs that are a part of the panel ornamentation, and further lighting is taken care of free recessed overhead squares. It all sounds simple indeed, but the richness of these colorings and the feeling of tasteful restraint in the handling give a dynamic effect that is worth any amount of overdressing.

For All the People

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this house is the whole effect it has of being residential rather than commercial. This is a well-calculated result, built up of many details, and planned that way because of the patronage it serves. The latter is composed of townspeople, farmers from the surrounding rural area, resort people during the summer from the nearby lakes, and an unusual percentage of youngsters not only from the aforementioned sources but from a large military academy nearby.

It was desired that this theatre provide an intimate and homelike atmosphere further to bind all these elements of people together, rather than a coldly commercial interior, however impressive. And in this the Walworth is an acknowledged success. People of all the groups mentioned above do express themselves as feeling at home there. The Showette acts as their kitchen where they can pick up a bite when they are hungry. The powder and smoking rooms are sanitary and attractive, they meet their friends in the lobby, and they relax together in the auditorium as comfortably as in their own living rooms. The Walworth Theatre is the community’s mutual home for entertainment, and there is no need or room in the town for another.

LouRugani on June 25, 2014 at 2:39 am

The Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 meeting of the Historical Society of Walworth and Big Foot Prairie featured the former Walworth Theatre and adjacent Showette. Sixty attendees at the 90-minute session saw Jim Jurgensen’s wooden armrest from one of the theater seats during demolition nearly 30 years ago. Society president Nancy Lehman opened the program at Golden Years Retirement Village with the history of the theatre and adjacent Showette soda fountain and lunch counter. Constantine Papas of Chicago built the Walworth Theatre after considering the tourist impact from metropolitan Chicago and northern Illinois spending summers in the area.

Architect Robert Chase of Janesville designed the theater and Showette. His original drawing of the theater was displayed at the meeting, but his rendition little resembled the actual building as shown in a photograph provided by Stan Fairchild. The grand opening was on April 25, 1947 with “Ramrod” starring Don DeFore, who was supposed to appear in person but canceled.

Louis Simonini of the Saunders Theatre in Harvard, Ill. was the first manager, but in 1948 Thomas and Dorothy Finin came from Decatur, Ill. with their children Jean, Carol and Tim. For the next 26 years Tom managed the theater and Dorothy the Showette.

When Papas died, ownership went to John Papas and Spiro Papas, who contracted with Standard Theatres of Milwaukee to operate the theatre. Tom Finin arranged for Standard to provide first-run pictures day and date with Milwaukee. Later, Delavan-area residents Ann and Harlan Seaver owned the Walworth Theatre, which fortunes declined after 1979. After closure, the building fell into disrepair, hastened by a collapsed roof, and was razed.

Past employees told of their experiences. Barb Krohn Nieman of Walworth worked at both places on and off for 14 years, beginning in 1954 at the concession counter for a year as her first job. “It was fun. I popped corn and sold candy and ice cream. The most popular were Jujubes, Juicy Fruit gum and Milk Duds. Then I moved into the Showette, where I was trained by Gloria Nieman, and sold hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and fountain drinks such as cherry vanilla phosphates and Green Rivers.” A pizza oven was added in 1956, selling for 70 cents and $1.50. Sunday nights were busy as tourists passed through on their way back to the Chicago area, as were evenings after local bal-l games.

Among the cashiers were Walworth residents Betty Lou Edgington Austin in 1947-49 and Betty Cunningham Nichols in 1950-56, working in a tiny, unheated box office. Austin’s boyfriend (and later husband) at the time was Leonard “Buster” Church Jr., who worked many years as a movie projectionist and managed the United Artists Cinemas in Kenosha. After work, he drove Betty home to the family farm northwest of Fontana. If they arrived after midnight, they often herded the cows into the barn for her father who later milked them. Betty’s sister Mary Kirkpatrick of Walworth (the historical society secretary) remembered Betty bringing home theatre popcorn and eating it in the bed they shared. She also recalled her Walworth High School senior American history class going to “Gone With the Wind.”

When Betty became bored in the box office, she’d wave at truck drivers passing by. They’d park their trucks around the corner and come to talk to her until Tom Finin intervened and sent the drivers on their way. She met her husband Ken (not a trucker) at the theatre after he moved to Walworth from Peoria, Ill., as part of a business transfer.

Wendy Church, who lives near Burlington, often visited her father Leonard Church Jr. in the small projection booth, which was accessed by a narrow, steep and curved stairway and learned how projectionists switched from one projector to another by watching the upper-right corner of the screen for white circles to cue the transfer. The large projection machines dominated the booth, which also had a counter for splicing and a restroom.

Another cashier was former Fontana resident Debbie Levine Vanderstappen who worked there in the early 1970s and got to know the Finins well, describing Dorothy as “someone who worked hard”. Dennis Janis, rural Burlington, grew up in Walworth and accompanied his father Hank delivering milk from his Walworth Dairy business in the 1950s and ‘60s. “Mrs. Finin was the hardest worker I ever knew,” Janis said. “I learned my work ethic from dad and her. The Finins did not make a lot of money, but she was the most dedicated worker I’ve ever seen. She split a hot dog and cooked it on the grill and toasted the bun. I can still taste it. I also liked the suicide Coke with all the flavors in it. I loved the Showette, and it broke my heart when the theater came down.” Janis was thrown out of a movie after a buddy produced a loud pop by stepping on an inverted paper cup. Tom Finin escorted Renk, Booth and Janis to the door due to guilt by association.

Many in the audience recalled Finin patrolling the two aisles with his flashlight. Finin was helpful to Sue Hoyt and her sister Jeanie McReynolds during a Sunday matinee when the sisters were only 6 or 7 years old. “One of us had to go to the bathroom, and the other was supposed to stay in her seat so we would know where to sit. But when the one came out of the bathroom the other was in the lobby, so we didn’t know where our seats were, which had our new winter coats. Mr. Finin helped us find our seats and our coats.” Jeanie was saddened the day she biked with her son Tommy to see the deteriorating theater. “I remember all the emotion I felt then because it was the end of an era. It was a wonderful little theater, and the Finins were wonderful people who worked hard.”

The steps in front of the theater were a popular place to hang out. Bob Pearce spent noon hours from the nearby high school there with his friends, who occasionally yelled loudly at drivers going the wrong way on the one-way streets around the square. He said one driver stopped and did not move due to the yelling. Stan Fairchild’s late wife Sandy worked at the concession counter in high school, and recalled the Showette parking lot filled with cars after a sporting event. “The Showette was so packed you couldn’t get in. I will never forget the hamburgers made there.”

Patrick Romenesko of Elkhorn as a child visited with Santa Claus, portrayed by Curt Hubertz of Fontana, in the theatre lobby, and remembered the free movies for kids on Saturday afternoons paid for by area businesspeople. Bill Bowie of Delavan solicited donations for the movies, and he ate at the Showette because of the good food.

Richard Rasmussen of Walworth Township went to Big Foot High School. “The Walworth and Fontana kids were in competition. The Walworth kids envied the Fontana kids because they had the lake and beach, but the Fontana kids were more envious of the Walworth kids because we had the theatre.” Dentist Tom Beci and his family moved to Walworth in 1976 because “the theater was a big selling point. We probably went to see a movie every other week.”

A handout at the meeting told about James Marsden of Fontana being arrested for breaking into the theatre and Showette and stealing money in February 1957. Dave Nieman of Walworth related that Marsden was apprehended after Walworth police followed the tire tracks of his car in the snow to his residence.

Jack Cunningham of Walworth drilled a hole in the Showette jukebox and used a wire to select records to play for free. “I don’t think Tom Finin ever found out about it."

Lynn “Gabby” Jensen was stranded at the theatre after a blizzard hit. She spent the night there, and Tom Finin brought her lots of popcorn. When she grew tired of eating it, Dorothy Finin showed up with “an armful of candy,” Jensen said.

Bonnie Cornue met her future husband Dick at the Showette, and told about a high school homecoming celebration featuring a snake dance around the downtown square. The dancers entered the front door of the theater and exited the back door – while a movie was being shown.

As a youngster Steve Schnitcke stopped in the Showette one day to buy a Coke from Dorothy Finin. No one else was there, so he couldn’t resist spinning all the seats of the stools, creating a lot of noise. When he reached the last stool, waiting for him was Finin with his Coke and a firm request to leave.

Mary Kay Nordmeyer recalled the aroma of pizzas cooking in the Showette wafting all the way down to the front of the theatre.

Dave Woodrich of Walworth Township watched the theatre being built from a window of Walworth High School during civics class.

The last movie Harold Bonner of Walworth watched at the theater was “Jaws.”

50sSNIPES on February 15, 2020 at 9:47 pm

Opened On April 25th, 1947 With RamRod. Grand Opening Ad Already Posted.

50sSNIPES on May 30, 2021 at 5:07 pm

Closed In 1980.

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