Roosevelt Theater

2910 Roosevelt Road,
Kenosha, WI 53143

Unfavorite 5 people favorited this theater

Showing 1 - 25 of 48 comments

LouRugani on July 25, 2018 at 5:37 pm

(Kenosha News, April 12, 1968) – Kenosha’s Mr. Showman, Bill Exton, will ring down the curtain next Thursday on his 29-year role as owner and manager of the Roosevelt Theater. Exton, whose career in the entertainment industry spans more than four decades, has long endeared himself to Kenoshans by his activities on behalf of youngsters and adults alike at his theater, the Roosevelt Rd. Businessmen’s Association and in other civic activities. At the close of business on Thursday, he will turn over the keys and operation of the theater to Theodore F. Witheril of Racine. “I am not going to retire entirely,“ said Exton. “I’m just not built that way. I will try to get away for two or three weeks, though, just to get my feet on the ground.” Operation of the theater has been a day-and-night job for Exton, who took over the Roosevelt in 1939. Prior to that, he had managed the Kenosha Theater, now closed, and the old Gateway Theater, now known as the Lake, for about 4 years. Exton’s fascination for the entertainment business became apparent at an early age. During his high school years in his native Detroit, Mich., he got his first job as a theater usher and from then on worked at just about anything they would pay him for. WORKED AT CIRCUS – By graduation, it was and one time a monkey ran up apparent to his father and moth- through the audience, er that they had a showman for Life Not Dull “Life wasn’t dull by a long shot,” he remarked. Exton’s career included a stint with Paramount Pictures, who hired him to do promotional work. Part of his job was to escort Paramount stars on personal appearance tours and whip up occasional live variety acts such as those used between reels in the movie houses at that time. After graduation, Exton went to work for a circus as a “pot-walloper,” scrubbing pots and pans and cleaning up around the kitchen. He knew by the end of the season that he would never be able to “shake the sawdust out of his trouser cuffs.” During the winter months, he wolfed in the movie houses, worked part time for the Detroit Free Press and tried his hand at public relations. Then, as now. he liked people and was good at selling his product when the product was entertainment. Summertime meant a return to the circus, and his bulging scrap book attests to his many experiences during his career with the tents. In 1921, Ringling Brothers asked Exton to head their publicity department and he “went into orbit.” The work was hard but never dull, he recalled. There were exciting and dangerous incidents such as the time when an elephant went berserk and knocked over a cage of panthers, scattering the wild cargo over the grounds. Although the panthers were recaptured without incident, the elephant killed its trainer before it was killed itself. On another occasion, a lion got loose inside a sideshow tent, In 1934, as district manager for Standard Theaters, Exton was sent to Kenosha to open the Gateway Theater, and he remained to become one of the most distinguished and well-loved citizens of the city. One of his best known projects is the annual Halloween Parade which he organized about 14 years ago. He recalled that about 200 youngsters took part that first year, but the number has grown to more than 1,400 costumed children who now compete for the coveted Halloween prizes. Exton was instrumental in the formation of the Roosevelt Rd. Businessmen’s Association about 15 years ago and twice served as its president. He is also active in the Lions and Elks Club. He resides at 6521 43rd Ave. TESTIMONIAL DINNER – In 1963, Exton was feted at a testimonial dinner sponsored by the Roosevelt Rd. Businessmen’s Association. Several hundred Kenoshans joined in honoring him for his contributions to the community, and a three hour program was presented in commemoration of his 40 years of service in the entertainment industry. In addition, Exton was named the Showman of the Year in 1964 at a convention of the Allied Theater Owners of Wisconsin held in Milwaukee. He was selected from more than 50 others under consideration for “making his theater a focal point of community campaigning and creating civic good will.” Through the years, Exton has followed a policy of selecting films for his theater which he considered “suitable for the family.” “I never wanted to get off the trend of decent, clean entertainment,” he remarked. Movies are getting better, Exton believes. There may have been a slow-down with the advent of television, but in the movies as well as in his own plans for the future, there are great things in store.

LouRugani on July 25, 2018 at 5:14 pm

(Kenosha News, April 12, 1968) Bill Exton retiring —— Bill Exton, 2910 Roosevelt Rd., announced today that he will retire at the close of business on Thursday, April 18. The theater will be taken over by Theodore F. Witheril of Racine, who will serve as president of the Roosevelt Theater of Kenosha, Inc. Witheril, 31, has operated the Capitol Theater in Racine since Feb. 1, 1965. He was elected the Racine County coroner in 1966 and formerly served as news director of Radio Station WRAC in Racine. Witheril said that “no major changes of any kind" were planned at the theater and that Exton will serve as a consultant for at least a year. Ken Pias, Racine, vice president and secretary of the corporation, will serve as the theater manager.

LouRugani on January 5, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Kenosha closes the curtain on historic theater (DAILY REPORTER, August 11, 2008)

Kenosha is tearing down one of its historic movie houses over the objections of the building’s owners. Kathryn Hanneman and John Gee, owners of the Roosevelt Theatre since 2000, pleaded with city officials to spare the building. They want to turn the movie house into a studio for shooting commercials and television pilots. But after eight years, they’ve made no progress. Worse, say city officials, the owners let the building deteriorate to a condition beyond repair. “It’s a building that is in a serious state if disrepair,” said Jim Schultz, Kenosha’s director of Neighborhood Services and Inspections. “It’s a public nuisance and a public safety issue.” But Hanneman said the city is rushing to destroy a historic property. She claims the building is made of concrete and steel girders thicker than skyscrapers, and could easily stand for years to come. “I think it speaks to their lack of vision,” Hanneman said. “Projects like this are done all of the time. They really don’t have any reason to bring it down.” The single-screen Roosevelt Theatre, the longest continuously screening theater in Kenosha, opened Christmas Day in 1927 and showed movies for 55 years. It was designed by architect Einar Dahl and revised by architect Charles Augustine. Capacity was originally 1,000 seats but was reduced to 764 seats in the 1970s. Along with the movie theater, there was a bowling alley in the basement. The interior of the building is all but gone, Schultz said. The bowling alley was removed years ago, and the original organ was dismantled in the 1950s to make room for air conditioning. The Kenosha City Council voted 14-1 on Aug. 4 to raze the building. The council approved a $37,000 contract with Champion Environmental Services Inc., Gilberts, Ill., to remove asbestos from the theater before demolition. Asbestos removal is scheduled to being in two weeks. Demolition would begin in six weeks. Hanneman and Gee owe $150,000 in liens and back taxes on the property. They said they do not have the money to make even basic repairs to the theater. They were working with an anonymous donor to receive $500,000 for the theater, but the money was tied up in estate proceedings, Hanneman said. Gee, an entertainment promoter from Milwaukee, said Kenosha overestimated how much it would cost to “button up” the building until money is found for restoration. His plan was to either fix the exterior and sell the theater to a developer or create a recording and television studio. But that plan received little support from city officials, said Gee, noting that public money was available to help the Kenosha Theatre and the Rhode Opera House in the city’s downtown. When he asked for city support for the Roosevelt Theatre, he was turned away. “We wanted a property that supports itself, not one that’s supported by the city,” he said, adding that, in retrospect, he and Hanneman didn’t have the experience needed to complete the project. “That was the weakness in our plan. We didn’t have a real estate professional in our group.” Schultz said the city does not support tearing down historic buildings. But in the case of the Roosevelt Theatre, he said, restoration would cost more than $1 million. “Really there’s no choice in the matter,” he said. “The owner doesn’t have the resources to make the minimum necessary repairs.” The 12,500 square-foot theater is in central Kenosha about a mile from the city’s downtown, which includes two historic theaters, one in use and the other undergoing a $24 million restoration. The Roosevelt has not been used as a theater for more than 20 years. There are no plans to redevelop the site, Schultz said.

LouRugani on October 29, 2015 at 1:06 am

The ROOSEVELT Theatre was built as a portion of a larger business block erected by Einar Dahl. Original plans indicate that the overall building design was drawn by August Wolff of the Milwaukee firm of Wolff & Ramsthal. Revisions to the theater proper were noted as having been done by Kenosha architect Charles O. Augustine. The theater opened to the public on Christmas Day, 1927. The last movie was shown in mid=March, 1985 and the building was vacant since 1997.

Bibliographic References: Kenosha City Directory; tax assessors records; “New Roosevelt Theater Is a Monument to Einar Dahl,” Kenosha Evening News, 24 December 1927, 22/1; “No Plans to Reopen Roosevelt,” Kenosha News, 14 March 1985. “Architecture/History Survey.” WHS project number 03-1016/KN. October 2003. Heritage Research, Ltd.

Nicholas Vargelis
Nicholas Vargelis on September 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

interior during demolition:

LouisRugani on February 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm

(February 22, 1946)
Kenosha Has $100,000 Blaze

KENOSHA (UP) â€" Kenosha firemen battled a blaze Thursday which destroyed three store buildings and six apartments and which caused damage estimated in excess of $100,000. No one was injured.

Destroyed were the Roosevelt Drug Store, the Kroger Food Store, the Melli Candy Shop and six apartments located on the second floor.

The buildings all were located in the Roosevelt theatre block. The first alarm was sent in when smoke began seeping through registers from a hot air furnace in the theater. The theater crowd was dismissed and apartment dwellers had time to pack a few personal belongings before escaping.
All available fire equipment and firemen were called out to fight
the fire, the exact cause of which was undetermined.

LouisRugani on November 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Elmer George Hayek, 84, of Springfield, formerly of Kenosha, WI, passed away at 5:00 p.m., November 5, 2001 at his residence. He was born June 23, 1917 in Detroit, MI the son of George and Mary Exton Hayek. He married Alice Louise Reis in Lake Geneva, WI on August 30, 1938 and she preceded him in death in 1995. He moved to Kenosha at age 16 to work for his uncle, William “Bill” Exton at the Roosevelt Theater. Later in life, he was a motion picture operator at the Kenosha, Orpheum, Roosevelt, Gateway, and Keno theaters. He then worked as a linotype operator and foreman of the composing room at Lloyd Hollister Printing and Pioneer Press in Wilmette, IL. Mr. Hayek lived in Kenosha, WI from 1950 until 1999 when he moved to Springfield, IL. Mr. Hayek was a member of Bristol Oaks Country Club, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was a volunteer for the Kenosha Memorial Hospital. He had also served his country in the U.S. Army during World War II. He enjoyed playing golf and was devoted to his family. He was also preceded in death by his parents, and a brother: Albert. He is survived by a daughter: Susan (husband, Michael) Shaw of Springfield; a sister: Evelyn Willard of Mena, AR; a grandson: Scot Shaw of Cambridge, MA; and a nephew: George Hayek of El Dorado Hills, CA. Remains were cremated and Private Memorial Services will be observed at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 Clearlake Ave., Springfield, IL 62703. The family of Elmer George Hayek is being served by Kirlin-Egan and Butler Funeral Home and Cremation Tribute Center, 900 S. 6th St., Springfield, IL.

LouisRugani on August 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Racine Journal-Times, February 8, 1943)
Mrs. Grace Adele Exton, 41, wife of J. William Exton, manager of the Roosevelt theater, died Saturday at the Kenosha hospital following a short illness. She was born in Niles, Ohio, Dec 16, 1901.

kencmcintyre on March 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Here is a slightly crumpled newspaper ad from 1977:

MiltonSmith on October 9, 2008 at 7:06 pm

I heard the entire front of the building was demolished today.

LouisRugani on October 9, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Here is a brief demolition video from Monday, October 6, 2008.

LouisRugani on October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm

From the Kenosha News, Oct.7, 2008:

The west side of the 80-year-old Roosevelt Theatre was taken down on Monday morning. The 80-year-old theater, which was first condemned last summer, was scheduled for demolition due to deteriorating conditions. About $150,000 in back taxes was also owed on the property. The theater hosted live performances, vaudeville and movies during its lifespan, but had been vacant for about 20 years.

The Roosevelt’s last act
Crews begin demolition of historic local theater

The curtain has officially fallen on the Roosevelt Theatre.

Crews from Racine-based Azarian Wrecking demolished the western side of the 80-year-old theater, 2908 Roosevelt Road, on Monday morning and the rest of the building will soon follow.

Mitch Engen, property division maintenance supervisor for the city, said there was no clear time line on when the building would be completely brought down. But the entire demolition and clean-up of the site is expected to take a few months.

Some interior preparations using cutting saws were completed and exterior barricades put in place last week to prepare for this week’s more noticeable demolition of the theater, which housed live theater, vaudeville and movies during its history, but had been vacant for about 20 years. (Note: Actually since mid-March of 1985)

Asbestos was emoved from the building last month by Gilbert, Ill.-based Champion Environmental Inc. a process which Engen said took about three weeks.

The theater was first condemned in June of 2007, but building owners Jon Gee and Kathryn Hannemann filed an injunction, amid discussions of a potential buyer for the theater, and a stipulation was reached this January.

The stipulation’s first deadline for paying back taxes was missed and no offer came forward for the building, setting it up for demolition again. The building’s owners owed about $150,000 in taxes on the theater and the cost of weather-proofing the building was estimated at around $300,000. Hannemann spoke of a potential benefactor who was interested in donating $500,000 to the project over a number of City Council meetings this summer, but the council voted in August to take the building down when that offer did not materialize.

The site will be backfilled and covered with topsoil and grass seed. Engen said where the land goes beyond that is still to be determined.

“The land will still be owned by the owners of record, but they are behind in their taxes,” Engen said. ‘The county may take that land or the city look at it as a potential redevelopment site. But it will still be owned by the owners of record at the end of the year."

The contract for asbestos removal was about $37,000 and the demolition price for the theater was estimated at $147,477.

Gee or Hannemann could not be reached for comment on Monday, but City Attorney Patrick Sheehan said the city has not received notice of any further action from the owners regarding the site.

Reader Comments:

I can’t say I’ll miss it as I’ve never been there.
But it would have made a good “Live” stage for groups to do the acts before bigtime ! Another wasted chance by our famous city papa’s.
Oct. 7 – 05:54:58

What a shame! I wish the nearly $200,000 went to fixing up sidewalks versus tearing down an old building!
Oct. 7 – 07:34:13

Breaks my heart…. Someone please send me a small peice
Oct. 7 – 08:11:19

It was a great theater !!! Went to many movies there as a teenager. I think they used to do The Rocky Horror Show too. I’d have to ask my kids or maybe someone in this forum knows. Kenosha had some great movie houses. The Lake Theater and of course The Orpheum. I’d like to know if the citizens of Kenosha can help themselves to some bricks for old times sake.
Oct. 7 – 08:51:33

MiltonSmith on October 6, 2008 at 4:13 pm

I was down there taking pictures and some video. They stopped working around 1:45 or so due to a mechanical problem with the equipment. Right now the storefront to the west is all gone and part of the lobby is exposed, also the backwall into the auditoriumis gone so you can see right in. Apparently tomorrow they will finish up the front half and then start in on the auditorium.

Luis Vazquez
Luis Vazquez on October 6, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Yet one more vacant lot! A shame.

LouisRugani on October 6, 2008 at 1:08 pm

The ROOSEVELT Theatre: December 25, 1927 – October 6, 2008.
Demolition began this morning. RIP

Luis Vazquez
Luis Vazquez on August 24, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Hi Ron, I agree wholeheartedly. It amazes me how many theaters have been razed and then sit as parking lots for decades. In today’s economic environment, cities and small towns need to focus on quality of life issues more than ever before to retain business and draw new ones. Adaptive reuse has been used successfully in many cities; especially in New York where there are strong preservation laws.

I don’t know if the Roosevelt is structurally unsound, but I believe it would make more sense to stabilize and mothball it until an alternate use can be found. When I said that not all theaters can be saved I was referring more to the difficulty of preserving them as entertainment venues. Many theater structures have been saved from the wrecking ball by converting them to retail stores, churches, night clubs, restaurants, etc. I don’t know what would work best in Kenosha. I just know that if there is one thing the midwest has a lot of, it’s empty land. We don’t need another vacant lot. :–)

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on August 23, 2008 at 6:01 pm

I agree that the money has to come from somewhere and that not all theaters can be saved. But I have been in a lot of small towns where they tear down old buildings and put nothing up in their place and the end result is ugly. Most buildings that are solidly built can be gutted and rebuilt into something, ie; retail, office space, city gov’t use, etc. If kenosha is a town where there is NO new businesses opening up or NO buildings being built then tear it down and leave a hole in the city block. Otherwise take the money that would be used to build some new strip mall and invest it in rehabbing the existing building. It’s a win for everyone, the city retains a neighborhood block with some architectural character, and some new business gets a nice solid building that will be around for another 80 years. Some will say that the roof and wiring and plumbing is all bad, and that is probably true but if someone was to build a new building in town they have to build a roof and install wiring and plumbing, using the old building gives someone 4 concrete walls to start with along with a nice brick facade. There is always an alternative to demolition, My home town went from an attractive city to one that is 60% gone due to short cited city planners who could not see the value in rehabbing existing buildings and now I have a town that most blocks have gravel lots in them where buildings once stood. Most of the missing buildings could have been reused if owners were forced to maintain their holdings or have them taken away by the city and then sold to developers cheap with agreements that they were to be reused. The Roosevelt can be siezed by the city and basicly sold to a developer with a covenant in place to preserve the exterior while making the interior useful as something else. The city can make this attractive by giving tax and permit breaks to a potential buyer. It can be done. Kenosha must have stores and restaurants and professional offices etc. that could be put into this building once it has been rebuilt. Adaptive reuse is better than a gravel lot that more often than not will never be built on because the codes on new construction will not allow anything to be built.

Luis Vazquez
Luis Vazquez on August 23, 2008 at 5:22 pm

In this day and age, unless the government steps in with grants and/or tax exemptions or a corporate or individual white knight comes in with the funds, a theater restoration has to pay for itself with a business plan that allows the theater to operate in the black once a renovation is completed. This is very difficult to do; especially when there is already another theater in town that has the same idea. Kenosha is a small town and it is unlikely the could support more than one renovated theater.

It’s very easy for people to say that theaters have to be saved, but the money has to come from somewhere. A plan to use the Roosevelt as a Studio to produce commecials and pilots sounds ridiculous. TV Pilots? In Kenosha? Who’s filming pilots in Kenosha? Or commercials for that matter. The point is, this scheme will not provide the income stream a bank would want to see to provide a loan for a restoration.

Unfortunately, not all theaters can be saved. We should focus on those with the best odds of success which appears to be the Kenosha theater.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 18, 2008 at 4:19 pm

How many restored theaters can a market the size of Kenosha support? If it is between the Kenosha and the Roosevelt, I’ll take the Kenosha. The Kenosha is a relatively exciting atmospheric design. This looks like a run-of-the-mill period neighborhood movie theater that has served many other functions over the years. I do wish the city would retain the exterior. But it doesn’t sound like they want to get into that. It sounds like they want to be done with this situation.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. But is this really worth the effort when there are other (in my opinion better) theaters nearby that could use support?

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on August 15, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Thanks for the info, I was only commenting on what I read in the above posts. Smaller neighborhood theaters are just as important as the big venues in city centers. I have no idea how big Kenosha is but to remove what appears to be an attractive building and replace it with an empty lot is never a good idea. If the building is concrete and steel then it can be rehabbed into something while retaining the exterior. While restoration is best, if that is imposible then adaptive reuse is better than demolition. I would venture to bet that if someone would do the math it would be less money to reuse this building than to build a new structure with poured concrete steel girders and brick. And you end up with something that is architectually nice to look at, not another bland box or worse a cheap strip mall.

LouisRugani on August 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm

THe interior is intact except for the proscenium and some minor cases of the usual water-damage holes in flat plaster, both of which can easily be repaired.

MiltonSmith on August 15, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Truth be told, the city is not putting up 24 million to restore a theater. My understanding is it would be a bond the city would co-sign on. However, at this point, nothing has been signed so to make such a statement in the paper seemed a bit odd, since its only in discussions and the city has not got on board with it. So right now, there are no city funds being used for any downtown theatre restoration.

Also, that 1 million wouldn’t restore the Roosevelt, it would just weather proof it, it would take millions more to restore it and there is no interest to do so, there hasn’t been for several years. I hate to say it but I can’t blame the city one bit for what they are doing. Besides, every thing I’ve heard and read indicates there really is no theatre left there. The interior has been gutted and the basement that used to be a bowling alley was also gutted. Its, unfortunately, a shell. Unless someone can prove otherwise.

Ron Carlson
Ron Carlson on August 15, 2008 at 5:13 pm

24 million to restore a theater in the downtown but not a penny to save the Roosevelt. City officials should be ashamed. If the Roosevelt could be restored for 1 million then the cost to put the building to sleep until a buyer could be found would be minimal. I bet their are public funds that are being used for the downtown theater restoration.