Paradise Theatre

6229 W. Greenfield Avenue,
West Allis, WI 53214

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Fox Wisconsin Circuit, Wisconsin Amusement Co.

Architects: Urban F. Peacock

Functions: Church

Styles: French Renaissance

Previous Names: Fox Paradise Theatre

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News About This Theater

PARADISE Theatre; West Allis, Wisconsin.

Paradise is originally a Biblical concept, and now is different things to different people, but for the makers of movie palaces in the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ such theatres were to take on an aspect of fantasy or pleasure that was to connote Paradise to any moviegoer. The most notable PARADISES to be built were no doubt the ones in Chicago and the Bronx, NY. These super palaces would set the tone for many smaller theatres to follow them, and the name was therefore encouraged to spread to much lesser structures across the land. That is the case for the PARADISE Theater considered here in West Allis, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. Theater names were often exploited to connote a concept of pleasure to lure the patron from his daily worries, hence such kindred names as the: ‘Frolic’, ‘Happy Hour’, or the name of an exotic locale, e.g. ‘Egyptian’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Oriental’, etc. were used to carry the thought of pleasure.

As the decade of the ‘Twenties was drawing to its end, the building of new movie houses was reaching its peak and with the advent of sound movies to replace the 'silents,’ those built after 1927 often had the added cachet of promoting themselves as "built for sound," even though that usually meant that they merely added speakers back stage. The PARADISE in West Allis was one of these, but here it was in the downtown of a small suburb, so the stature of the theater was more of a neighborhood quality due to such a theatre getting second run after the downtown houses in Milwaukee. The PARADISE here, however, was benefited in having an architect of proven ability in creating theatres of great imagination. When Urban F. Peacock (1891-1965) left his partnership with Armin Frank in 1928, they left behind them a string of quality medium scale theatres in several states, among them being the EGYPTIAN and VENETIAN in Milwaukee, and the PARAMOUNTS in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This background may have been what led to Mr. Peacock getting the commission to spend some $200,000 on a theatre and commercial property on a triangular plot of land at the intersection of three streets. He completed the drawings in 1928 for a November 1929 opening.

The PARADISE’S 1,300 some seats were not to be in as fantastic or exotic a design as the EGYPTIAN, for the smaller budget was to be spread over the seven storefronts on the first floor flanking the theatre’s entry, and the second floor of sixteen offices, as well as the theatre. Hence, architect Urban Peacock, a graduate of Columbia University, could only add the minimum of architectural decoration. The exterior of the brown brick building was adorned with fluted terra cotta pilasters in a mottled tan glaze and an ornamental copper tiled dome at the acute point of the triangular building and was said to be the largest commercial structure in the suburb at the time. His design for the auditorium was characterized as being "an adaptation of the French Renaissance style of architecture," as printed in the Inaugural Programme, in the typical ballyhoo so typical of that class of writing. The writer was somewhat generous in such a description, for the theatre has no one style of design, a commonplace attainment in the world of movie palaces where the goal was opulence, not style.

The auditorium was marked with a giant central dome of rectangular proportions, and the proscenium had a similar dome in a long ellipse, both being fitted with three colors of cove lights. These coves were the only major illuminants in the room, there being no chandeliers. To show how difficult cost constraints often were in such buildings, the architect did place a wide proscenium cove around the arch, but then evidently had no money for the cove lights to be put into it! The gold and leaf green color scheme had few ornaments to enliven it, the fruit and flowers festoons along the lines of the walls and ceiling were the principal ones. The side walls were divided into six equilateral blind arches, the four rearmost of which were draped with a golden crepe and overdraped with a fringed swag and swaged legs in a dark velour. The pendentives topping the arches contained stencil work in an acanthus pattern. The organ screens, behind which were the pipes for the Barton theatre pipe organ, were fronted with similar draperies but fore fronted with balconettes cantilevered (not having supporting brackets or columns) as mere platforms without parapet to support a single vase of flowers behind which were the up-lights cast upon the scrim cloth of the screen itself. This odd design having a fascia of five facets of rectangular frames, had led some to believe these were originally seating boxes, but the fact that there was no access to them nor seats on them belies that notion.

By the 1950’s, the organ was to be removed and these balconettes were removed to allow that and the installation of freon air conditioning units, a common practice in that era when the outmoded air cooling and washing machines in the basements were in disrepair. The proscenium arch is a rounded rectangle originally with dark velour grand drapery, teaser and tormentors all now removed to allow the large picture sheet (screen) of later years. The sixteen line stage had a complement of dressing and auxiliary rooms and therefore was adequate for local vaudeville, and the three colors of house lighting were controlled from the "Hub" brand interlock resistance switchboard. In the balcony the brass railings were draped but not wrapped, and the projection room had the usual dual projectors plus follow spots.

The auditorium was preceded by the rectangular Grand Lobby, having a barrel vaulted ceiling suspended from which were two crystal chandeliers of a French design, probably the only French items in the theatre (since replaced with cheaper designs). Contrasting with this were the figures of dolphins cast in the painted concrete balustrade of the grand staircase finished with tubular newels in a helical stripe upon bulnose bases. With the exception of two escutcheons with fleurons, the room has little in the way of ornament above the rusticated ashlar-surfaced plaster walls. The ticket lobby fronting it does feature a nicely set ceramic tile floor.

The wooden island box office and replacement marquee are no longer used since the theatre became a church after 1996, but new owners are seeking to make some use of the backstage area as for a music studio. An oddity of the theatre’s life is that in 1995 a woman in architecture school made drawings proposing altering and redecorating the PARADISE with motifs she thought more appropriate to its name: angels and butterflies. The idea of fantasy may have then been more fully achieved! During this period, two men formed the Cream City (an old nickname for Milwaukee) Theatres Corp. and planned on forming a small circuit. The bitter realities of maintaining a profitable cinema in today’s market led them to allow volunteers to take over some of the theatre’s operation and to help in the hesitant restoration steps then undertaken, such as replacing some drapery swags in the Grand Lobby’s archways, and the repainting and gilding to the assumed former color scheme of browns and golds. They even gave out small picture cards of the theatre and its staff as a modern day premium recalling those of the ‘bank nights’ of years past. These men, bowed but not broken, returned the building to the Greek immigrant owner, and he has sold it to a group of professional men who utilize the offices on the second floor while leasing the theatre to the church group. These new owners, Creative Community Solutions, is trying to restore the decor, but is finding the task more expensive than they may have imagined. If it is ever to be "Paradise Regained", it will have to find a new use in a world far different from the "ain’t we got fun" days of eighty years ago.

Contributed by James H. (Jim) Rankin

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

LouisRugani on December 19, 2009 at 12:34 am

Paradise Theater adds to its attractions

(Milwaukee Journal, Jan 30, 1995)
AT THE Paradise Theatre, volunteers sell popcorn, take tickets and run the projector. Now they have taken to the stage.

Volunteer musicians now perform before the first showing of movies on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. From 6:30 to 7 p.m., visitors can pick their seats and settle in for some pre-film entertainment: classical guitar, cello, electronic keyboard and more.

Here’s the latest lineup of films:

“Twenty-One Days.” Starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, directed by Basil Dean; 7 and 9 p.m. Tuesday jan 31, Wednesday feb1 and Thursday Feb. 2. (1937, black and white, 75 minutes.)

“Babes in Arms.” Starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, directed by Busby Berkeley; 7 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, through Thursday, Feb. 9. (1939, black and white, 93 minutes).

“Romeo and Juliet.” Starring Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey and Michael York, directed by Franco Zeffirelli; 7 p.m. Feb. 10-12 and 14-16. (1968, color, 139 minutes.)

“The Cameraman.” Starring Buster Keaton and Marceline Day, directed by Edward Sedgwick; 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 22-23. With live accompaniment by Sigmond Snopek III. (1928, black and white, silent, 78 minutes.)

“Rear Window.” Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 7 and 9:10 p.m. Feb. 24-26 (Friday-Sunday) and Feb. 28-March 2. (1954, color, 112 minutes.)

“Children of Paradise.” In French with English subtitles, starring Jean- Louis Barrault and Pierre Brasseur, directed by Marcel Carne; 7 p.m. March 7-9. (1945, black and white, 195 minutes.)

“Little Women.” Starring Katharine Hepburn and Joan Bennett; directed by George Cukor; 7 and 9:10 p.m. March 10-12 (Friday-Sunday) and 14-16. (1933, black and white, 117 minutes.)

“The Last Laugh.” Starring Emil Jannings and Max Hiller, directed by F.W. Murnau; 7 p.m. March 22 and 23. With live accompaniment by Snopek. (1924, black and white, silent, 73 minutes.)

“The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Starring William Holden and Alec Guinness, directed by David Lean; 7 p.m. March 24-26 (Friday-Sunday) and 28-30. (1957, Cinemascope, color, 161 minutes.)

The Paradise Theatre is at 62nd St. and Greenfield Ave., West Allis. Admission is $2.50, $1 for children with an adult.

LouisRugani on May 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

May 12, 2010)

Could Paradise indeed be lost?
Possibility exists that theater
could be razed


West Allis â€" City officials and developers over the last several months have spent considerable time pondering the future of the Paradise Theater, which opened at 6229 W. Greenfield Ave. in 1929.

It is now increasingly possible there could be no future at all.

The city has issued a razing order for the 81-year-old building because of its current state of deterioration.

The building will need to be repaired soon if there is any chance of saving it. It could be demolished as early as this summer if no private or public financing comes through, West Allis Development Director John Stibal said.

Stibal plans to ask the council how the city should proceed. Aldermen may consider how much, if any, public money should be used to salvage the theater.

Memories of the way it was

One of those aldermen, Dan Roadt, said he has fond memories of the theater growing up and would love to find a way to keep it standing.

Roadt is a lifelong resident of West Allis who grew up at 88th and Arthur streets. During his youth, he would often walk with his brothers and neighbors a couple times a month to catch a movie.

“We were always up in the balcony with the troublemakers,” Roadt said with a laugh.

But he wonders how many other residents have the same personal history with the Paradise Theater, and doubts a large number of them would support a public investment.

“I would love to save it, but at what cost?” Roadt said. “It’s a beautiful building, but it needs a lot of work.”

Mayor Dan Devine, too, said he hopes something can be worked out but it will come down how much the city is willing to put into it.

“I’d hate to see it go because it’s an iconic structure,” he said.

Long after last picture show

The movies stopped showing in 1996, and the theater has struggled to attract a permanent tenant since. The Paradise Family Life Center, a religious group which moved out early last year following a foreclosure, was the last group to occupy the building.

The State Bank of Chilton owns the building and has been trying to sell it ever since. The former owner of the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse in Wauwatosa expressed interest in the building earlier this year, but plans never materialized.

forstd – May 11, 2010 7:43 AM

It would be a shame to see the Paradise go away. I have so many fond memories of the old gal. I grew up in West Allis in the 60’s. Our Dad would give my brother and I each a dollar and we would walk from 94th and Schlinger down to Greenfield Ave. Sometimes we would see a movie at the old Capitol Theatre, but mostly it was The Paradise. The movie didn’t matter, WWII movies, Disney, Elvis, Hercules, or Godzilla. It was such a beautiful old theatre. Sadly most of the old palaces are gone, but this one will always be a part of my life. Happy Trails old girl.

El gato – May 11, 2010 8:51 AM

Time does indeed march on, and we are people without a real culture or identity. We love to just toss old things out and bring in the new. History will remember us as “the great throwaway consumer society”, and we won’t have a place alongside the Romans, Greeks, or Egyptians culturally or architecturally!

joeytg – May 11, 2010 9:07 AM

Nice old Theatre… many good memories…. as I recall parking was always an issue in that area. Its too bad that some millionaire kinda guy from the old neighborhood cant come back in and save it. Bad economy / timing for such a project.

Italy – May 11, 2010 1:50 PM

It would be nice if they could save it. If they can’t they should make sure a good salvage company comes in and saves what ever it can.

Mortified West Allis Resident – May 11, 2010 2:59 PM

Since the closing as a movie house the Paradise has never been used to its potential. It was once the headquarters of Agnos Enterprises, complete with a gigantic, egomaniacal, ugly blue sign “decorating” the front of the building. Next came the church, with their unending promises and undercapitalized plans. The city was more than tolerant with both Agnos and the church. I love the building and once hoped for the best, but now it probably should go. I have two questions.

How long will the razed land remain an undeveloped mess? What will replace the building? An empty lot filled with demolition rubble, would hardly be an improvement. Most of the buildings that surround the five corners have made an effort to improve their facades and improve storefronts. The City is doing the neighbors of the Paradise no favors if they demolish the building with no firm plans for clean-up, potential blight and re-development.

mabookery1tdsnet – May 11, 2010 9:05

Since I grew up in this area, I’ve seen umteen gazillion movies at the Paradise. My daughter worked there while she was in high school. It was the place for a few first dates for me. Before the church took it over, I used to walk there on a Friday evening to see a movie. I remember the Capital and Allis theaters too, in fact my dad managed the Capital for a while back in the mid 50’s. My dad often told us about going to the Paradise when he was a kid for the serial short films they showed and the vaudeville acts that appeared there too. My daughter told me of the orchestra pit in front and the dressing rooms on some precarious stairs behind the stage. Good memories in that theater. Demolishing it would be like demolishing a large part of West Allis history.

JimH5 – May 12, 2010 9:05 AM

There ought to be room in West Allis for that building to be used for all kinds of events. High School Drama & Music, Community Theater, Community Meetings & Family Events, High School Graduation.

How much will it cost to save?
James J – May 12, 2010 9:44 AM»
The building used to house a lot of businesses, not just the movie theater. It still could. While I understand that grand movie theaters like the Paradise are a thing of the past, the space can easily be used for many different purposes. It would be much cheaper and better for the neighborhood to keep the building whole and find other uses for it. To tear it down and have an empty lot for ten or more years would hurt the area more than leaving an empty building in place.

The City should provide a low interest loan to the owner to at least seal the building and make it look presentable on the outside. A future low interest loan could be provided for a future owner or tenant to renovate the building.

Whether you like it or not, this building sits on the gateway to West Allis. It is a monumental landmark and it would be hard to replace with something as impressive. The corner of the building should be fixed at the city’s cost to make it more appealing. Nowhere else in West Allis is there such an important gateway to the city.

TLSLOEWS on May 12, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Just another day in Paradise.

PCino on July 7, 2010 at 1:07 am

Drove past the Paradise Theatre today (7/6/2010) and I saw people on the roof re-taring & repairing the roof. A good sign! The church marquee was removed and looks like some activity going on there. I’m not sure if the property went out of foreclosure or not or if there is a new owner?

LouisRugani on July 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Wisconsin Theatres member Joe Zollner has been monitoring the PARADISE situation and provided the following updates:

Paradise Theater may be saved after all


Posted: July 2, 2010

Former Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse owner Jay Hollis has purchased the Paradise
Theater, but the building’s future remains murky and a raze-or-repair order is still in effect.

West Allis Development Director John Stibal said the city is waiting to see what Hollis will do. Stibal said plans could include something similar to the Rosebud, but Hollis has the building listed as being for sale.

Hollis could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

The city granted Hollis a six-month extension on the raze-or-repair order, in the hopes progress will be made on renovations. But West Allis officials won’t hesitate to act sooner than six months if the building continues to sit idle and deteriorate, Stibal said.

The Paradise Theater, 6229 W. Greenfield Ave., has fallen badly into disrepair to the point the city’s Building Inspection Department issued the order in the spring.

Hollis expressed interest in the buying the Paradise Theater last winter, but plans back then did not materialize.

Hollis opened Wauwatosa’s Rosebud Cinema, where movie-goers can relax on sofas and drink beer while watching films, in 1999. He sold the business in 2007.


Some other links: “City has interest in buying Paradise Theater” By MARK SCHAAF “City may find after-life in Paradise Theater” View link “Ex-Rosebud Cinema operator interested in Paradise Theater” By Tom Dayk “Paradise may come to an end” By MARK SCHAAF “Paradise Theater may be saved after all” By MARK SCHAAF

Hal on March 18, 2011 at 12:48 am

Another theater I worked at from time to time, it was running 2nd run at the time. No Norelcos when I was there, Simplex XL’S and Peerless. It was a neat theater, pretty well kept up too (especially for a UA house, which it was when I worked there)One of the odd things about working there was the requirement that the Star Spangled Banner short be played prior to the 1st show of the day, and woe be the projectionist that didn’t do it! The older lady that was manager there at the time was not one to be messed with, if you didn’t run that thing you could count on one hand how many seconds it would take for her to get up to the booth! This is another nice neighborhood theater that got lost in the megaplex building boom.

LouisRugani on April 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Original URL: <>

Another church group hopes to convert old Paradise Theater


The venerable Paradise Theater could get another shot at an afterlife.

A new but growing church on Milwaukee’s East Side is seriously thinking of buying and renovating the 1929 theater at 6229 W. Greenfield Ave. on the city’s busy Six Points intersection, and holding services there.

The Epikos Milwaukee Church would continue to hold services in the former Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2308 E. Belleview Place, which the church bought in 2009, said the Rev. Danny Parmelee, the church’s founding pastor. The church, which was formed in 2005, now has nearly 500 members, Parmelee said.

Despite its east side location, the church has many members in West Allis, some within walking distance of the Paradise, he said, and would welcome a more west-side location for them and others who come from Brookfield, Wauwatosa and as far away as Oconomowoc.

In addition to a sanctuary, the church would like to convert a corner of the now vacant building into a coffee shop. It would be professionally run and have a full espresso bar and light sandwiches, Parmelee said.

If the coffee shop makes money, it would be donated to charities helping people around the world and to those helping West Allis, he said.

City officials are willing to work with the church, but a lot has to be done, said John Stibal, development director. “We’re going to be cautiously optimistic that something can be put together,” Stibal said.

As the sad gem stands now, it’s a hindrance to the city’s redevelopment efforts in the Six Points area, he said. That redevelopment effort includes National and Greenfield avenues from about 60th to 65th streets – an area on which the city has already spent a lot of money and wants to get it back through redevelopment.

“You hate to see it demolished,” he said of the 82-year-old Paradise that has achieved icon status in the city.

But a repair or raze order is in effect and, with the deadline already past, the city could enforce it anytime, Stibal said.

To forestall that, development officials want the church to put a sum to be determined into escrow to ensure that repairs are made.

“We got burned a couple times,” Stibal said, referring to previous owners who promised repairs but let the building deteriorate.

What the Paradise needs now to not slow redevelopment is windows, facade and masonry restoration and replacing just about all the interior systems including plumbing, he said.

He doesn’t want to give the church a deadline for coming up with repair funds for the escrow account, but neither does he want to allow unlimited time. “If we see a good-faith effort, we’ll work with them,” Stibal said.

Church officials understand the city’s cautionary approach, Parmelee said.

“I think the city is a little scarred by things that happened,” he said. “We have to show them we’re actually going to follow through.”

Besides repair funds in an escrow account, the city will probably require annual payments in lieu of taxes because turning the building into a church would take it off the property tax rolls, he said.

The theater stopped showing movies in 1996 and has held an uncertain role in downtown West Allis since that time.

The Paradise Family Life Center was the latest tenant, holding religious services there for about four years until 2009. The church did interior improvements but it ran out of money. The property ended up in the hands of State Bank of Chilton following foreclosure.

The theater was subsequently purchased last year by Courtney Hollis, the wife of Jay Hollis, the former owner of the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse. Courtney Hollis was listed as the registered agent for a company, created in May, called Paradise LLC.

Shortly after its acquisition, the properly was again listed for sale last summer.

The building has now been vacant for about two years.

For recent interior photos:

1chinatown on October 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I was an usher there in the 60’s. Many memories, to say the least. It is a shame that it is no longer offering the double features which we all grew up with.

DavidZornig on February 29, 2024 at 11:33 pm

Purchased by Epikos Church in 2012. Article with full history and current photos below.

LouRugani on March 1, 2024 at 5:20 am

Movie film of the Paradise construction process:

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