Rhode Center for the Arts

514 56th Street,
Kenosha, WI 53140

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Rhode Center for the Arts (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Saxe Amusement Enterprises, Standard Theaters Management Corp.

Architects: George W. Leslie Rapp

Firms: Rapp & Rapp

Functions: Live Theater

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Rhode Opera House, Gateway Theatre, Lake Theatre, Lake 1 & 2

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 262.657.7529

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News About This Theater

RHODE Opera House vertical sign, as seen in April 2012.

The original Rhode Opera House was opened in 1891 and was destroyed by fire in 1896. A new opera House was built on the site and was screening motion pictures by 1901. In 1924 it was taken over by Saxe Amusements. They demolished the theatre in 1926.

In 1927 they built the Gateway Theatre on the site, which opened on December 29, 1927 with Bebe Daniels in “She’s a Sheik”. It was equipped with a Barton theatre organ. The theatre had 1,800-seats. In 1963 Standard Theatres leased the theatre and it was renamed Lake Theatre, reopening on April 28, 1963 with Jackie Gleeson in “Papa’s Delicate Condition”. On March 12, 1976 it was twinned and renamed Lake 1 & 2. It closed in 1984. From 1988 it became home to the Lakeside Players, a community theater group. In 1989, they puchased the building and it was re-named Rhode Opera House.

Contributed by Pete Christy

Recent comments (view all 49 comments)

MiltonSmith on September 10, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Carlton, I think saw a picture of that console last week! It was very exciting to see as I Always assumed that old Barton console was lost to a scrap yard. Its nice to see it still out there!

Rhodeoperafan on December 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

This article and pictures are WONDERFUL!! My daughter just finished the production of “The best Christmas Pageant ever”, I was a backstage volunteer – and for the 2 months I spent in this wonderful building, I fell in love. It’s so beautiful. I even enjoyed the “spooky” tales of ghosts and hauntings that are associated with it as well.

LouRugani on March 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm

That History Column: ‘’‘’ ‘Kenosha Theater was one of first in the world to screen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ ‘’‘’ (Kenosha News, February 2, 2013, by Diane Giles)

“We’re not in Kansas anymore” is a phrase that slipped into our vernacular in 1939, along with a number of other gems from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”

The phrase could have just as well been “We’re not in Kenosha anymore,” as Kenosha was one of two locales that were the first in the world to show the movie on the big screen.

The film was shown to the public on Friday, Aug. 11, 1939, right here at The Gateway Theater (now known as the Rhode Center for the Arts) in Kenosha, and at the Cape Cinema on Cape Cod in Dennis, Mass.

You heard right. Forget Oconomowoc, who has claimed that honor for more than 30 years — it showed the film the day after we did in Kenosha.

(For the record, the movie was shown at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc and at the Venetian Theatre in Racine on Aug. 12.)

For Joe Cardamone, the stage and music director of Lakeside Players’ production of the “The Wizard of Oz” on stage this month at the Rhode, it’s an exciting little piece of trivia.

“It’s sort of odd to think that it would have played at some of these smaller venues before opening in a big city,” Cardamone said. “To think that it not only played in Kenosha first, but at this very theater.”

Newspaper advertisements show that as of Aug. 9, Gateway Theater manager T.R. Reilly planned on opening the film Saturday, Aug. 12, but the Aug. 10 ad announced the Wizard would be shown “Tomorrow.”

The Kenosha crowds got their first glimpse of the yellow brick road at the Friday matinee.

Why did Reilly jump the gun?

“They may have gotten the print early; they may have been doing lousy business with the films they had showing in the latter part of that week,” suggested John Fricke, one of the authors of “Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History,” in a 1991 interview.

Or it could have been because Aug. 11 was the last day a patron could obtain Volume One of the Standard American Encyclopedia, the promotion offered at the Gateway at that time.

Theater promotions of the day enticed people back to the movies to collect a set of dishes — one piece per admission — and other household items.

If people didn’t get that first volume of this encyclopedia, chances are they wouldn’t be interested in the remaining 14 volumes. And the theater owner might have been stuck with the books.

By Aug. 11, “Over the Rainbow” was No. 4 on the list of the top 10 sheet-music sellers, a measure comparable to the to 40 songs of today.

The Kenosha Evening News in conjunction with the theater ran a coloring contest depicting Oz characters, so the excitement for the film was building.

“The Wizard of Oz” played at the Gateway for six days. After just four days of showing, the theater claimed that 8,000 patrons had seen the feature.

Showing the film at all these small-town theater venues does seem a bit weird when you consider that the movie had its West Coast premiere in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Aug. 15, and it opened in New York two days later on Aug. 17.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on Oconomowoc.

The movie was advertised there as a world premiere, as the Milwaukee film distributor advised the Strand owners Harley and Ruth Huebner that they were the first to exhibit the film.

Someone just forgot to tell that to Mr. Reilly.

If there isn’t room for the main column and at least two photos, don’t run this sidebar. It’s interesting, but not essential. DG

Oddly enough, MGM lost nearly $1 million on the first release of “The Wizard of Oz.” The production, distribution, prints and advertising costs did not offset the gross of $3,335,000 the picture took in.

Author and “Wizard of Oz” expert John Fricke explained that there were three reasons for this:

— The glut of incoming film product. A picture couldn’t be held over for more than a day or two because Hollywood was cranking out too many films.

— Even though the theaters were filled for each showing, as much as half of the audience were children who were admitted at cut rate prices.

LouRugani on May 25, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Rhode’s windows undergoing a facelift (Kenosha News, May 23, 2014 by Bill Guida)

“Workmen began a fenestral facelift Friday at the Rhode Center of the Arts, with removal of the steel frames and glass panes from the arched second-floor windows of the vintage theater and opera house overlooking 56th Street.

Lowell Bros. Construction Co., of Kenosha, is doing the removal and is scheduled to install new, updated windows within the next two weeks.

Steve Mattner, a Rhode board member, said the new windows not only will be more energy efficient, but will “show off” to passersby the four original crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling of the ornate lobby inside the downtown Kenosha landmark.

Now home to The Lakeside Players, the original Rhode Opera House was built in 1891 but destroyed by fire in 1896, although it was rebuilt the same year.

The second building was razed by Milwaukee entertainment giants the Saxe Brothers in 1926 to make way for the “modern” building costing a half million dollars — more than $6.5 million in today’s money — and which opened in 1927 as the Gateway Theater.

The third building to stand on the site, the Gateway Theater was leased to another operator in 1963, who renamed it the Lake Theater, which underwent a building makeover in 1976 before closing 12 years later.

In 1987, the Kenosha Lakeshore Business Improvement District (now the Downtown BID) accepted the Rhode family’s request to take title to the property and renamed it once again the Rhode Opera House. In 1989, Lakeside Players, a community theater group, bought the building for the cost of improvements.

In July 2004, with the opening of the Pollard Gallery in the building, which also houses another art gallery in the second floor Madrigrano Mezzanine — Rhode Opera House was renamed Rhode Center for the Arts."

MiltonSmith on October 31, 2015 at 1:55 pm

After those windows were replaced now work has proceeded on relighting the front chandelier which has been pretty much hidden from view for years and left dark. The plan from what I hear is to have it on a sensor so it turns on at night, lighting the center front window through out the night. Currently a lone bulb is in it and turns on with the other lights. Not heard a timeline for when this will occur. There has been other small improvements occurring backstage such as dressing room improvements/painting and improving the backstage bathrooms.

LouRugani on January 2, 2018 at 2:32 pm

The GATEWAY Theatre’s 90th Anniversary last Friday passed without a word of observance from the current occupants … not a good sign, in my opinion.

LouRugani on August 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm

“The Wizard of Oz” world-premiered at the GATEWAY Theatre on this night eighty years ago, and again, there’s been no observance of that history in any manner.

rivest266 on October 5, 2019 at 3:33 pm

Reopened as the Lake 1 & 2 on March 12th, 1976. Grand opening ad posted.

LouRugani on May 3, 2022 at 4:39 pm

(October 25, 1927: Kenosha Evening News) New Gateway Theater Near Opening Date - Saxe Amusement House Enclosed Plans for Opening Early in December

With construction work rapidly nearing a completed stage, opening of the new Gateway theater as the splendid new Saxe Amusement company enterprise which is now rising on the site of the old Rhode theater on Fifty-sixth street traversing the block from Fifty-sixth to Fifty-fifth has been set for early December and means the addition of another beautiful and modern playhouse to the list of fine amusement places in Kenosha. While the building is not finished there is every evidence that the competed project will fill the owners and interested citizens with pride for unique appeal and excellent entertainment service which will be rendered.

Construction work has reached the point where nearly eighty men are employed in the various crews of craftsmen. The plasterers are rushing their work, much of which is a very difficult type with its panelling and staff molding.

Building Is Enclosed - The building is fully enclosed and any amount of inclement weather will offer no obstacle to rapid completion. It is expected by Manager J. L. Morrissey of the Saxe Amusement company’s local enterprises that the last days of November will find the building complete except some of the small items which cannot be done until occupancy begins. Manager Morrissey stated today that nothing is being overlooked and no expense spared to make the theater the last word in construction convenience and service. He said: We have employed Rapp and Rapp as architects because they have to their credit such notable theaters as the Oriental, McYicker’s, Roosevelt, Uptown and Norshore in Chicago. The $16,000,000 theater marvel of this generation which is the Paramount in New York City was constructed by them. “The architects are specialists in ventilation, a much desired feature for any building where thousands of patrons are handled in relatively short periods.

Name Gateway Appropriate

“The Gatewav, so named because of the location of Kenosha in relation to the rest of Wisconsin, is being equipped with a $50,000 refrigerating plant which will keep the temperature at any desired degree regardless of the prevailing weather outside. If necessary the plant could make ice. “A special ventilating engineer will be in constant charge of the equipment which will insure a pure fresh air to every patron of the house.” Manager Morrissey says the stage will be the largest in the state with the exception of the Milwaukee Auditorium. Its dimensions are 36x110 feet which will permit the house to cue for any type of attraction. All seats with the exception of a small number in the mezzanine balcony are on the lower floor. Manager Morrissey said that the experience of the Saxe Amusement company and the forty-two houses it controls in the state of Wisconsin indicates that the vast majority of theater-goers want to sit on the lower floor. For that reason over fifteen hundred may be accommodated in this manner in the new Gateway and about two hundred in the balcony.

Acoustics Planned With Care

The theater is compact and cozy with every seat so arranged that all may see and hear. The acoustics are further enhanced by the small balcony and arched ceiling. The seats are to be of latest design, well cushioned and very comfortable. The entire theater is planned to be soundless and considerable pains have been taken to work out this arrangement. A $50,000 Barton organ is to be installed which will be an exact duplicate of the Wisconsin theater organ in Milwaukee. The two organs are the largest in the state. Though Manager Morrissev could not announce the policy of the Gateway until later, he assures Kenosha theater goers that there will only be pictures of greatest merit, saying “By the control of many theaters, the Saxe Amusement company has the pick of pictures and the best will be shown at the Gateway.”

Staff Now in Training

The entire staff of the new theater is now in training at the Wisconsin theater in Milwaukee. It is the desire and intention of the company to duplicate the service of the Milwaukee house in every particular. The same form of presentation in practice there will be used in Kenosha. Besides the theater itself, entrance of which is on 56th street, there are two stores, both of which are about completed and will soon be leased. The theater covers an area in the middle of the block bounded by 6th and 5th avenues and 56th and 55th streets. It runs the entire length of the block and neither the store building on 6th avenue nor that on 56th street are connected by entrance to the theater.

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