The Last Drive-In by Tim Lambrecht
A few weeks ago, when the Winter finally began to break and we had our first sixty degree day of the Spring, I thought to myself, hmmm, I wonder when the drive-ins will be opening, should be soon.
The start of the drive-in season signals the beginning of summer to me, as the start of the baseball season does for other people.
By coincidence, the very next day, I saw a news story, which told of the beginning of the demolition of the 41-Twin drive-in on South 27th Street.
I thought, there goes another drive-in. I had been to the 41-Twin a number of times over the past few years. (Anyone who frequents drive-ins can't help but notice their options have been dwindling each year.) What upset me was when they said that this was the last operating drive-in in the Milwaukee area! Now, if I want to go to a drive-in, I think have to go up to the Dells!
Now I admit to be overly nostalgic at times, (I prefer County Stadium to Miller Park) but I'm not naive either. I understand the economic realities of operating a drive-in movie theatre. While huge multiplex movie theatres are popping up in all areas, the drive-ins have been dying a slow, painful death, one-by-one.
Growing up on the north side of town, my friends and I used to frequent the Starlight drive-in just off I- 43. We used to see all types of movies, everything from Cheech and Chong double features, (cough cough), to the predictable comedy and action film pairings that were so routinely paired. And lest we forget the dusk-to-dawn horror film marathons.) But we didn't always go for the movies. We'd simply make plans to go to the drive-in, sometimes not even knowing what movies were playing.
I'm sure everyone, who is at least in their mid-twenties, has a drive-in memory or two themselves. From the steamy dates to the concession stands, to the silly cartoons counting off the minutes until the next feature, there was always something to do.
The drive-in movie experience is much different than a standard theater-going experience. First of course there are the cars. As you drive through the aisles of cars looking for a speaker that worked, you may recognize a friend's car in a nearby spot. (My friend Paul even found his dream car, a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner at a drive-in. He talked to the owner, who just happened to be selling it, and before long, Paul was driving it. It is unlikely that scenario would've played itself out in a standard theatre parking lot setting.)
Then there is the feeling of community. Despite the fact that couples or groups would each be in their own car, there was a lot of interaction at drive-ins. Many drive-ins had play areas for the kids near the screen, where they could play on a swing set or slide with other kids while their parents or siblings were nearby.
Drive-ins were also good for interaction between friends. More often than not, you'd sit through a bad movie to get to one you wanted to see. Well, during that bad movie, you and your friends had time to talk, go to the concession stand for some snacks, or whatever.
It's sad that Milwaukee cannot support at least one drive-in theatre. It's also sad that future generations will not know have a drive-in experience of their own, and will not know what they were except for watching TV shows like Happy Days.
Unfortunately, it appears that the drive-in has slipped from a summertime option to mere nostalgia. Back to topics
Remodeling Stores into Small Theatres
From “Radford’s Details of Building Construction” 1911
Edited by William Radford, President of the Radford Architectural Company, Chicago, Illinois
Almost all towns, no matter how small, now have or soon will have a moving picture theatre. The majority of these places find quarters in store rooms, which are required to be remodeled for this use. The room should be at least 18 or 20 feet wide and 60 feet long, the ideal size being 24 by 90 feet. The ceiling height is important on account of ventilation and should be 14 feet, though 16 or 18 feet is better. The room should have side or rear exits which must be marked and the doors hung so as to open out. The store front is always removed and the room closed in with a partition placed about 14 feet back from the front. This gives the wide vestibule which is so necessary in an attractive place. The floor plan shows a good arrangement for an up-to-date moving picture house. Note that each aisle is marked by a small red light placed under glass in the floor. The piano pit is placed below the level of the floor to keep the player out of the line of vision. The sectional view gives a good idea of the raised floor, balcony and ticket office. It will be noticed that the three rows of seats at the rear are above the level of the main aisle.
Theatorium, First Movie Theater in Milwaukee, Razed
The Milwaukee Journal, February 4, 1923
The Theatorium is but a memory. Perhaps few Milwaukeeans know the little motion picture house that did business near the northeast corner of Second Street and Grand Avenue. But back in the days when the film industry was in its infancy, the Theatorium was the most popular place in town.
The Theatorium, Milwaukee's first movie house, is being torn down. There were other business firms in the same building. There was Adeline's Eat shop and Kalt's restaurant, Leo Abraham's cigar store, Solomon's jewelry store and Charles Fox's haberdashery, but the Theatorium was the pioneer of them all.
Seventeen years ago, Thomas Saxe conceived the idea of running a Hales Touring Car. He fitted up the Theatorium as a railroad parlor car. The patrons sat on the observation platform and gazed at a sheet behind which a projecting machine of a crude sort was placed. The machine threw the reflections on the back of the sheet in those days, while a man with a hose stood by and dampened the sheet so that the pictures would show through. There was also a device operated by a lever, which caused the floor of the Theatorium to rock, thus making the patrons believe they were really viewing the landscape motion pictures from the rear of a moving train. There were 40 seats in this Hales Car, named after a railroad car, used for the same purpose, which toured the country. That was the first picture show of any kind in Milwaukee.
A little later, Mr. Saxe installed nickelodeon equipment. Then it was that many Milwaukee mothers missed their change and their children. When a child could not be found, searchers watched the doors of the nickelodeon, hoping that the lost one might make his appearance in that vicinity. Usually, he did.
E.M. ("Broncho Billy") Anderson, a bold, bad, Wild West two-gun man, was the favorite of the time. Shows lasted 10 minutes and were run off as fast as the operator could grind. At that time, there were only four other theaters in the city: the Shubert, Alhambra, Bijou (now the Garrick), and the Pabst. Now there are 22, besides many neighborhood movies.
A big bank building costing $500,000 is to replace the old Curry Building in which the Theatorium was located. It will be four stories high. It is expected by officials of the American Exchange Bank that this building will be completed by May 1924.
The history of the Curry Building goes farther back than Theatorium days, however. In 1860, the ground was occupied by the old Spring Street church. This was torn down in 1872 to make way for the present building. It changed hands several times, but is now owned by Miss Martha Curry, from whom the American Exchange Bank obtained a 99-year lease. There is a frontage of 100 feet on Second Street and 65 feet on Grand Avenue. Back to topics