The Pabst Theater – A Paragon of Playhouses – by Jim Rankin

This is the Paper which was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior to gain Landmark status for the Pabst Theater.

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Preface: In 1974 there was considerable discourse on saving the Pabst Theatre, then owned by the City of Milwaukee. The grandeur was long gone – an aging relic of the past in disarray. If it were to be saved, how would this be done? I guess that the Theater had a guardian angel named Jim Rankin. He was the Curator for the Restoration of the Pabst. In a critical turning point for the Pabst, Jim Rankin wrote this 38-page Paper on the Pabst Theater that was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior. This Paper was instrumental in acquiring National Historic Landmark status for the Pabst Theater. A National Historic Landmark is a building officially recognized for its historical significance, which is quite rare. During renovation Jim was the one person who really understood the history and architecture of the building. An old office full of forgotten theater records was discovered, and somehow, they were thrown out. Jim, of course was just sick about this. In any event, Jim is gone now, leaving us a legacy of wonderful articles and a grand lady called the Pabst. Thanks, Jim!


A PARAGON OF PLAYHOUSES by James H. Rankin, with the invaluable assistance of Lillian Procter, Mrs. and Mr. Philip Procter – Copyright PABST THEATER, 1990

Of all the architecture of man, no form has been written more of than the theater. It embodies the hopes and frustrations, the laughs and tears of the entire human panorama. If the performing arts were to properly reflect and celebrate this pageant of history they had to be housed in structures suited to that purpose and to the encouragement of the comfort and attentiveness of an audience. The following will show how Milwaukee's PABST THEATER was and is a most notable high point in this wedding of the performing and the structural and the decorative arts, and therefore deserves National Landmark recognition as a true landmark of progressive theatrical achievement for the past century. This Paper will show several significant areas in which the PABST was either the first or certainly among the first to employ state-of-the-art advances in the history of theater, drama, music, and the architectural appurtenances and atmosphere so necessary thereto. The United States has, regrettably, allowed many of its theatrical structures of early years to vanish and the loss to our posterity is irretrievable. Modern theaters too often display a primary concern for economies of construction and therefore we need to preserve examples such as the ornamented PABST to display hand craftsmanship. As will be discussed further on, the PABST is one of only five theatre buildings still operating continuously upon the same site for over a century in these United States, and it not only has a virtual encyclopedic history of the English language stage, but also that of the German as well. Where is its equal? It is truly a Paragon without peer.


        The city of Milwaukee celebrated its Semi-Centennial in October of 1895 With nine of its English and German language newspapers issuing special enlarged editions, and no doubt exists that had the PABST opened just one month earlier it would have found itself among those things celebrated as fine examples of the notable progress of an American city. True, the erection of yet another theater is not an especial cause for note from the perspective of the 1990's, but the PABST was exceptional from a variety of viewpoints, as the following will make clear. Theatre, or Drama, in Milwaukee began in 1842 with the erection of the John Hustis Hall and the English drama staged by the Yankee settlers here. The German-speaking settlers started arriving especially after the 1848 "revolution" in Germany and these "48'ers" as they were sometimes referred to lost no time in continuing their ancient thespian history in this new homeland, with their group: the "Liebhaberverein", just eight years after the English, in 1850. The course and subsequent triumph of Milwaukee's German language theater, which seeded itself actively throughout the Mid-West, has already been told in PART I of this Paper in September, 1990; now we will concentrate on the progression to the PABST: a sequence of theaters culminating in one of the finest playhouses this nation would ever know.


        The John Hustis Hall was not a theater in reality and its limitations for drama (not to mention opera or symphony) were all too apparent to one Jacob Nunnemacher, a Swiss immigrant who loved theater and certainly saw the need for a real one in fledgling Milwaukee. After some years of amassing a profitable distilling and real estate business, he, with his son Herman, was in the financial position to indulge his passion for theater, so he built his GRAND OPERA HOUSE on a low area which was at one time a ship yard near the Milwaukee river at the intersection of Oneida and River streets – coincidentally across East Water street from the future city hall. To those unacquainted with Milwaukee of that day it may be expected by them that the name of Mr. Nunnemacher's edifice was pure hyperbole – part of the ballyhoo so common to American enterprise. Perhaps a sophisticated Easterner of the time would imagine a cluster of benches on a board-covered dirt floor with two or three kerosene lanterns hanging from the rafters of a false-fronted barn. As the following newspaper transcription and photograph make clear, such a one would certainly be surprised to learn the truth. (Please see the GRAND OPERA HOUSE exhibits herein) What bearing does this have on the PABST? This is the PABST’s first predecessor for it was on this very site – and somewhat on the very same foundation – that a landmark playhouse was to arise only 29 years later. A young man in the brewing world – late of a steamship captaincy on the Great Lakes – Frederic Pabst had only been in Milwaukee for a little over a decade and was therefore not only aware of this distiller's claim to fame, but also of the theatrical situation in Milwaukee. Another chapter herein will detail the Captain's life, but mention is made here to show how the Captain may have coveted such a handsome structure with his name on it. As you will see, Fred Pabst was undeniably a generous man, but also one with a normal vanity and consciousness of human mortality. The Munnemacher GRAND OPERA HOUSE found the late 1880’s a difficult for English speaking theater, partly because its patrons were less fervent than were those of the German language theater and also because it had to share its audience with several other theaters at times, such as the MUSIC HALL (later called THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC). In contrast, the elaborate German STADT THEATER, only four blocks westward on 3rd St., was in its ascendancy ever since it was built in 1869, to the point that a larger structure was needed. Because the STADT could not be enlarged again [as detailed in PART I of this Paper] the German community leaders came to Capt. Pabst for a solution. The best available one for quick results was to purchase and remodel the GRAND OPERA HOUSE, which he did. He would not only get a large facility at a bargain, he would remove the name of a friendly competitor in the libation business from the public eye. While the Capt. agreed to pay for extensive interior remodeling of Nunnemacher's, he was, apparently, not ready to put his name on a structure he had not built himself; after all, he was a man of principle.


        On September 17th, 1890 the sparkling new theater remodeling was christened "DAS NEUES DEUTSCHES STADT THEATER" (The New German City Theater) or "New STADT", for short. This re-design was to be nearly state-of-the-art with the noted Chicago architectural firm of Adier & Sullivan retained to do the plans. As discussed in the annotated Historic American Buildings Survey document herein, Adier & Sullivan's plans must have been too radical for these German-Americans, because another architect re-did their designs quite differently, incorporating a reverence for the Germanic heritage and artistic standard quite lacking in the famous duo's work. Architect Hoffmann's design virtually obliterated Henry Koch's design of the Nunnemacher interior, but the result was quite well received and successful.
Such success did not prevent arson to the NEW STADT in 1893, but this did provide the opportunity for the chief resident architect of the Pabst Brewery to display his talents in theater design – a rare and most rewarding challenge for any architect to this day. Otto Strack took advantage of the opportunity to correct a visual and acoustic problem inherent in the box seat design of Carl Hoffmann for the NEW STADT. It seems that the Captain was well pleased, for when on the day of January 15th, 1895 a fire broke out in the NEW STADT, it caused the complete loss of the theater portion of the building, and Capt. Pabst, who, when he was wired the news while vacationing in Germany, did reply: "Rebuild at once." This message came to Otto Strack, and thus the PABST THEATER was born upon its lineal predecessors: the 1871 Nunnemacher GRAND OPERA HOUSE, and also upon the 1890 NEW STADT THEATER. The PABST might thus calculate its origin as dating from the GRAND OPERA HOUSE in 1871, a total of 119 years up to now. That is 43,435 possible days for performances; even a fraction of these would be an impressive record of virtually every name of importance in the history of both American and German drama and theater in the United States. Perhaps only the NATIONAL THEATRE in Washington, D.C. has a longer lineage on the same site of dramatic performances not interrupted by years of operation as a movie house. According to the Directory of Historic American Theatres (1985, League of American Theaters, Washington, D.C.) only three theatres in the U.S. have a longer history than the PABST in presenting continuous live performances on the same site without movies in a structure built as a true theater, and they are all in Pennsylvania. There are, of course, many older theaters than the PABST, but most of those extant have been converted to movies or other uses. For the PABST to be the fifth oldest continuous performing theater site (the first oldest in terms of German language theater) in the U.S. is no small claim to fame.


        The Captain's generosity was severely tested twice since 1890, but now he was going to have a theater according to his design and therefore worthy of bearing his name to posterity. Otto Strack, the German-born architect attached to the Pabst Brewery had never designed a theater from scratch, but he proved himself more than equal to the task. After the fire, he took a quick trip to see other American theaters and combined his ideas from them with his knowledge of European theaters he had studied long ago. The local newspaper articles on and about the opening day of the PABST (Saturday, Nov. 9th, 1895) were unusually detailed and clearly revealed Herr Strack's objectives:

FIRSTLY: (for obvious reasons!) A totally fire proof theater without any gas service to avoid any open flames. (Electric light was now becoming wide spread due to rapid developments, even if the generators of the day were still somewhat undependable.) There were even 20 exits with little oil lamps enclosed inside distinctive EXIT lights just in case both of the generators failed.

SECONDLY: An acoustically excellent structure of the required size essentially upon the old Nunnemacher GRAND OPERA HOUSE foundation limits. This saved expense and time and still allowed a capacious theater once the old drug store portion of the Nunnemacher block (one bay) was absorbed for the new upper and lower lobbies.

THIRDLY: A state-of-the-art stage house to accept the flying of drops and other rigging from prime touring groups. The two motorized lifts extending the width of the stage were indeed revolutionary, with each lift having several traps in it. The author of the 1961 book: The Best Remaining Seats, Ben M. Hall, gives 1920s stage mechanic Jack Partington the credit for inventing stage lifts for movie palaces; it appears that Otto Strack proceeded him by almost 30 years! The large pipe organ was the fourth one to be installed in an American theater, and it was one of the very first electric ones, at that! The PABST was only the second theater in the country to use a motorized organ blower. Did any other theaters of the day have two fly galleries, a freight elevator from basement to above the gridiron and two painter's adjustable bridges as well? These, and the unique Knickelbein Rigging System will be described in more detail elsewhere herein.

FOURTHLY: A gorgeous and lavishly decorated theater that would be a credit to the decorative as well as the performing arts. The provisions for audience comfort included not only plush, spring seats which both reclined and returned to "seat-up" position, but a pioneering total "air conditioning system" unknown in any other theater. It not only heated the air, but washed it in dense water sprays and blew it through ornamental grilles down to the first under seat ventilators ("mushrooms") in any theater – a practice described as perfectly new in the 1927 book: American Theaters of Today where they give architects this "new" system which, unknown to them, quiet Otto Strack had developed in Milwaukee a mere 32 years before! As if this were not enough, the PABST was very likely the first air-cooled theater in the U.S. if not the world! Evidently there wasn't time to finish the ice cooling system in 1895, because the PABST's program of June 29, 1908 has this item:


        With the coming of real summer weather the management has placed in operation again the device, which makes the Pabst Theater the coolest playhouse in the world. Hundreds of tons of ice now fill the reservoirs in the dome of the building and the air, which is swept over it by huge electric fans, is forced through pipes to every part of the playhouse, making a delightfully cool temperature that patrons have been quick to show their appreciation of. This cooling device is operated from the electrician's room and less than an hour's notice is required to give the theater a most refreshing temperature.
The ornamentation in the auditorium and lobby is all of gold leaf carefully antiqued into so many forms from the more sweet motifs of the Baroque and Victorian as to constitute a lexicon of this age-old art. The photographs further on are labeled to show just what an educational and beautiful theme prevails.
        Otto Strack's accomplishment was very well received and the newspapers of the day were even more enthusiastic than is usual for such occasions. It must have been hard to keep the usual journalistic detachment in a structure as obviously exceptional as the PABST – and it was not in New York or even Chicago, but their own hometown out in the hinterlands. Herr Strack went on to design many more buildings including a "sky scraper" in New York City and a special pipe organ factory (one suspects that pipe organs were his first love.)
        Many a celebrity found the PABST just perfect and the famous theater duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (who lived about 40 miles outside of Milwaukee on their estate in a little town called Genesee Depot) often opened and closed their touring season at their favorite theater, the PABST. Mr. Lunt is quoted in a letter reproduced herein regarding the PABST: “…It is truly unique in the theaters of this country."
        This uniqueness did not spare it from the ravages of time, of course, and the generation that founded it passed away; the "generation perspective" is such that each thinks only those things built in their time are really modern and therefore worthwhile. By the 1920’s the times were quite different, and a new breed of lavish theater threatened the survival of such "dowagers" as the PABST – movie palaces, most far larger than the PABST. While the PABST could and did show movies on special occasions, it was not designed as a movie house and, fortunately, it never became one. But it was still necessary for the theater to be bright and attractive enough to compete and some of the movie palaces (such as the presentation houses like the RIVERSIDE) were larger and far newer than the PABST and capable of stealing some of attractions with a larger and better-equipped venue. This competition factor is no doubt what brought the remodeling of 1928 to the PABST by Milwaukee movie palace architects Dick & Bauer.
        As the enclosed H.A.B.S. annotated paper relates, the theater was primarily rehabbed in a technical and utility sense, not in a decorative one. The exterior in fact, was so little changed that they had to put up a 2-story electric vertical sign reading "PABST" a la the movie palaces, simply to reassure people that the theater had been re-vitalized to keep up with the times! The theater lost its boxes (no real loss in some ways) but aside from this it differed little from what it was before the remodeling. The lobby staircase was aligned along the wall to increase circulating space after the overflow provided by the doors into the attached cafe had been eliminated back in 1912 (and movie palaces had giant comfortable lobbies!) The color scheme was new and of a cool palette to contrast with the original gold and reds.
        The theater continued in this traditional pattern of mixed uses until the 1960's, having periodic refurbishments with new colors and fabrics – the things that wear rapidly in the public eye. The grandson of the Captain didn't build the theater and in 1953 he sold it to a foundation, which appreciated it far more. They operated it under leased management until 1960 when they found it difficult to compete with their again fading jewel against television, professional large scale sporting events, a reduction in the quantity of touring companies, and movies. The city bought the theater and again leased it to others, but the times were still changing; it was the "now" generation, and Rock 'N' Roll was born. The PABSTS’s again fading grandeur was sadly out of step. The city had many other things to attend to and the PABST found itself far down the list. With the new mayor in 1960, Henry Maier, the PABST had found a new champion. The previous administration had not been as attuned to cultural matters, but Mr. Maier realized that the new Performing Arts Center, soon to be completed only a block from the PABST on a choice river side spot of land with its own parking structure (the PABST never had one!), would not be all things to all people. It would now become the new premier venue for symphony, opera, and large shows when it opened in 1969. The PABST therefore should be, he felt, a sort of "People's Theater", a poor man's version of the larger P.A.C. suited to smaller events heretofore resigned to the few dingy stages still in town. There was talk of school groups and even sidewalk theater working out of the PABST.
        At the same time, people began to realize that the PABST could be a compliment to both the city and the new P.A.C. Experts in theater had stated the need for the beautiful PABST even back in the 1950's when the P.A.C. (or New Music Hall) was being planned. Suddenly people like the mayor, who had long taken Milwaukee's gracious and gorgeous 19th century architecture for granted, were noticing our architectural heritage disappearing right and left. The new expressway system by itself accounted for the loss of over 1,000 buildings and dwellings! Now the mayor saw it not only taking people and jobs out of his city to the "iron ring of suburbs," but also its destruction of much of the graceful pattern of this humble city. People started waking up. Studies were done. Newspapers carried articles on the PABST's heritage (unknown to the far younger populace of the nascent baby boom generation and most of their parents) and letters were published decrying our destruction of our heritage. The PABST was a venerable dowager after all and could indeed be preserved and become vital again!
        The rest, as they say, is history. With local landmark status and recognition through H.A.B.S. and the combined funds then available, the early 1970s restoration was soon underway. Back again was the opulent, gilded color scheme in a city with only a few badly faded gilded movie palaces yet hanging on. Back came the soft carpets and new draperies, crystal chandelier and sconces, and even the now imperative Freon air conditioning. We even saw again for the first time in over 40 years, the golden lyre and flaming urns glittering in the sunlight upon the PABST's roofline. Milwaukee was proud in September 1976 at the heavily attended Grand Re-Opening, and justly so. They learned that few other cities could boast such a jewel, as testimonials poured in from those elsewhere who had seen the PABST and rejoiced at her re-birth. The Bicentennial Commission had even declared the PABST an official Bicentennial event. The Theater Historical Society saw this too and did a long article on her in their Marquee magazine. The league of Historic American Theaters honored her by staging one of their national conventions there, as had other organizations.
        Unfortunately, the 1970's restoration didn't have funds for everything. The plaster dome remains un-adorned. The carved furniture of the "gilded age" had disappeared or broken long ago and there was no money to re-fill the empty lobbies. There wasn't even enough for an elevator up to the 3rd and 4th floor offices, a fact recalled for every worker there every day, as well as to the "gallery gods" – those hearty souls who traipse up fourteen flights of steps to reach that aerie with its truly unique seats and a spectacular view!


        The PABST is not the largest theater in the U.S., and there may be a few more ornamental; but few if any can match its combination of distinctions as described more fully elsewhere herein.

TIME: Even if its heritage is seen only from 1895 rather than its direct predecessors origin in 1871 (The Grand Opera House of Jacob Nunnemacher) it is still a century of glory. It was dark for longer periods only in the 1960's and never for entire seasons.

PERFORMANCES: Not only did it host virtually every English-speaking performer or lecturer of every description, it also did this for the German as well. We have recently found evidence that German language occasions continued well into the 1960's.

FEATURES: To have started out as early as 1895 with the technical features listed herein is a claim to fame for any theater – and today it is again state-of-the-art, but with a great recall of early times as with the preserved and still used Knickelbein Rigging System. Why, the old PABST even had one of the first fire curtains in this country, and its was far superior to the often-failing asbestos ones then in use (the PABST's was of steel wire net supporting a hard fire clay – this heavy structure would not billow out into the auditorium under pressure from fire wind as did many tragic asbestos failures!) And there is little doubt that it was the first electrically operated one!

BEAUTY: The photos herein speak for themselves. The ornamentation and proportions are exquisite and the resulting feeling of intimacy is something precious.



        After the PABST was declared a local historic landmark by the Milwaukee Landmarks Commission in 1967 (primarily as a result of Milwaukee alderman Rod Lanser's April, 1967 solicitation of the viewpoints about the PABST from 24 prominent people together with his May, 5, 1967 illustrated presentation before the Landmarks Commission THE PABST THEATER, a 12-page document with exhibits) civic awareness of the possible value and opportunity to preserve the PABST from planned demolition started to grow and the then mayor. Henry Maier, whose portrait hangs in the PABST today, saw the need to apply to the Federal government for listing of the PABST on the HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY. He had long felt that the 1895 PABST, directly across the street from the 1895 city hall, was important to preserving the physical evidence of the more gracious Old World heritage of Milwaukee. With local designation obtained, it was not difficult to interest the Pabst Brewing Company to make an investment in preserving its namesake theater. If the Federal agencies of the time could be persuaded of the merit of the PABST, they might contribute to its salvation in concert with local contributions. With the acceptance of the PABST for listing on the H.A.B.S., the way was open for the final accumulation of the minimum 2 1/2 million dollars necessary for more than a mere cosmetic restoration of the theater. These few words do not reflect the considerable difficulty and effort of many people in organizing this noble effort, but we can rejoice that they did succeed at last and the PABST THEATER stands today very like it was almost a century ago, recalling Old World graciousness to a city once known as the "German-Athens" of America.
        The recognition by the Historic American Buildings Survey was certainly due and well merited by the PABST, but that honor did not actually declare the theater a landmark, a coveted designation that many felt the theater fully deserved. In this country, mere designation does not guarantee the financial success or even the survival of a landmark; it is up to the concerned community to back each landmark with funds in order that it may survive in a condition that recommends it. The H.A.B.S. recognition brought some vital assistance to the PABST from those who might have sent their funds elsewhere, and National Landmark designation of the PABST might give the venerable theater more than the national stature it deserves; it might help draw support to the theater now after the echoes of the acclaim of 20 years ago have faded. It would be nice if people remembered that even landmarks must "eat" and receive income sufficient to do more than merely wage the battle against decay; they must receive sufficient to grow at a sustained rate, lest they become mere museums, a role to which theaters are not well suited. The PABST is certainly still vital in Milwaukee and well regarded even if the city, which owns it, finds it increasingly difficult to divert funds from tragically needed social programs and services to the upkeep of this, one of its buildings. Of course, the PABST is not unique in this situation, as arts facilities throughout the nation face ever increasing costs, with governments perhaps willing but quite unable to continue their previous support. If decisions must be made by those with funds as to, which of many applicants are most worthy, it is vital that we publicly identify those institutions, which have the greatest combination of historic and contemporary value.
        The foregoing introduction to the H.A.B.S. paper shows the why and wherefore of it and why it is germane to this exposition and the Landmarks people at the National Park Service. Therefore, perhaps the best way to acquaint you, the reader, with the changing nature of the PABST, is to quote directly from the excellent 17-page Application Paper for Listing on the Historic American Buildings Survey of the PABST THEATER, completed in October of 1970 by Mr. John Thiel and Miss Mary Ellen Wietczykowski. This will give an idea of the nature of the building after its 1928 remodeling (and subsequent refurbishments) as contrasted with the post-1975/6 restoration in which the theater appears today. Coupled to this will be clearly added notations; showing just how little the theater has changed in a historic sense in nearly a century. Even the 1928 remodeling really affected the visual aspect of the theater in only two significant ways: (1) The replacement of the auditorium chandelier (an elaborate and dazzling blend of incandescent and carbon arc lights inside a veil of crystals) with a lovely art glass disc fixture, and, (2) the removal of the original box seats to form the magnificent gilded grille work proscenium arch and flanking organ screens of today. The original white marble foyer grand staircase was also re-aligned along the east wall, but its materials remain the same. The art glass disc that replaced the chandelier in 1928 has itself been replaced during the 1975 restoration with another crystal chandelier.
        While the enclosed beautiful brochure from Conrad Schmitt Studios (the 1928 and 1975/6 decorators) describes the 1928 remodeling as "Art Deco", there can be no doubt that it was never really that. The proscenium was again Baroque in flavor and only the ceiling fixture could remotely resemble Art Deco. The PABST remained essentially as in 1895! A new color scheme at that time was the most obvious change then; the colors are now returned to original.

1-A-3 Otto Strack was indeed influenced by Adier and Sullivan who were retained by Capt. Pabst to remodel the Nunnemacher Grand Opera House into the NEW STADT THEATER in 1890. As is made clear by both the Sept. 17, 1890 Inaugural Programme of the NEW STADT (preserved in the PABST'S library) as well as the 1990 book: Dankmar Adier: His Theaters and Auditoriums (by Charles F. Gregerson, Ohio University Press, 1990) Adier & Sullivan did prepare plans to remodel the GRAND OPERA HOUSE into a radically different design with only six boxes and a "Sullivanesque" artistic treatment. Evidently the design provided just too few Boxes and was artistically too radical to these European born German-speaking Milwaukeeans who were used to the lavish ornamentation of Europe. The spare Art Nouveau-inspired design of Sullivan was evidently more than they could take; Capt. Pabst subsequently hired Herr Carl G. Hoffmann, a Milwaukee architect born in Germany, to adapt the Adier & Sullivan design. His adaptation of their design did pay respect to the famous "acoustic curve" principle of Dankmar Adier by retaining the multiple radii of the so-called "sounding board" between the proscenium arch and the related maximum height of the ceiling. But Herr Hoffmann also followed Capt. Pabst's instructions to create more boxes – a thing Adier had refused to do for acoustic reasons. Time proved Adier right. Two years later Otto Strack was asked by Capt. Pabst to completely re-design the 12 boxes that had terrible sight lines and odd echoes. Herr Strack had done the engravings of the interior and exterior of the NEW STADT in its Inaugural Programme, so he was well acquainted with its design (he had been asked in 1890 to make preliminary sketches to convert the GRAND OPERA HOUSE of 1871 into the NEW STADT, but, for some reason, the job was given to Adier & Sullivan who had just astounded the theatrical world with their monumental Chicago AUDITORIUM THEATER the year before.) Otto Strack returned the angle of the proscenium's splays to that set by Adier, and reduced the box count to eight. This was evidently the most he could do for this building. Unknown to him at the time, a fire would come in 1895 and provide him the opportunity to do exactly as he wished in a new building: The PABST.
        Regarding the matter of these boxes, it is interesting to note that during the 1928 remodeling they were all removed -and not because the PABST was to become a movie theater – it wasn't. There is a theory that the new design abjured boxes because they supposedly reflected the elitist ideas of royalty and the nobility that were then, in 1928, anathema to the Socialist sentiment prevalent in Milwaukee. The city's famous mayor at the time, Daniel W. Hoan, was a noted Socialist as were many of the Common Council and this idealism continued until our last Socialist mayor, Carl Zeidler, left office in 1960. Socialism was one of the factors causing Milwaukee's renown clean government and high class social services, but who would have guessed it was responsible for "Socializing" the reserved-for-generations box seat holders? Ironically, the restoration of these boxes is now being considered if funds can be found. (Insufficient funds in 1976 precluded a number of desirable items for that restoration.)

I-4 This large pipe organ was distinctive in at least two ways; see the pipe organ chapter further on

I-6-A These machines were removed in the 1976 restoration and the room is now the electronic light control.

I-6-B-6 All fabrics and colors of this 1928 remodeling were removed in 1976, if they still survived.

I-6-C This was not to convert the theater to a movie house – that never happened; it was merely to satisfy requirements of the updated building code which required fireproof, automatically sealed and ventilated projection booths. The film machines were used to illustrate occasional travelogues and the like.

I-6-D Because Milwaukee's downtown grew up at the confluence of three rivers (the-name "Milwaukee" is thought to be an Indian term meaning "gathering of the waters" or "meeting place at the waters," and it did have two resident Indian villages until 1835) – the Milwaukee, The Menomonee, and the Kinnickinnic (plus countless creeks) – the area was once a huge swamp with wild rice and tamarack groves which was slowly filled in. The ground water level was therefore very high, requiring the use of pilings to support multi-story buildings. As these pilings rot, the walls sag and constant work on these foundations is therefore common to almost all downtown buildings – many of which have basement pumps to force water down among the pilings if the water level should drop – which would eventually cause the pilings to shatter if they dried.

I-6-E-(ff) All of the 1961 refurbishing was removed in 1976; custom carpeting now exists in all public areas.

II-B-4 This is what is erroneously referred to as the "Portico" in most early accounts; canopy is probably the best term.

II-B-5 There are no chimneys because the building was originally heated by steam from the Pabst Brewery plant and later from the city steam system.

II-B-6 This basement entry was removed in 1976.

II-B-6-b This window and adjacent door were removed when the new stone and brick curtain wall was constructed to cover the exposed firewall that used to separate the theater from the Pabst Theater office building. This common brick wall was quite rough and unpainted for almost 40 years after the 1935 demolition of the attached office building.

C-l-B The checkroom was removed with the construction of a connecting New Grand Lobby to the 1988 Theater District Buildings to the north where the noted Martini's restaurant and dwellings had once been.

C-3-J Removed in 1976.

C-4-B 1,2,3 All tile removed and replaced with fine carpet.

C-4-c,d All tile removed.

C-6-B The leather-covered doors were replaced with wooden ones to match those originally installed.


        From November 9th, 1895 to November 9th 1990, the PABST Theater has seen 33,998 days of life and if only 1/3 of those days saw use there would still be a total of at least 11,457 performances if there were never more than one event per day. This cumbersome total explains why it is not practical to enclose a complete chronology of every event at this landmark theater in nearly 100 years of use, but the following brief listing and a small sampling of the printed programs as photocopied here, will give one an idea of the breadth and depth of scope of the theater's work. While the relatively small size of the PABST'S building has usually prevented it from being a production facility for large groups, it has proven more than adequate as a host location for a great variety of programs.
        It is a pity that no Milwaukee newspapers are indexed for those 34,000 days would no doubt reflect in the daily papers the full range of both resident and foreign visiting artists in every form of entertainment imaginable. If such an Index were compiled it would direct us to reviews of the thousands of glittering evenings and matinees when everything from Grand Opera to Symphony concerts, to: solo recitals, group recitals, Shakespearean drama, contemporary drama, musical comedies, farces galore, public discourses, amateur recitals. Temperance and Suffragette lectures, magic acts, dog acts, vaudeville revivals, pipe organ concerts, high school and university graduations, college drama groups, political caucuses, marching bands in concert, recording sessions, travelogues illustrated by film and narrated in person, puppet shows, dance acts, and learned discourses in a variety of languages and for every conceivable purpose, as well as many varied private rentals have graced the PABST.


        In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin became the leading German language theater in the United States. Milwaukee, which had come to be known as the "German Athens of the West" had the largest German speaking population of any American city, thus it was only natural that its German language theater would be preeminent amongst its peers.
        But the Pabst Theater, which opened on November 9, 1895, was more than the home of Milwaukee's German theater company. It was the leading theater in Milwaukee and one of the finest theaters in the United States. As such, it became a focal point for the performing arts in Wisconsin and an important venue for leading national and international artists.
        An example of this prominence was the position of the Pabst Theater as the center of musical activity in the area. Not only was the Pabst Theater the home of Milwaukee's leading orchestra under the baton of Christopher Bach (the Pabst Theater's opening night program began with Bach's orchestra playing the Pabst Theater March which had been composed by the conductor especially for the occasion), but it was also the home for the Chicago Orchestra (later known as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) which performed a season of concerts in Milwaukee each year from 1891 to 1986.
        The Chicago Orchestra first appeared at the Pabst on December 17, 1896 and continued its concerts there for 73 years. These concerts were sponsored by the Milwaukee Orchestral Association which counted among its members many of the leading names in Milwaukee's history – Vogel, Reuss, Ott, Pritzlaff, Uihiein, Allis, and, of course, Pabst.
        It was members of this organization who, in turn, formed the Pabst Theater Foundation, Inc. in 1953 and purchased the theater from Fred Pabst, Sr. and Pabst Brewing in order to preserve the theater as a venue for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This Foundation continued ownership of the theater until the City of Milwaukee purchased the Pabst in 1961.
        During its 73-year residency at the Pabst Theater, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) featured many famous soloists including Vladimir Horowitz, Lauritz Melchior, Yehudi Menuhin, Pablo Casals, and Richard Strauss. The roll call of conductors was an illustrious "who's who" which included Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelik, Fritz Reiner, and Sir Georg Soiti along with guest conductors Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Thomas Beecham, George Szell, Leopold Stokowski, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, and Carlo Maria Giulini, among others. In 1951, a young conductor by the name of Leonard Bernstein created a stir with his exciting and flamboyant performance.
        A number of noted composers conducted their own works in the Pabst Theater including Ottorino Respighi, Igor Stravinsky, and Aaron Copland.
        In addition to the ranks of famous musicians that the CSO brought to the Pabst, the Symphony also honored the theater by premiering a number of orchestral works, including the world premier of Samuel Barber's Souvenirs in 1953.
        The CSO conducted auditions and contests in Milwaukee taking young musicians into the orchestra and, from time-to-time, featuring talented prizewinners as soloists. A review from one such concert in 1940, reported that the young keyboard artist “ . . .[displayed] a very considerable gift for brilliant pianism. His tone was excellent and his musical sense impressive." The boy at the keyboard was Walter Liberace, later known simply as Liberace.
        A local society, The Arion Music Club, also called the Pabst Theater home. Comprised of citizens interested in performance, the Club put on regular concerts, which often included guest artists. In their appearance of November 27, 1906, the soloist was Madame Schumann-Heink, the internationally renowned contralto. Not only did the Club perform, it also acted as a "presenter" hosting concerts such as the New York Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch. The Arion Music Club, founded in 1877, came to an end in 1978 after 101 seasons.
        The Arion Music Club was not the only local musical society. There were many such organizations, including the Milwaukee A Capella Choir (which sang a large, German language repertoire), the Milwaukee Musical Society, and the Lyric Glee Club, among others. These organizations used the Pabst Theater as their performance hall whenever possible due to the fact that the Pabst was the most prominent theater in the city.
        The Pabst, with its excellent acoustics, was ideal for virtually all forms of music, not the least of which was opera. Just as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed an annual season at the Pabst, so, too, did the Chicago Grand Opera Company. In addition, the Castle Square Opera Company performed annually for four weeks each year, and there were regular tours by such ensembles as the San Carlo Grand Opera Company and the German Grand Opera Company under the direction of Sol Hurok. Among the immortals of the operatic world who appeared at the Pabst was the world's greatest tenor, Enrico Caruso.
        While the theater was ideally suited to classical music, it served equally well for lighter fare. John Philip Sousa led his band in march music, Ethel Merman belted Broadway show tunes, and Marlene Dietrich sang her incomparable cabaret songs in the venerable Pabst Theater.
        While there were not the regular "seasons" of dance performance as there were concert seasons with the CSO and Grand Opera, many of the greatest talents in the world danced on the Pabst stage. In the teens and twenties, Anna Pavlowa appeared at the Pabst, as did the Pavley-Oukrainsky Russian Ballet, founded by two of Pavlowa's contemporaries from the Imperial Russian Ballet. Later, the Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo, featuring another famous prima ballerina, Alexandra Danilova, was to become a staple of the Pabst Theater's dance offerings.
        During the mid and late twenties, an entirely different form of dance became popular under the energetic direction of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn who were revolutionizing dance. The Denishawn Dancers, as their company came to be known, were an annual attraction at the Pabst.
        Another trend setting pair, Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith brought their formative Ballet Theater to the Pabst two decades later, continuing the theater's position as a presenter of young, up and coming dance companies.
        Because the Pabst Theater was such an acoustical and visual gem, both artists and audiences flocked to its auditorium. The Pabst Theater management, from the moment the theater opened its doors, actively booked the hall, bringing in a wide range of performing artists to compliment their own German language productions.
        The first manager, Leon Wachsner, not only ran the German stock company, but also was the theater's first booking manager. He was followed by Margaret Rice during the twenties and thirties and Myra Peache during the forties and fifties. In addition to the theaters own bookings, outside concert series were booked into the Pabst by such organizations as the Marion Andrews Concert Bureau. The wealth of talent that these managers brought to the Pabst made it the artistic and social center of the City and the State.
        The artists which these managers brought to the Pabst read like a history of the performing arts: Oscar Wilde, Florenz Ziegfield, Arturo Toscanini, John Drew, Sergei Rachmaninoff, George M. Cohan, Sir Laurence Olivier, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Isadora Duncan, Paul Robeson... to name just a few.
        Nor was the theater used exclusively for the arts. Burton Holmes' popular travel series was an annual occurrence. Both public and private events ranging from church services to political rallies took place in the Pabst, confirming that the theater was also a town hall. In the early twenties, a number of secret, Ku Klux Klan meetings took place in the theater's offices, while the thirties saw the advent of German-American Bund rallies at the Pabst. While such unpleasant events may be deplorable, they accurately reflect the past and some of this nation's painful history. But the Pabst Theater's main role was as a performance space enriching the city and the nation. While its most important tenant was the German Stock Company for which the theater had been built the Pabst also saw ever increasing use for English language theater.
        Not only was the Pabst a multi-lingual theater, but its influence on the American stage was profound. As the leading German language theater in the United States, the Pabst's German Stock Company helped introduce theatrical realism in the United States.
        The realistic style which had become popular in Berlin and other centers of the German stage revolutionized the highly stylized drama that was prevalent elsewhere. The influence of German realism was most profound in the United States where new ideas were accepted with enthusiasm. While there is no way of accurately measuring the influence the Pabst Theater had on American Theater, as the leading German stage in the U.S., it did help to shape American stagecraft.
        The Pabst also played an important role in keeping theater in this country free and independent of monopolistic interests. In 1896, a Theatrical Syndicate was formed in order to achieve a monopoly. "Six men were involved in the operation: Samuel F. Nirdlinger and J. Frederick Zimmerman, theater managers of Philadelphia; Al Hayman and Charles Frohman, owners of the Empire Theater in New York; and Marc Klaw and Abraham L. Erianger, New York booking agents. Moving swiftly and with shrewd calculation, they succeeded in obtaining control of most of the theaters in America, and thereupon forced actors and rival managers to accept their terms and their booking arrangements."
        The Pabst Theater was one of the few theaters that held out against the Theatrical Syndicate. Led by a young producer by the name of David Belasco and one of America's favorite actresses, Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske, a group of independent actors working in non-Syndicate theaters like the Pabst were able to weaken the Syndicate until, with the entrance into the fight of the three Shubert brothers, the monopoly was broken once and for all.
        The Pabst was an ideal setting for both legitimate theater and musical comedy, and was visited by many of the road companies originating in New York. One group, in particular, the Washington Square Players proved to be a valuable visitor to the Pabst, for they were the genesis of one of the most significant theater groups in American history, the Theater Guild.
        Founded in December of 1918, the Theater Guild was to prove one of the longest-lived theatrical producing groups in the United States. Their productions traveled throughout the country, establishing regular theater seasons in 30 cities with a total subscriber base of 200,000 by the late forties. In Milwaukee, Theater Guild shows always played the Pabst Theater.
        In 1919, the same year that the Guild produced their first play, a young actor appeared on Broadway in Booth Tarkington's Clarence: Alfred Lunt. He and his wife, Lynn Fontanne, were to become America's most revered stage couple, Lunt and Fontanne or, simply, the Lunts. They often starred in Theater Guild productions and were box office hits both on Broadway and on the road.
        The Lunts lived in a small town, Genesee Depot, outside of Milwaukee. Their home theater was the Pabst, and they often started or ended their tours at the Pabst. Thus, while the Pabst Theater was the home of one of the finest German language theater companies, it also became the home of one of the most famous acting couples in American stage history.
        One of the most important aspects of the Pabst Theater's record of performances is the fact that now, 95 years after the theater first opened its doors, and nearly 120 years after Jacob Nunnemacher built the first theater on the site of the Pabst, it is still an operating theater presenting the finest talents in the world of art: Isaac Stern, Yo Yo Ma, Claire Bloom, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Hal Holbrook, Dave Brubeck, Eliot Feld Ballet, Philip Glass.
        It is difficult to tell which talents will survive the critical test of time. But the Pabst Theater will continue to be one of those rare and enduring centers where people come to listen, learn, and dream.
        As the world-renowned violinist, Isaac Stern, said of the Pabst: "[It is] a brilliant success aesthetically… acoustically the hall is a welcoming venue that embraces the visiting artist in a most wonderful way. I cannot tell you how few auditoriums there are to which one looks forward with such anticipation. All those involved in the rebuilding, the restoration, and the care of the Pabst Theater should take great pride in their accomplishment. You will all be applauded by the continuing string of artists that come to visit and perform."

A History of the American Stage by Glenn Hughes

        From a letter to the Pabst Theater, January 2, 1990

        The following listing is but a sample of some of the more famous names to have appeared on our stage, listed in no particular order:

Alexander Woolcott
Alfred Lunt
Alia Nazimova
Alice Brady
Ambassador, George F. Kennan
Anna Held
Anna Pavlova
Anthony Newley
Art Carney
Arturo Toscanini
Avon Long
Barbara Bel Geddes
Basil Rathbone
Bea Lillie
Bernadette Peters
Bill (Bo jangles) Robinson
Billie Burke
Blanche Bates
Bobby Dark
Brian Aherne
Bruno Walter
Burgess Meredith
Burl Ives
Carol Channing
Cathleen Nesbitt
Celeste Holm
Charles Boyer
Charles Laughton
Charlie Winninger
Charlotte Greenwood
Christopher Fry
Claude Rains
Clifford Odets
Clifton Webb
Clifton Webb
Cole Porter
Conrad Nagel
Constance Bennett
Cornelia Otis Skinner
Dame Edith Evans
David Belasco
David Warfield
David Warfield
David Wayne
Dick Van Dyke
Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Gish
E.G. Marshall
Ed Begley
Ed Wynn
Eddie Foy
Edmund Gwenn
Edward Everett Horton
Edward G. Robinson
Efrem Zimbalist
Elenora Duse
Elia Kazan
Ellen Terry
Elsie Janis
Enrico Caruso
Ernlyn Williams
Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Waters
Ethel Merman
Etta Motten
Eugene Leontovich
Eva Le Gallienne
Eva Tanguay
Evelyn Nesbit
Ezio Pinza
Fannie Brice
Fay Templeton
Feodor Chaliapin
Flora Robson
Florence Reed
Frederick Stock
Fredric March
Fritz Kreisler
Fritz Reiner
Gene Hackman
Gene Lockhart
George Arliss
George Balanchine
George Bernard Shaw
George M. Cohan
Geraldine Farrar
Gertrude Lawrence
Grace George
Grace Moore
Gregor Piatigorsky
Gustate Mahler
Gypsey Rose Lee
H.B. Warner
Hal Holbrook
Harrison Ford
Harry Lauder
Helen Hayes
Henry Hull
Herschel Bernardi
Howard Lindsay
Hume Cronyn
iEyril Ritchard
Ilka Chase
Imogene Cocoa
Ina Claire
Irving Berlin
Isaac Stern
Isadora Duncan
Jack Carson
Jacki Cooper
Jacob Ben-ami
James Coco
James Earl Jones
Jan Paderewski
Jane Cowl
Jascha Heifetz
Jeanne Eagels
Jerome Kern
Jessica Dragonette
Jessica Tandy
Jimmy Durante
Joel Grey
Johann Schiller
John Barrymore
John Carradine
John Charles Thomas
John Drew
John Philip Sousa
Jose Ferrer
Joseph Schildkraut
Judith Anderson
Judy Holliday
Julia Marlowe
Julia Sanderson
Julie Harris
June Lockhart
June Walker
Katherine Cornell
Katherine Hepbum
Kirn Hunter
Laura Hope Crews
Lauritz Melchoir
Lawrence Tibbett
Lee J. Cobb
Lee Strasberg
Lena Horn
Leo Carillo
Leon Errol
Leopold Stokowski
Leslie Howard
Lewis Stone
Lilli Palmer
Lillian Gish
Lillian Hellman
Lillian Kussell
Lily Langtry
Lily Pons
Lionel Atwood
Lionel Barrymore
Liza Minnelli
Lotte Lehmann
Lotte Lenya
Louis Calhern
Luther Adier
Lynn Fontanne
Madame Schuman He ink
Marc Connelly
Marcel Marceau
Margaret Anglin
Margaret Leighton
Margaret Sullavan
Margot Fonteyn
Margret Hamilton
Marian Anderson
Marie Dressier
Marilyn Miller
Marjorie Rambeau
Marlene Dietrich
Martin Sheen
Mary Bo land
Mary Mannering
Mary Martin
Maude Adams
Maurice Barrymore
Maurice Evans
May Irwin
May Robson
Minnie Maddern Fiske
Miriam Hopkins
Montgomery Clift
Myra Hess
Myrna Loy
Noel Coward
Nora Bayes
Oscar Levant
Oscar Wilde
Otis Skinner
Otto Kruger
Pablo Casals
Pat O'Brien
Patty Duke
Paul Douglas
Paul Henried
Paul Muni
Paul Muni
Paul Robson
Pauline Lord
Peggy Wood
Peter Ustinov
Philip Merivale
Phillip Merivale
Ralph Bellamy
Ray Bolger
Raymond Massey
Renata Tebaldi
Richard Mansfield
Richard Tucker
Robert Benchley
Robert Duval
Robert Preston
Robert Sherwood
Roland Young
Roland Young
Rosa Ponselle
Ruby Dee
Ruby Keeler
Rudolf Frimi
Ruth Chatterton
Ruth Gordon
Sam Levene
Sandy Dennis
Sara Allgood
Sarah Bernhardt
Shirley Booth
Sidney Greenstreet
Sigmund Romberg
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Sir John Gielgud
Sir Laurence Olivier
Sir Thomas Beecham
Sydney Blackmer
T.S. Eliot
Tallulah Bankhead
Theodore Bikel
Thomas Mitchell
Thorton Wilder
Tony Randall
Usa Hagen
Van Clibum
Vaslau Nijinski
Victor Herbert
Victor Jory
Vincent Price
Viveca Lindfors
Vladimir Horowitz
W.C. Fields
Walter Damrosch
Walter Huston
Walter Pidgeon
Walter Slezak
Weber & Fields
William Inge
William Shatner
Yehudi Menuhin
Yul Brynner

    Also not to be forgotten are the many others who also contributed to the weal of this theater but for whom there is not room to list here their names, including those hundreds already listed in the "Plays and Performers List" of part I of this Paper of the German language performers at the PABST. Please see the reproduced programs herein for names of others.


        The builder of this theater, and its namesake, Capt. Fred Pabst was a farsighted and remarkable man in many ways. The following biography by John J. Gregory (The History of Milwaukee, Wis., Vol. 4, page 775, c. 1931, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago and Milwaukee) paints the frequent picture of the apparent ennobling effects of privation and an individual's struggle to succeed. Perhaps a boyhood spent in the rigors of a Prussian-dominated Germany was the key to the German-speaking boy being tough but adaptable to a new homeland. No doubt the custom of community and touring theater in Germany as well as the abundance of music and "Folkspiel" engendered an early and enduring love of culture in the young emigrant. In any case, we can but be thankful to the Captain and now to his grandchildren, one of whom sits upon the PABST'S board of Directors: August Uihlein Pabst, for their civic minded contribution to the progress and enrichment of Milwaukee and the Arts, and thereby also the Society of mankind.
The booklet describing Herr Pabst's mansion home is included to round out the image of the man and his family and times. With such a regard for beauty and the most modern devices in his home, it is little wonder that his namesake theater would likewise be expected to have only the very best, and they both endure to this day as a tribute to this man of vision.


        Another distinction and claim to fame has been made by the Pabst Theater for its pipe organ, an instrument of no small accomplishment. As pipe organ expert and historian David L. Junchen says in his landmark work: The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ, the PABST'S pipe organ was only the fourth such instrument to be installed in an American theatre and he quotes pioneer organ technician, Mr. William Wood who knew first hand that the PABST was the first theatre to ever install an efficient electric blower for its organ. Prior to 1895 and the PABST, both pipe and reed organs were powered – or "winded" as they say – by means of bellows driven manually [whew!!] or hydraulically by a small steam engine or even water power. The PABST being one of the very first totally electric buildings, it was only fitting that architect Otto Strack (a fine organist himself!) would require the state-of-the-art electric motor blower for his theater's large instrument.
        Not only was the blower electric, but so was the remainder of the PABST'S organ's complex "action", or control mechanisms. Prior to the PABST installation, pipe organs were a "Rube Goldberg" (but ingenious) arrangement of pneumatic levers, tubes, valves, pistons, and ratchets with pawls, which connected the air through the key console and its "stop" tabs or draw bars by means of "tracker wires" to the pipe chambers or cabinet nearby. There, the valves in the wind chests upon which the pipes sat were opened and closed by these stretched steel piano wires. One can readily imagine the limitations encountered by designers with the console literally tied to its pipes by thousands of stretched wires! With the invention of electric low voltage DC with rudimentary relays, switches, and electromagnetic valves, it was possible for the PABST'S console to be moved about as desired. Even a cable of a thousand electric wires was far more flexible than the tracker wires and pulleys arrangement. Electricity was also faster and eliminated the aggravating delay from key press to pipe sound inherent in old tracker organs. Electric power also made the use of "combination action" (or stops) far easier. This is the technique whereby even a small organ, of, say fifteen ranks (or voices) might be able to have many other sounds simply by connecting more than one rank together at one time by means of a single activated "stop" tablet switch, which then sounded the same note from a single key being depressed, from two or more ranks of pipes. It is little wonder that the famous French organist Alexandre Guilmant was one of many eager to try this state-of-the-art four manual behemoth of over forty "speaking stops" or ranks – not counting the possible permutations of its "combination stops" whether manual or preset. With the excellent acoustics of the PABST, it is as wonderful to hear the organ as an orchestra or chorus.
        By means of the PABST, the organ-building firm of FARRAND & VOTEY established their name as the then preeminent electric organ builders for theatres as well as churches, fully twenty years before such names as: MOLLER, KIMBALL, BARTON, and, of course, WURLITZER made the pipe organ famous in the movie palaces with silent film accompaniment.
        A projection room was later installed in the PABST in a place over the mezzanine lobby once used as a trunk room, so the organ may have been used to accompany Silent films in later years, but the theatre was never a regular movie house. Those projectors were removed during the 1976 restoration and the space is now the lighting control room. The enclosed exhibits also show that the PABST'S architect was prescient about organs; the PABST's was only the beginning of a distinguished career until his death in 1935 at age 78.


        The family of William R. Farrand (1854-1930) purchased the Whitney Organ Company during the 1880s while Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931) was working for the Estey Organ Company.1 Locating in Detroit, Farrand & Votey's first products were reed organs. Desiring to branch into the pipe organ business, they purchased the firm of Granville Wood and his son William D. Wood in 18902 and in 1893 they made the major purchase of the Roosevelt company.3 Several of the best Roosevelt men also joined the Farrand & Votey firm and they proceeded to build Roosevelt-style organs. One of these was the fourth organ ever installed in an American theatre, an electric action 4/43 in the Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1895. According to William D. Wood, this organ was only the second in American history to be outfitted with an electric blower.4
        Farrand & Votey were in business until 1897 when the firm divided into two companies: The Farrand Organ Company made reed organs and the Votey Organ Company made pipe organs. In 1899 the Votey Organ Company merged with the Aeolian Company. Farrand & Votey had been making residence organs for Aeolian since 1893 and Edwin Votey had become a member of the Aeolian Company's board of directors as a result of his inventions and improvements in player piano and player organ technology. In 1901 George Hutchings purchased the Votey Organ Company from Aeolian, forming the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company.5 This firm lasted until 1908 when the Votey name was dropped and the firm name was shortened to the Hutchings Organ Company.6 The Votey name surfaced for the last time in the late 1920s when Aeolian tried to branch out of the residence organ market, the name Aeolian-Votey being used for their church and theatre organs.


        Abraham B. Felgemaker (1836-1905)1 and Silas L. Derrick established an organ business in Buffalo, New York2 in 1865.3 During 1872 the Derrick & Felgemaker firm moved to Erie, Pennsylvania at the instigation of a group of investors there.4 Sometime after the move the firm name changed to A. B. Felgemaker Organ Company.5 1,289 organs were built6 before the firm went out business voluntarily in 1918,7 at which time the company assets were acquired by the Tellers Organ Company.8 Most of their organs were trackers, although a few electro-pneumatics were built shortly before the end of production.9 The company was highly respected in the industry and was the employer of a number of individuals who went on to become owners of their own firms, such as A. E. Kent (Felgemaker factory superintendent 1894-1918),10 Henry and Ignatius Tellers, W. A. Sommerhof,11 and M. P. Moller.12 This ad was a familiar sight to readers of The Diapason during the 'teens.
The Midmer-Losh presidency was assumed by Otto Strack in 1931 following Seibert Losh's departure. Strack was a wealthy architect and engineer who lived in a penthouse apartment atop a New York skyscraper he had designed and built. Seibert Losh sold Strack an organ for this apartment in 1921 and in 1925 Strack designed the new Midmcr-Losh factory building in Merrick. In his earlier days he had been chief engineer for the American Bridge Company17 and earlier still had been the architect for the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This theatre is interesting in organ history because it contained the fourth organ ever installed in an American theatre, a 4/43 Farrand & Votey.
        The Atlantic City organ was completed mechanically in mid-1932. The project had nearly, but not quite, bankrupted the Midmer-Losh company, and Senator Richards tried unsuccessfully to get a further appropriation from the city to complete the tonal finishing.18 Otto Strack died in 1935 at the age of 78, leaving control of the firm to George Losh. In 1938 Losh officially dissolved the corporation and the bank foreclosed the mortgage on their Merrick factory. Fortunately, Losh was able to rent back about one ninth of it to continue the business along with long time employees William Voris and James Light. In 1958 Mr. Losh went into partnership with James Campagnone who had joined the firm in 1953. George Losh retired in 1973 and died in 1975 at the age of 83.19,20 After the death of Mr. Campagnone the Midmer-Losh firm was acquired by W. F. Benzeno, Inc. and remains in the organ business today.21


        One of Conrad Preschley's first ads appeared in the July 1916 Diapason. Despite the fact that he continued to advertise through the late 1930s, his sales were insignificant compared to the major blower manufacturers. Theatre organ builder William Wood claimed that the second blower ever installed on an American organ was in the 1895 4/43 Farrand & Votey in the Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, installed by a Mr. Preschley.1 If this were actually Conrad Preschley, he is indeed an unsung pioneer in the annals of organ building.


        An organist in his spare time, G. Meidinger began manufacturing electric motors in 1900. He soon got an idea for applying one of his motors to power an organ, the name Meidinger eventually becoming known worldwide as a manufacturer of one of the quietest organ blowers available. According to U. P. Meidinger, grandson of the firm's founder, 200,000 Meidinger organ blowers have been built, a truly astonishing figure.1
        The firm continues today as a family-owned company. U. P. Meidinger and his brother manage the main plant in AIlschwil, Switzerland, a suburb of Basle, and an auxiliary plant in Saint-Louis, France is managed by their brother-in-law. Eighty people are employed in the Swiss plane and twenty more work at the French facility. Current products of the firm are specialty electric motors and a wide variety of air-handling machinery. Organ blower’s account for around 10% of current production.2
On the next six pages is reproduced an extremely rare Meidinger catalog, which sought American business in the early decades of this century. Meidinger sales in the United States were insignificant, however, until the 1950s.


        When the Neenah Paper Co. division of the giant Kimberly Clark Corp. was looking for a suitable stage to showcase their new line of Classic® Papers it could not have picked a better one than the PABST. In February of 1979 they approached the PABST to create the following promotional booklet:
        A Classic Theatre... The Pabst, "A classic theater on the classic papers from Neenah Paper." They could have selected far larger and more prestigious theaters such as the Metropolitan Opera, or the refurbished Radio City Music Hall, or the Kennedy Center, or even the venerable Auditorium Theater in Chicago, but they recognized the exceptional beauty and heritage of a smaller structure, the PABST, and they knew that their customers would recognize the classic similarities as well. As you notice the striking list of luminaries printed in gold on their translucent fly leaves, we think that you will agree that there could not have been a finer collaboration of "Classic" equals. The Graphic, Architectural, and Performing Arts are brought together in a mutual celebration as only the century of the PABST could create.
        Notice that they reproduced on the inside cover the noted painting by Andrew Aldredge: "Opening Night 1895", and that the last page displays one of the quaint exit lights which were the only non-electric sources in the theater (they were oil lamps – just in case both the primary and secondary DC electrical generators failed. Nothing was left to chance in the safest theater yet built.) This artistic booklet is more than a pleasant match of equals, it is a tribute to the general recognition of an American landmark.        


        This Application Paper was researched in part, written and compiled and copied and bound by free-lance writer James H. Rankin of P.O. Box 07571, Milwaukee, Wis. 53207, at the request and under the contract of the Executive Director of the PABST THEATER: Mr. Philip Procter with the authorization of the Pabst Theater Board of the City of Milwaukee.

The 4 1/2 pound Paper was sent by Express Mail to:

Jim Charleton
History Division
National Park Service
1100 L Street Room 4209
Washington, D.C. 20013-7127

...on November 24, 1990.

        Mr. Philip Procter must be given credit for the text of the 6-page portion: "PABST THEATER: A MULTI-DISCIPLINE, MULTI-CULTURAL HISTORY" as well as for that of the Calendar of Events, enclosed.
        Five copies of this Paper were made:
        One master copy (containing the original of the Wisconsin Architect issue herein) to the National Park Service
        Two copies to the PABST THEATER
        One copy to the Public Library
        One copy to the author

        Part One of the Paper was entitled: "THE PIVOTAL PLACE OF MILWAUKEE'S PABST THEATER TO THE GERMAN-AMERICAN STAGE" ; the 37-page document was bound – like this one – in the Velo Bind system. The master copy sent to the National Park Service also contained a separate Velo® bound "Play List" of approx. 300 pages listing most every German-language performance and actor from 1850 through 1935, from the Bredlow manuscript.


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