Movie Theaters in Watertown
Portions derived in part from Watertown Daily Times of 06 26 1954
1903 PALACE THEATER
First movies in Watertown were shown at the Palace Theater in 1903 by Joseph Herro of 109 Jones Street. Mr. Herro and his two brothers, George Herro, of Fort Atkinson, and Charles Herro, opened the first movie house here, located at 206 Main Street, which later housed the Meyer Shoe Store. Watertown was the third city in Wisconsin to boast a movie theatre. The first was opened in Milwaukee on Grand Avenue, now Wisconsin Avenue by Saxe Bros. The second was in northern Wisconsin, said to have been at Oshkosh, and the third was here.
03 27 THE PALACE THEATRE
The Palace Theatre is running along in the even tenor of its way, giving good little performances to fairly good crowds. The entertainment which ended last evening was exceptionally good. The three motion pictures were fine, especially "The Pirates" and that it was appreciated was evidenced in the applause. The "Airship Burglars" and "The Plank" of a comedy nature, were also very good. Then there was a good illustrated song and harp solo, with musical selections upon the piano and violin.
Tonight there will be a change of program. The illustrated song will be "From the Garden to the Cross Alone." The song as sung by Malcolm Florent is a feature, and a contrast from the mechanical phonograph selections. The gentleman has an exceptionally good voice. WL
In 1907 the Palace Theatre was changed to the Lyric and in 1908 William Dobratz opened the Victor Theatre, located at 115 North Fourth Street where the LeMacher Studio was located.
1909 THE MAJESTIC
1910 FIVE MOVIE HOUSES: Lyric, Victor, Majestic, Orpheum and Empire
In 1910 Watertown had five movie houses in operation. They were the Lyric, Victor, Majestic, Orpheum and Empire.
The Orpheum Theatre came into being here in 1910 and was operated by Si Davis, with Charles Buchalter and was located at 306 Main Street and later became the location of the Tot & Teen Shop.
In 1910 the old Concordia Opera House in North First Street became the Empire Theatre and later its name was changed to the Colonial Theatre. It is now the Elks Club. In its heyday it featured both films and vaudeville and admission rates were scaled at 10, 20 and 30 cents.
1911 FILM EXCHANGE BUSINESS
In 1911 Si Davis opened a film exchange here, first located at South Sixth and Market Street. Later he constructed the building at North Fourth and Jones Streets for his film exchange. It now houses the business of Walter Niehoff and Son. The exchange supplied and "wound" films for the growing number of theatres in this area.
In 1912 still another theatre joined the list here. It was the Princess, successor to the Lyric. It was operated at the same location and was owned by Albert Krahmer.
1913 CLASSIC OPENED
The Classic Theatre was opened here in 1913 at 310 Main Street by Willis Norton. It later became the Bonnet Shop while the Classic now utilizes its present premises and also part of the building to the rear of the Bonnet Shop.
Over the years the Classic has kept pace with all the new advances in motion picture entertainment. It introduced the first talkies in 1928, the first such production to be shown here being "The Trial of Mary Dugan" which based on a highly successful Broadway stage play.
In 1954 the Classic introduced CinemaScope, having greatly enlarged its screen and installed facilities to enable it to bring the best of modern day "big screen" entertainment to its audiences.
01 21 NABEL-WEIS WEDDING
Married. Herbert A. Weis and Miss Marguerite S. Nabel of Madison were married at Waukegan, Ills., last week Wednesday by Rev. Mr. Gangster at the Episcopal church. Clarence A. Schimmel and wife of this city attended them. The groom is one of Watertown’s popular policemen and his bride has been connected as a pianist for some time with one of our moving picture theatres. She is a most excellent young lady and both she and her husband have the well wishes of all our people in the life they have just entered. They will make their home at the Washington House. WG
03 04 ALBERT FUERMANN BUYS ORPHEUM THEATRE
Albert Fuermann has purchased the Orpheum theatre of Jerome Kostermann, who has conducted the theatre for the past two years. Mr. Fuermann will have associated with him in the management of the theatre his son “Riz,” one of the best pianists in the state. Albert and Riz will be two great drawing cards at this popular theatre. They are two of Watertown’s most excellent citizens and the Orpheum under their management will certainly be a grand success. The Gazette extends its best wishes. WG
04 08 NEW EQUIPMENT FOR THE ORPHEUM
The Orpheum theatre, for some weeks under the management of the new owner, Albert Fuermann, has been equipped with a new and very effective ventilating system, a new curtain of the most approved material, a flushing system and considerable additional seating. The additional seating was secured without the necessity of any patrons sitting closer to the curtain than formerly, as the stage was torn out and the curtain placed against the rear wall of the building. The flushing system insures a clean, sanitary floor, with a minimum of labor and expense. The janitor just “turns on the hose” from the rear. The slant in the floor extends to the rear wall, where a trough connected with the sewer receives the water and the litter, which comes down with it. The floor is now washed every morning. The new ventilating system will be greatly appreciated by the patrons, particularly with the approach of warm weather. WG
10 07 MAJESTIC THEATRE SOLD
Louis Werner and Paul Bilz, who have conducted the Majestic Theatre for some time past, have disposed of it to Fred. B. Hollenbeck, Jr., and George Mullen, two of Watertown’s best known young men, who took possession of it on October 1st. Mr. Werner will move to Milwaukee, his former home, and Mr. Bilz is undecided just what business he will engage in. The new proprietors in the near future contemplate making many fine improvements in this popular amusement place. Mr. Mullen will be on the “reception committee” at the front door to greet patrons of the house, Mr. Hollenbeck will operate the machine, Prof. Wm. J. Weber will continue to officiate at the piano at the Majestic, and Miss Sadie Smith will have charge of the ticket window, as she has for years past for Messrs. Werner & Bilz. WG
“BATTLES OF A NATION” at Majestic
Savoy Opened in 1938
The last theatre to open here was the Savoy, which was launched in August of 1938 by Milwaukee interests. It operated for some years and then closed and was taken over by the Classic Theatre management.
Recall Early Days
Oscar Baumann, the manager of the Classic and Savoy Theatres, has been in the motion picture business all his life. He recalls the early movies, which ran only a few minutes compared with modern productions. In those day admission was five cents, chairs were not fastened to the floor but were he regulation "folding type," and tickets were used over and over. After a dozen or so tickets had been sold and taken they were returned to the "box office" and sold and used again and again. Those were the days when movies were mute and the only sound in the theatres was the music made by a piano player "in the pit" and the laughter and comments of the audience. Later came colored slides and song lyrics which were flashed on the screen. A bit later came the serials, whereby two chapters of a film were shown once a week and the action was "continued." Among . the most popular of such serials were "The Million Dollar Mystery," "The Adventures of Kathleen," and "The Perils of Pauline." The comedies of the Keystone Cops, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin and a host of .others were among the most popular early films. Mary Pickford became the reigning queen and "America's Sweetheart." The first great acting team to gain international renown was that of Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bain.
First Super Production
The first truly great film production, turned out on a scale never before attempted, was "The Birth of a Nation," which the late D. W. Griffith produced. It was a story of the Civil War and caused riots in many places, but it went on to become one of the most successful film productions ever made.
Mr. Herro said that when the first movies were shown here he had to employ an acetylene projection machine since he was not able to get an electric line into his theatre. It was considered too dangerous. The projection machine stood on the floor and after each film reel was shown it had to be rewound for the showing. Later, however, he able to get the City Council to approve an electrical outlet for a machine and this was largely to the work of the late Dr. F. C. Werner who was an alderman at the time. But it required a lot of hard work to persuade the other council members to give their permission.
Purchased Church Pews
Later on the projection machines were housed in elevated booths and still later in fire-proof booths.
After several years of operation with folding chairs for the audiences to sit on Herro purchased some old church pews from what was then the First Methodist Episcopal Church and put them in his theatre. This was considered quite a step forward in theatre comfort at the time.
In the early days films often flicked outrageously. The picture "frames" -were not always in proper focus on the screen and it was hard to watch pictures for any length of time. But Joe’s brother, the late George Herro, conceived a simple device, made out of cardboard, which served to keep the "frames" in line and solved what had been a disturbing problem. One day while a salesman was in the theatre, they were discussing the problem and Joe happened to mention that his brother had solved the matter. The salesman hurried to the booth, saw the device and later went out and put it on the market. The inventor of the device was "left at the post" and no doubt lost what would have been a substantial fortune had he had the foresight to get his device on the market.
Three Programs Weekly
In the early days here theatres purchased films outright and then, after they had been shown over and over, were sold or exchanged for others from other movie houses around the state. Mr. Herro recalled that he and his brothers paid $50 per week for their films in the early days of their theatre, and that provided for three changes of program per week.
Mr. Herro has been a resident of Watertown since 1901. He is still somewhat of a movie fan, but not a rabid one and sees a film only occasionally. He also opened the first billiard parlor in Watertown in 1904, located in South Second Street, and in 1905 opened the first street popcorn stand here, at Third and Main Streets. Later he had a popcorn wagon which he drove around the city at night, led by a horse, selling popcorn to all comers.
In his business career here he was also engaged in the fruit store and ice cream business and the tavern and restaurant business. Now he is taking things easy and planning another trip abroad with his wife. They plan to go next year, making the trip by plane.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin