Restoration of the Oriental Theater enters its fourth of five phases
Milwaukee Film announced Friday that its restoration work on the magnificent 1927 Oriental Theater, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., has entered the fourth of five phases.
In June 2017, Milwaukee Film acquired a 31-year lease for the theater, managed for 40 years by the national chain Landmark Theaters, and work on the first phase began immediately.
This included renovating and enlarging bathrooms, replacing the screen, as well as repairing and replacing damaged plaster and other decorations.
Much of the work is done by Conrad Schmitt Studios in Milwaukee.
A year later, work moved to phase two, which included removing the 1980s seating in the small “west house” closest to the entrance, adjusting the slope of the floor in the house. west as well, to make it more accessible to all customers and to upgrade fire and security systems.
Phase three, which was underway for much of the pandemic shutdown, found workers replacing seats and rugs, improving sight lines and sound quality, restoring plaster to the ceiling and walls and starting the process of installing a 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ.
This phase also improved the “east house”.
All seats are also replaced.
The organ, which you can read here, began life at the Howard Theater (later Paramount) in Atlanta, where it remained until the 1950s.
Parts of the organ – which is massive and will arrive in stages – have started to arrive there.
The plan for this next phase includes new glass donor signage in the main hall, restoration of the balcony, including repair and restoration of damaged plaster, restoration of the ceiling (and preservation of historic color and elements decorative) and the replacement of the cornice lighting which was probably last used around WWII.
A series of non-structural pillars flanking the walkway leading to the main house – which were added in the 1980s – will be removed.
Looking closely at the ceiling above the balcony from the top of the scaffolding (pictured above) is pretty cool, offering rare glimpses of things like the ornate ceiling vents (pictured below).
After the balcony work requiring scaffolding is completed, the balcony seating, handrails, lighting, hearing loop and other work will begin.
When completed, the balcony will have approximately 450 seats.
The finished work is pretty amazing, with vivid colors popping out, a cleaned-up drape running across the proscenium above the stage, and a beautiful, detailed restoration of the ceiling (pictured below). The theater is more beautiful than I have seen it for almost 40 years.
The theater is slated to reopen to moviegoers in August, and major restoration work may be completed by the end of the year.
The next in-person event will be Milwaukee Film Festival of Cultures and Communities, from September 6 to 12.
“It was such a joy to be the stewards of the Oriental Theater. Since our closure last spring, we have invested every minute possible in restoring the historic wonder of our main house, and we look forward to opening our doors for our guests to experience, ”said Kristen Heller. , COO of Milwaukee Film.
“We continue to be very grateful for the generosity of over 900 contributors, who have enabled us to renovate and preserve this magical piece of history.”
Phase four work is estimated at around $ 1.2 million with estimates for the entire restoration at around $ 10 million.
More info on the Oriental on mkefilm.org.
Read a history of the theater in this 2018 Urban Caving Story.