See renovations being made to Oriental Theatre on Milwaukee's east side: Slideshow
With the annual Milwaukee Film Festival being held this May, the local nonprofit Milwaukee Film is continuing renovations on the festival's host theater, the Oriental Theatre on the city's east side. Check out the attached slideshow to get a look at the progress on the work being done on the prominent venue.
Milwaukee Film chief operating officer Kristen Heller said while the organization does not have an official date for when the theater, at 2230 N. Farwell Ave., will reopen, she said her group knows it is getting closer to an opening point with both New York and Los Angeles reopening movie theaters. That, she said, helps the Oriental Theatre in terms of available content.
The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance partnered with Milwaukee Film to host a webinar Monday highlighting the history behind the prominent movie palace as well as updating patrons on the progress of renovations.
The group took over Oriental Theatre operations in 2018. It is the central home for the annual Milwaukee Film Festival. When the Oriental was built in 1927, it cost about $1.5 million, which Milwaukee Film cinema manager Ryan Putskey said is about $22.5 million in today's money.
The progress and upgrades on the Oriental Theatre were part of a multi-phase project. Milwaukee Film closed its $10 million capital campaign in 2019 with $6 million dedicated to restore the theater. Lead donors included former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Donald and Donna Baumgartner, Herzfeld Foundation, Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Charitable Fund, Allan H. and Suzanne L. Selig and The Yabuki Family Foundation. The nonprofit organization received funds from over 900 contributors.
The first phase of renovations, completed in 2018, included upgrades to the ground-floor restrooms and the first-floor retail space as well as new screens and projection equipment. Phase two was completed in fall of 2019 and included upgrades to the Oriental Theatre's West House as well as improved sound equipment, new fire alarms and a concession stand remodel.
The third phase of the remodel was completed in 2020 as the theater was closed to the public. Upgrades included a main house remodel, plaster ceiling restorations, a remodel of the East Theater and improvements to the building's HVAC system. Milwaukee Film also made its 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ ready for use. It still has to be installed.
"When the Covid-19 shutdown shut us down in March, we decided this would be the time to do the Main House. Prior to that, we weren't quite sure when we would schedule it out because we knew this process would be about four months and taking the Main House offline for four months is pretty daunting," Heller said.
Milwaukee Film plans to receive additional funding through historic rehabilitation tax credits. Because Milwaukee Film is a nonprofit, it is only eligible for state credits. The organization currently is in the process of obtaining status for the Oriental Theatre as a registered historic place to complete the process.