The Kenosha is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.
The Kenosha Theatre opened on September 1st, 1927. It was designed by Larry P. Larson, an architect known for mid-western theaters and financed by United Studios of Chicago. The project was commissioned by Carl Laemmle, a Wisconsin native and one of the founders of Universal Studios.
The 2,300 seat theater was built to resemble the Alcazar castle in Spain. Like many of its contemporaries the ceiling was covered with lights that were meant to look like stars. The layout of the “stars” was designed with data from the department of astronomy at the University of Wisconsin. Many Hollywood stars performed live at the Kenosha, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Lawrence Welk.
The Kenosha closed in 1963, 36 years after it opened. It was later used as a warehouse and a flea market before being closed permanently. Due to its years of neglect, the roof leaked badly and much of the interior was damaged by the water exposure.
In 1983, the theater was purchased by Kenosha Theatre Development. The group repaired the storefronts and the apartments attached to the building, to help generate funds towards restoration of the theater. In the mid 2000s a new roof was installed — which had the unfortunate effect of destroying most of the “star”-lit ceiling — but it was necessary to prevent further water damage. More information on the restoration can be found at The Kenosha Theatre Restoration Project.