- Posted December 27, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Tell us the Good Stuff!
The treasure hidden
There is a treasure hidden beside and beneath W. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee, but it is now unknown to almost all who pass by it. Until a few decades ago, within that treasure even greater riches were discovered. These riches were closely viewed and are still remembered in detail by many. Viewers learned to love the glowing beauty of the riches within the treasure hall.
Yet a few decades ago, the treasure hall’s light that displayed the riches was simply shut off! Now, after past decades of neglect, the treasure’s past glowing glory is dark and hidden and tarnished! The treasure is now beyond locked, steel doors, now impenetrable by almost all! The treasure is now ignored by almost all who pass by it! The treasure is now broken, but not beyond repair, yet the riches within may never shine again!
Until a few decades ago, devoted viewers of the riches freely and happily entered the lighted treasure hall beyond the steel doors. Immense, mirrored and marbled walls surrounded a long, 2-story entrance-way. The wall sconces, chandelier, handrails and other decor were of an Art Deco design. Most devotees used to walk on plush, red carpeting that would lead them onward and then downward to the main area where they viewed the riches. Others walked up one of the two grand staircases that led to the balcony from which we could view the treasure hall around us, below us and still high above us. All total, guests had about 2200 seats to choose from.
Upon entering the lower, immense, open, 4-story viewing chamber within the treasure hall, guests would marvel at the plush, dark redness from the expanse of seats and at the red-curtained, ornately-carved and curved walls. The treasure hall organ was positioned at the front of the viewing chamber, surrounded by highly vertical, narrow and delicate pipes that would occasionally fill the viewing chamber with a towering overture played by a master.
I began working in the treasure hall starting in 1966, at the age of 16. I was one of the boys in a tuxedo who greeted the viewers and helped open the closed doors. I ushered viewers eager to have their minds absorbed into the glowing, moving images on the curtained screen. Heroic images! Single images flowing together to tell stories rich with beauty and love and crime and terror and much more! And there was music, moving music, surrounding and weaving through the images on the curtained screen!
The treasure or treasure hall I refer to, if you have not guessed already, is what has been called, at different times, The Warner, The Centre or The Grand movie theatre. The riches within the treasure hall were, of course, the many movies shown to and viewed by audiences since the beginning of the theatre’s birth in 1931 until it sadly closed in 1986.
This hidden treasure is located at 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. and was originally built by part of the Warner Brothers movie empire. In the 1930’s some major movie studios built their own movie theatres in major cities across the country in which they would show their movies. Those theatre treasures were often immense, ornately decorated, secular cathedrals. The then Warner Theatre cost about $2.5 million to build at a time the depression was especially gripping.
As I wrote before, I started working as an usher at the then Centre Theatre in 1966, at the age of 16. At that time, it was THE movie theatre in a very busy and thriving downtown area. I worked evenings and weekends and we were usually busy, especially if the movie showing was popular or a good quality. As I wrote before, I wore a tuxedo and also a bow tie and I carried a flashlight in case the projector would go out or to shoo shoes from the backs of the red velvet seats. During showings, I usually stood by the doors inside of the theater. I was paid to watch sometimes-great movies, not once, but perhaps dozens of times! I bet I very gladly watched, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” at least 30 times! I still remember scenes and songs in detail!
I have to admit, however, that the real reason I wanted a job at the Centre Theatre was not to see movies, but to meet “Vendettes,” especially since I attended an all-boys high school. They were the high school-aged girls who worked at the theatre selling tickets or popcorn. I eventually went on many dates, all appropriately innocent enough for the times, with many of the Vendettes I worked with, so I have fond memories of the theatre for that reason as well.
Working right on Wisconsin Ave. from 1966 to 1969, I remember the policemen stationed at every intersection from Plankinton Ave. to 6th, enforcing complete order while making sure to stop anyone daring to walk one step into an intersection a mere second after the “don’t walk” sign would begin to blink. I remember the Open Housing marchers led by Father Groppi walking by on many consecutive evenings during periods. I remember Wisconsin Ave. being flooded with running basketball fans after Marquette won the semi-final game of the NIT Championship in 1967.
When I worked downtown from 1966 to 1969, between the ages of 16 and 19, I traveled by bus and felt very safe at any time of the night or day. Downtown was then a very enjoyable, bustling place to work and play.
Over the years, however, the downtown area along W. Wisconsin Ave. just west of the river from Plankinton to 3rd has deteriorated. Most businesses are closed in the evenings and the streets are sadly quiet in comparison to decades past. Citizens now have little need to go downtown in the evenings and would probably feel unsafe if they have to do so. Even the formerly called “Grand” Avenue Mall closes as soon and the business-workers go home.
Besides my previous downtown reminisces, I have to mention that, after the 60's, I also worked downtown for over 20 years until I retired 2 years ago. I worked with Wisconsin probation and parole at the State Office Building on 6th and Wells.
Almost every day during those 20 years, I used to take lunchtime walks down and around Wisconsin Ave., often briskly walking to the lake and back in my allotted 45 minutes.
Much of the downtown area has very much improved since the 60s. The lakefront has immensely improved with Discovery World, The Calatrava, the Summerfest grounds and with rising office buildings and condos. There is an office and housing building boom finally occurring just north of the immediate downtown area. The Bradley Center and the performing arts options are numerous. Marquette University is adding beautiful buildings and landscaping on the campus. The 3rd Ward just south of the immediate downtown area is booming with new restaurants, other businesses and condos.
And yet, in my opinion, the downtown area along W. Wisconsin Ave. just west of the river from Plankinton to 3rd continues to become more of an eyesore and becomes more obsolescent with every year that passes.
I am old and retired now, but I would like to somehow motivate more active visionaries, be it the few in positions of power or the many who share memories similar to mine. I would like to somehow motivate visionary citizens and leaders of governments and businesses to communicate their hopes and dreams to vastly restore not only buildings, but also public safety and revitalize the downtown area along W. Wisconsin Ave. just west of the river from Plankinton to 3rd.
I would like to somehow motivate others to then expand dreams into vastly increased, tangible intentions, efforts and investments to vastly restore not only buildings, but also public safety and revitalize the downtown area along W. Wisconsin Ave. just west of the river from Plankinton to 3rd.
If these dreams become reality, the downtown lights and life at night will be a beacon for those seeking employment accessible from all areas of town.
It appears to me, predictably, that if visionary citizens and leaders of governments and businesses would agree to vastly restore not only buildings, but also public safety and revitalize the downtown area along W. Wisconsin Ave. just west of the river from Plankinton to 3rd, work would include restoring life to The Treasure Hidden at 212 West Wisconsin Ave.
In 1966, I first helped open the closed doors that showed the glow of great riches. Join us in our efforts to do the same again!
I HAVE ANOTHER DOWNTOWN VISION IN MY HEAD!
My vision is of West Wisconsin Avenue,
west from the river
and to North 6th Street.
West from the river along worn,
small shops closed after 5.
West along The Treasure Hidden which is, of course,
the long-closed Warner or Centre or Grand movie palace.
West along The Shops of “Grand Avenue"
and the Milwaukee Convention Center
and the Hilton Milwaukee City Center
and to North 6th Street.
My vision is of this vast stretch
covered by a light-filtering, glowing, Calatrava/Mitchell Park-inspired downtown dome!
A glowing dome that covers and protects side to side
and lengthwise along the stretch.
A long dome of multi-colored, stained glass,
like a wave rolling from the lake,
illuminated by the sun and from within
like a beacon of downtown life and hope.
And cars drive east and west on Wisconsin Avenue
and approach the inspired dome
and, yes, could even slowly descend under the immense pedestrian surface.
They could even descend and drive for 6 blocks, then re-emerge at each end.
And within that long, warm, flowing, glowing dome
small, special shops are reborn
and grand, joined shops are reborn,
by multitudes of downtown visitors
safely sheltered even during winter storms.
And The Treasure Hidden
the glowing beauty
of its riches within.
And the convention center and hotel
are reborn too.
And visitors are safely sheltered
even during winter storms.
And the downtown lights and life at night
are beacons for those seeking employment
accessible from all areas of town.
This is what Milwaukee’s
West Wisconsin Avenue
downtown area could be.
If you don’t like my vision
then please show us
a better view.
- My life