The Times Cinema: A Vintage Movie House
Larry Widen, co-owner of
the Times Cinema and co-author of Silver
Screens: A Pictorial History of Milwaukee’s Movie Theaters, thinks the
building the Times occupies was constructed in the latter part of the 1920s as
an automotive garage, and was later used as a Pontiac dealership. While Milwaukee audiences have been going to motion
pictures since 1896, it wasn’t until 1930 that movie theaters really hit their
peak, with 89 area theaters showing films. Widen believes it was the Schwartz
family that saw the investment opportunity in projecting movies and opened the
Times Theater on June 12, 1935.
According to Milwaukee Movie Palaces, also by Widen,
an average Milwaukee
theater changed its entire program three times a week. “Without television to
fill in the hours at home, it was not uncommon for people to go to the theater
each time there was a program change,” he writes. At these neighborhood
theaters, or “nabes” as they were sometimes called, people got to know everyone
in the neighborhood because they all went to the movies so often.
In 1940 Ben Marcus, the
most successful independent theater operator in Wisconsin
history, acquired the Times and Tosa theaters with a business partner named
Swirnoff under the name S&M Theaters.
The Times became Milwaukee's first and
only Trans-Lux theater, where films were projected from behind the screen. When
CinemaScope—an anamorphic lens series invented by Frenchman Henri Chrétien in
the late-’20s and secured by 20th Century Fox in 1953—was introduced to the
industry, the projection booth was moved to the back of the house.
The advent and
availability of the television was the main reason for the sudden decline in
theater attendance and the subsequent demise of many movie theaters during the
1950s. New suburban movie theaters with multiple screens located near or in
shopping centers provided more competition than most single-screen theaters
The Marcus Corp.
operated the Times while the company continued to expand its reach with
18-screen multiplexes that boast 72-foot-wide screens and comfy stadium
seating. In the early-’90s Vliet
Street entrepreneur Sandy Folaron bought the
theater from the Marcus Corp. and restored the 9,000-square-foot Streamline
Moderne-style building. Folaron leased the theater to independent operators
until selling the property to Jay Hollis, owner of the Rosebud Cinema, in 2005.
On Jan. 3, 2007, Hollis sold the Times Cinema to Larry Widen and David Glazer,
and nine months later, the Rosebud too.
Now the Times Cinema is
not only a living relic of another era, but it also preserves pieces of
Milwaukee movie history, like a large golden scarab (circa 1927) in the lobby
from the old Egyptian Theater on Teutonia Avenue, as well as remnants of the
Princess and Venetian theaters.
All shows and seats at
the Times Cinema are $5, seven days a week, and concessions are reasonably
priced. Widen uses a state-of-the-art disc projection system to show first-run,
independent, family-friendly films and midnight movies, as well as programs
like Three Stooges and Looney Tunes festivals, and plans to offer an expansive
selection of Indian, Asian and Hispanic films in the near future.
Times Cinema: 5906 W. Vliet St./ Milwaukee/ 414-453-3128/ www.timescinema.com.