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Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012

Once a Pile of Ashes: The Pabst Theater

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Pabst Theater in 1970
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From the music of Wilco to the speaking tour of “Ghost Hunters” to the comedy of Jim Gaffigan, Downtown Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater hosts a variety of live entertainment. The well-known venue has entertained locals for more than a century now, but few may realize that its beginnings include a rise out of the ashes.

In the spot currently held by the Pabst Theater was Das Neue Deutsche Stadt-Theater (The New German City Theater), built by Captain Frederick Pabst in 1890. Five years after its debut, the building burned to the ground. Upon hearing the news, the Captain funded the building of a new theater on the same spot—a theater with his namesake: The Pabst Theater.

New precautions were taken when building the new theater. To prevent the same tragedy from happening again, the building was outfitted with cast iron and concrete rather than only wood, which was a very common—yet flammable—building material of the time. In addition to the creation of a safer building, technical enhancements were made. The Pabst Theater was the first of its time in the United States to have an all-electrical lighting system. Every seat was designed with an unobstructed view, creating an entertaining and aesthetically pleasing experience for all who attended.

After decades of changes, the Pabst Theater was restored to its original design in 1976. The Pabst also made the National Registry of Historic Places during the 1970s, preserving the building for generations to come. Since then, seats have been made more comfortable and handicap access has increased with the addition of elevators to all floors.

In the last decade, the Pabst Theater has grown immensely in popularity. Local and national acts continue to delight audiences in the Milwaukee area. With a calendar full of unique forms of entertainment, checking out a show at the Pabst Theater is a Milwaukee must.