Centennial Celebration

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Let the Centennial Celebration begin! Join us as we commence a 100-day journey through the Capitol Theatre’s history. We’ll share historic detail, bios from volunteers, tidbits about past performances, arts partners’ news, and more. We begin our 100-day Centennial Celebration splash today as a countdown to the iconic 100 Anniversary of the Capitol Theatre on June 16. Enjoy the ride and be sure to comment and share along the way.

And, over the course of our 100-day Centennial Celebration, be sure to check out cccshows.org to schedule your exclusive, backstage tour. Tours are free to households and private groups of up to 10 individuals and are on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Schedule online today and enjoy a special glimpse of the Capitol.

Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by Arthur and John George of Manitowoc, construction of Ascher’s Capitol Theatre is complete and the theatre opens with a night of vaudeville, June 16, 1921. In early April 1921 the opening was predicted for May, but it did not in fact take place until June 16.

The elegant theatre house, 1921. The Manitowoc Herald-News reported that opening night of vaudeville entertainment, “The Review of the Times,” was a “notable offering of stellar lights” and that the theatre was a “bower of beauty.”

The elegant lobbies of Ascher’s Capitol Theatre are enjoyed by many in its opening season. Local residents are so eager to see the theatre built in Manitowoc that they subscribed to large numbers of seats for the opening performance for the then magnificent price of $10. “The Passion Flower,” starring Norma Talmadge, is the first celluloid flick presented at the Capitol; tickets were 11- and 25-cents (including war tax).

Ascher’s Capitol Theatre as is looked on its first birthday, June 16, 1922. The Manitowoc Herald-News reported on May 1, 1920 that local architect William J. Raueber had completed plans for a modern playhouse to be erected by the George Bros. Progress was slowed, however, when contractor’s bids exceeded estimates and the George Bros. has difficulties raising the necessary funds.

In January 1921, community interest was further stirred when the Ascher Bros., the theatrical management firm to which the new theatre would be leased, announced it would book the Pantages vaudeville and first-run movies.

In the 1920s, downtown Manitowoc was a hub of hustle and bustle and cars lined up in front of Ascher’s Capitol Theatre to purchase tickets for the latest in vaudeville entertainment.

Pictured is the stage display at Hotpoint Cooking School at the Capitol Theatre, April 1925 which was sponsored by Public Utilities Commission, Manitowoc. In the early days of electricity, the Utility took a lead role in promoting electrical appliances, thus the involvement in the Cooking School.

The Ascher’s Capitol Theatre organ lifted from the orchestra pit via a system of screws. A traditional organ console was not adequate to control a theatre organ—like the one pictured—as the large number of draw knobs required made the console so huge an organist could not possibly reach all of them while playing. Thus, the horseshoe console was born. Based on a curved French console design and using stop tabs instead of drawknobs, the horseshoe console now allowed the organist to reach any stop or control while playing any piece of music, eliminating the need to move around awkwardly on the bench.

A historic peek behind the curtain at the original lighting panel and stage rigging. Presently, the lighting panel is on display near concessions on the first floor.

South Eighth Street is abuzz with traffic surrounding the Capitol Civic Centre in the 1930s.

A newspaper ad from Thursday, April 7, 1932 promotes Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay “direct from a tremendously successful tour of New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.” The pair performed an original stage show with five performances at the Capitol on Sunday, April 10, 1932.

The Capitol Theatre house is packed with women (and a few children) for a war-time performance, circa 1939.

The Manitowoc Herald-Times became host of the long-standing Cooking School and in 1940, Edna Ferguson showcased her culinary skill and the latest in appliances, bakeware, and cookware to four consecutive packed houses. The Capitol was home to the Cooking School until 2015.

For the first time since it was built, the Capitol had a sell-out in August of 1943 for the army emergency relief effort, bringing in $3,232.

Throughout the years, the Capitol has been a hub for entertainment, making memories for nearly 100 years. Pictured is a classic example of a ticket from 1944.

What is now The Mertens Lounge, directly south of the main entrance under the marquee, was once home of Teighten Hardware. Later, the site would be home to a clothing store, book store, and music store. The Society to Preserve the Capitol purchased this building during the 1986-87 renovation.

Presently, this area adjacent to the Salutz Family Lobbies features The Cawley Company Bar and houses first-floor concessions at the Capitol.

The Capitol is one of only 150 theaters in the nation to be chosen to show the history of the Girl Scouts movie “Women of tomorrow” in March of 1950.

A view from the house to the stage from the 1950s. The house seating has changed and improved significantly over the years, including most recently with the Act Two renovations.

Zoom in to note the iconic carpeting. During the 1986-87 renovations the carpet was replicated and installed and this vibrant and durable carpet remains and iconic feature of the auditorium today.

Nationally-known barbershop quartets The Mills Brothers and Two Rivers’ own Schmitt Brothers meet at the Capitol in April of 1952. The talented Schmitt Brothers—Jim, Joe, Paul, and Fran—grew up in a family of 17 and learned to sing in the church choir. They won the 1951 Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America title.

Published last year, the novel “The Schmitt Brothers” tells the story of the brothers, pictured here: Back, Fran and Joe; front: Jim and Paul.

In September of 1955, Charlton and Lydia Clarke Heston attend a show at the Capitol. The visit was a home-coming of sorts for Lydia, who was born and raised in Two Rivers. In 1994, the Hestons returned to the Capitol, this time to star in the play “Love Letters.”

This original show poster by Joe Zabler from their Feb. 12, 1994 performance hangs in the lobby of the Capitol.

Pictured is the circa 1964 movie theatre staff in the lobby in the then recently remodeled Capitol Movie Theatre. Please note that today’s Capitol staff attire is a tad less formal.

Enjoy a view of the lobby corridor during the Capitol’s final year as a movie theatre—circa 1986—featuring a poster of Eddie Murphy in “The Golden Child.”

The Masquers, Inc. purchased an option to acquire the Capitol from Manitowoc Theatre Corporation in April of 1982 and contract with Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. of New Berlin, Wis. to explore restoring and decorating the Capitol. Later, they hire American City Bureau to complete a financial feasibility study to determine local support for the project. The City of Manitowoc approves use of Tax Incremental Funding to restore the Capitol.

The Masquers option to acquire the Capitol Theatre expires and Marcus Corporation purchases the theatre in September of 1985.

Articles of Incorporation of the Society of Preserve the Capitol, Inc. are approved by the State of Wisconsin in May of 1986.

Today we honor Ron Kaminski who inspired the vision to renovate the Capitol Theatre, turning it into a venue for live performing arts. The Society to Preserve the Capitol, Inc., a private, non-profit corporation purchased the Capitol from the Marcus Corporation for $250,000 in January of 1987.

Lead gifts of $50,000 each are made by The Masquers, Inc. and Mrs. Helen Schuette. Kaminski is Chairman of the Board and Craig Pauly is the first Board President.

Ron had said that the Capitol “stands as a monument to the idea that large goals are still achievable by people acting unison for a common goal.”

Today we recognize Craig Pauly, the first Capitol Board President. Craig is a remarkable leader in the Capitol’s history, having served many years on the Capitol Board of Directors and the Capitol Foundation Board, as well as numerous committees.

Additionally, he and Cindy (pictured here, circa 1986) have been long-standing Capitol patrons, donors, and members—most recently becoming Centennial Society members. Thank you—Craig and Cindy—for your dedication to the Capitol!

Ron Kaminski—who had the courage and tenacity to act on a dream of the Capitol as a performing arts center—is shown working into the wee hours of the evening in what is now a dressing room area, under the stage.

If you are interested in a sneak peek inside the dressing rooms, and other areas not typically experienced by the masses, please visit our Web page—cccshows.org—and select “Buy Tickets” to reserve your complimentary Centennial Celebration Backstage Tour.

“The Final Curtain”—a benefit show by local performers (including the “clown” dancers posed here, backstage)—closes the old Capitol Theatre in June of 1987. Soon after, the work to create a performing arts venue begins.

Local professional trades and volunteers discuss renovations in 1987. Standing is Gene Maloney and seated to his immediate right, Steve Hamann—both who continue to support the Capitol today.

Most recently, Gene and Steve were instrumental to the success of the “Act Two” renovations. Chief improvements are new auditorium seating; enhanced flow amongst first floor lobbies, concessions, and the theater; elevator and stair access the second floor lobby—featuring concessions, restroom suites, and convenient mezzanine entry.

Can you help identify the others in the photo? If so, please comment below.

Original Board members gather in the lobby of the Capitol Theatre (then a movie house) to discuss plans for renovations.

Jerome Dick, first co-Vice President of the Capitol Board, was an intrepid leader in fundraising for the 1986-87 campaign to renovate the theatre. Jerry, who passed away in September of 2011, is photographed here representing the campaign. Remember Dick Bros. Bakery and Memories the Gift Shoppe…these, too, flourished with Jerry’s involvement.

Ron Kaminski led countless tours (like the one pictured here) of the Capitol property during the campaign and renovations. Pictured is work-in-progress by volunteers and trades, circa 1987.

Kathie Bundy, long-time owner of Kathie’s Stage Door Pub, local radio personality, and enthusiast of everything Irish, is pictured soliciting donations for the Capitol Theatre renovations. Kathie, who passed away in June of 2019, was fondly known as a talented actress and producer/director of many shows, including “A Christmas Carol.”

She also was a fantastic storyteller of Capitol spirits, who many believe “reside” at the Capitol today.

Professional trades and volunteers accomplished monumental feats over the course of the 1987 renovations. With the vision of the planning team, one notable task was creating this opening from the lobby to the theatre house.