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Lake Geneva trying to save historic theater

By Keith Barber

What does it take to restore an old theater?

You must have initiative and purpose. The Friends of Geneva Theater have just the ticket.

They’re campaigning to have the old Geneva Theater bought and restored for use as a community, cultural and arts center, along with some retail.

The theater has been for sale for some time, and is located in downtown Lake Geneva. The one-stage theater has been divided into four separate smaller theaters, but is in need of much repair.

I recall attending a performance there about six years ago. The first thing you notice is the dilapidated seats. The structure has not seen basic maintenance for quite some time.

A planning meeting will be held Wednesday by The Friends of Geneva Theater to consider how the building can be renovated and reused. Among those in attendance will be Ken Etten of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Committee, and Elizabeth Chappell of the Lake Geneva Art Museum. Etten is also a principal with McCormack + Etten Architects of Lake Geneva.

The building is an historic landmark that had replaced the old Ford Opera House. A June 6, 1928, grand opening of the Geneva Theater attracted the state’s 25th governor, Gov. Fred Zimmerman. Past performances at the theater include sets by the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers and Bela Lugosi.

The planning group hopes to work with potential developers or buyers to create the community center. Money may be provided from the private sector and through a variety of grants.

The Lake Geneva Economic Development Corp. supports the plan, although there presently is no money available for the project.

Keith Barber is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 225-1821.


  1. Hello Keith ~

    In the Geneva Theater, does the “main stage” still exist ?
    … and how many total seats does the facilities support ?

    Operational ideas come to thought.



  2. This is a response to the comment and question about the Geneva Theater in Lake Geneva. The original stage and fly areas, along with a small orchestra pit are generally in tact. The original balcony in the 1928 building was split off from the main floor in 1985. With the current seats, and balcony reopened, the original theater could seat a little over 500. There was also an addition built in 1975 on the north side of the theater that was split into two theaters in 1985, each seating 150 to 200.
    Fund-raising is still ongoing, and the Friends of The Geneva Theater organization is currently working with the city to see if they would commit T.I.F. Funds towards the purchase of the building. The plan is to restore the building for reuse as a Community Arts Center with a combination of a performing arts venue in the original 1928 portion, and multi-use visual and cultural arts space in the north portion of the building. Further information may be found at http://www.friendsofgenevatheater.org. Thanks for your interest.

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