ORIENTAL THEATER--MILWAUKEE, WI

Title of Installation:

Oriental Theater interior

Materials Used:

Ceramic tiles/Mosaic tiles

General Description:


"The Oriental is Milwaukee's only operating movie palaces [sic], certainly the most beautiful and ornate one that has shown movies for 84 years solid. When the Oriental opened on July 2, 1927, it featured 2 minaret towers, three marvleous stained glass chandeliers, 6 larger-than-life Buddhas, several hand drawn murals, 8 porcelain lions, dozens of original draperies, and hundreds of elephants. This is how the papers described the Oriental when it opened and this is how it could be described today! The Oriental Theatre was the crown jewel among the 45 theatres in the Saxe Brothers' chain. The motif is not what first comes to mind today as being 'oriental.' Designed by Gustave A. Dick and Alex Bauer, the themes of the decor are East Indian, with no traces of Chinese or Japanese artwork. Milwaukee's Oriental is said to be the only standard movie palace ever built to incorporate East Indian decor."*

*http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/milwaukee/orientaltheatre.htm


"Also significant to the oriental plaster ornamentation are the multifoil and horseshoe arches as well as the majolica tile panels of the elephants with howdahs upon their backs. The A.H, Bluel Co. is to be given credit for the superb plaster work, but as is often the case, no mention is made of the artisans responsible for all this fine work, which in this case was Milwaukee's own Anthony Spalthoff who subcontracted the casting of the ornament by Bluel's production crews based upon his models."**

**http://www.astortheater.org/history3.html#Anchor-by-48213

Technical Information (Size,mfg., etc.):

The manufacturer of the tiles is unknown.

Year Created:

1927

Year Installed, if different:

Does Installation Still Exist?

Yes. "Miraculously, the Oriental survived as a movie theatre until 1972, when local electricians the Pritchett Brothers purchased the theatre and graciously obliged the request of Parallax Theatres (now Landmark Theatres) to start running the Oriental in 1976. Landmark developed the programming strategy of repertory films; short runs of classic and cult double features, and the Oriental existed as a popular ‘calendar’ house for many years until video and cable TV again took away the customers. 


Landmark then switched programming strategies to foreign and specialty films and now is the largest "art" house circuit in the country. In the '70s and '80s, the Oriental was also known for live performances, and was the venue to see such acts as Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, INXS, Supertramp, Jay Leno, Blondie, Devo, REM, Tears for Fears and Milwaukee's own Bodeans, among others. The Pretenders lost their opening act one fateful day, so they invited three guys who happened to be regular performers on the sidewalk in front of the theatre to take their place. Such was the beginning of the Violent Femmes, whose Greatest Hits compilation pays homage to the Oriental.


After live performances were discontinued, Landmark refocused the Oriental as solely a movie theatre. In 1988, the Oriental was painstakingly and successfully triplexed by adding 2 theatres underneath the balcony without touching any of the original artwork of the main auditorium. A one-of-a-kind vending stand was added, and the two new theatres were sensitively created by architects and artists to match original designs and colors of the theatre.


The Oriental Theatre is the U.S. record holder for a current and continuing film engagement."*

Location of Installation:

2230 N. Farwell Ave.

Milwaukee, WI 53202

GPS Coordinates:

Directions to Installation:

Additional Information, Websites, Citations:

A recent photo essay about the Oriental Theater may be accessed at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.217857988242217.67551.118539711507379.

A 1929 exterior photo of the Oriental may be found at http://content.mpl.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/RememberWhe&CISOPTR=460&CISOBOX=1&REC=8

Photos of the renovated theater can be found at http://www.buildordie.com/X-PDF/VDTA_OrientalTheater.pdf.

Submitted by and Year:

Tile Heritage Foundation and Michael Padwee (tileback101"at"collector.org); July 2011

(Photo courtesy of the Tile Heritage Foundation)


Photos courtesy of "trinlayk"
Box Office tiles

Lobby from above


Concession Stand with Ceramic Elephant Panel

(Photo courtesy of the Tile Heritage Foundation)



Stairway Lions

Stairway tiles