A contemporary photo of the "theater" exterior*


Title of Installation:                                                                                      

Tower Theater interior

Materials Used:

Ceramic tiles/mosaic tiles

General Description:

"The Tower was one of their first major movie palaces and one of the first for its local architects, Gustave Dick and Alex Bauer, who would add five other major palaces to Milwaukee, the: ORIENTAL, NATIONAL, COLONIAL, GARFIELD, and the MILWAUKEE. Ironically, this last eponymous effort of 1921 was the least ‘palace-like’ of them all, being built at the crossover in eras from the ‘Photoplay Parlors’ to the Movie Palaces.

The Tower was true to its name; it was adorned with a 50-foot-high tower above the two-story theatre and commercial building on the corner of 27th Street at Wells St. This may seem an odd numbering for a street in a then major west side shopping district, but 27th happened to occur on what was once the boundary between the former townships of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, long before the separate municipalities were created. The tower itself had a brown brick base above the roofline balustrade of buff color terra cotta. The same color terra cotta constituted the trim for all the rest of the building including the coping of the square base of the tower. Rising from this 10-foot-height was the second segment: an octagonal structure about 20 feet high with amber glass windows having some twenty square lights each running the full height of this segment of the tower, and it was illuminated from the base at night so that light shown from all eight windows. Above this was a terra cotta ‘crown’ composed of three concentric balustrades, each about two feet high, also octagonal, but done in white with small spires and billets adorning the surrounding panels. Finally, the tower was topped with a six foot circular portion having smaller windows similar to those below, but it was illuminated in blue, and then topped with a small dome of copper above a collar also of copper, the whole surmounted by a flag pole. Perhaps the real reason for the tower was to hide the structural steel under the brick needed to support the four-story-high vertical name sign, which had neon letters and a swinging-bells neon effect at its apex.

...The eight brass and plate glass doors of the outer ticket lobby were almost on the sidewalk line since the ticket booth was inside the ticket lobby. This lobby was unusual in being done almost entirely in various shades of blue glazed tiles, including all three newels of the grand staircase in the grand lobby! From the center one of the divided staircase, sprouted a wrought iron torchere, which had a number of small, amber bulbs. The basically Spanish theme of the Tower was furthered by the inlaid mosaic tile floor of the lobbies and fabric gonfalons hanging from black iron spears on the walls."* 

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

The manufacturer of the tiles is not known.

Year Created:

c. 1926

Year Installed, if different:

Does Installation Still Exist?


If Not, What Happened?

"...Like most movie palaces, the Tower had no parking, and as White Flight and the advent of TV robbed it of its audience, it had to resort to X-rated films to stay in business. No longer were there the ten ushers in cutaway coats and pill box hats to guide you to gracious seats; it was a time of crass, where few of the lights worked any longer and most of the patrons preferred it that way. By 1975 it was too difficult to even attract that caliber of audience, and the once beautiful theatre closed. It was purchased by the adjacent Doctor’s Hospital, which was bought out by Family Hospital, which tore out all the seats under the balcony to create a cafeteria for the anticipated ‘guests,’ but these did not come in sufficient numbers to this decaying neighborhood, and the hospital failed three years later. Milwaukee county then bought the building and spent a small fortune in taxpayer dollars to convert the now double structure to a community outreach health facility, which it remains to this day, now shorn of its tower, which no doubt leaked rain water prodigiously after decades of no maintenance, and its lights had burned out long ago. They also tore out all fabrics and seats, spray painted the entire auditorium white, created offices in the balcony, and severed all of the original wiring while removing the switchboard so that none of the ornamental lighting could be worked anymore."*

Location of Installation:

757 N. 27th Street, Milwaukee, WI

GPS Coordinates:

Directions to Installation:

Additional Information, Websites, Citations:


A 1937 photo of the theater exterior may be accessed at http://content.mpl.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/HstoricPho&CISOPTR=2329&CISOBOX=1&REC=7

Submitted by and Year:

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

(Photos courtesy of the Tile Heritage Foundation)