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Riverside Theater –


Haunted Place – Riverside Theater


116 W Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203

(414) 727-5963 * The Riverside Theater web site

Box Office Hours:
Noon-6:30 p.m. Monday–Friday
and two hours before scheduled start times of events.

The Riverside Theater on Google Maps


The glorious, grand, 12 story Empire Office building which is home to the Riverside Theater can be found near the corner of W. Wisconsin Avenue and N. Plankinton, in the downtown area of Milwaukee, near the Milwaukee River.



The Riverside Theater is one of 6 grand vaudeville/movie theaters designed and constructed during the 1920s by Classic theater specialists, Kirchoff and Thomas Rose, in the city of Milwaukee. They were picked to create this theater because of their marvelous work done on the Palace Theater in New York City. As of 2008, the Riverside Theater is the only classic theater which they designed that is still standing in Milwaukee, and still being used for theatrical and musical performances.

The Riverside Theater was built to be a fancy, grand-looking "presentation house" with 2,558 seats, which are located on the orchestra level,  in a huge balcony via the elevator, and in three box seats on each wall below the organ screens. It originally was envisioned to be a vaudeville stage by RKO vaudeville promoters, but by the time it was built, vaudeville was "on its last legs," so a movie screen was added as well. It opened on April 29th, 1928, offering a mixture of vaudeville/theatrical presentations and movies as well.

The French baroque style, showcased in the theater's decorum, truly offered a wonderful place to escape the worries and troubles of life, while enjoying the entertainment offered. The theater's auditorium had 5 chandeliers, a 3 manual, 13 rank Wurlitzer theater pipe organ, and a glorious, giant central dome, with tri-color cove lighting, hidden by an ornate rim of cabochon-faced crests, to top it all off. The Grand Drapery used around the theater stage's proscenium arch had "20 swags of teal velour with its galloons in ochre, and tassels in henna red, laid upon a lambrequin of Austrian folds, with highlights in beige and fringed in henna. The beige teaser curtain hung in swags and jabots while the tormentors were in beige, framed in teal galloons." ( Cinema Treasures.org )

When Warner took over the theater, it's entertainment venue turned completely to film to pay the bills.  United Artists Company was  the next occupant of the theater, who did the same.

In the following years The Riverside Theater dodged two near fatal bullets.

In 1966, The Riverside Theater suffered a fire which destroyed the fancy draperies, swag and elaborate decor around the stage, but the theater was saved by automatic sprinklers, which retarded the fire until help could come. As the price tag to replace the original materials would be $590,000, a simple panel of dark red duvetyn with "30% fullness" was substituted for the destroyed swag and draperies.

United Artists were the next tenants, who, it is reported, "ran the theater into the ground." However it was the owners of this building, Towne Realty, who committed the sin of not wanting to work on building upkeep, letting this old dame sink into a run-down condition. Uh Oh! This isn't good. In 1982, United Artists didn't renew their lease, and the owner, Towne Realty  had plans to tear the entire Empire Office building down, and build a shopping mall or a large parking structure. The Riverside was to suffer the fate of the other 6 Milwaukee theaters; a date with the wrecking ball. Horrified enthusiasts of building preservation quickly banded together to try to "Save The Riverside."

After hearing the pleas of preservationists to save The Riverside Theater, on a local radio station, the owner of Towne Realty, millionaire Joseph Zilber had a change of heart, regained his senses and threw the new construction plans into the trash can. Mr. Zilber contributed 1 and 1/2 million dollars to restore Milwaukee's old dame, The Riverside Theater.

The Riverside reopened with much celebration in 1984, as a full-fledged, theatrical stage theater, becoming a hot spot for touring Broadway shows and other touring groups, like Riverdance, and many well-known singers and musicians. While it wasn't quite as fancy and elaborate as the original theater decorum, it still was a beautiful theater with its newly lighted, gilded and re-draped auditorium, done in golds, and reds, offering a glorious slash of color and sparkle.

As of 2008, The Riverside Theater mainly offers musical groups, and comedians, with an occasional touring play or musical, but still is going strong as an entertainment venue.


Like many old theaters, The Riverside Theater has its own spectral musical and dramatic arts fans who reside in the theater building, letting staff know that they are there, when the theater is empty of audiences. There are a variety of reasons why entities haunt theaters. Some of those reasons are listed below.

Performers or wanna-be performers in the arts who yearn for the stage:

( Pantages Theatre * Rialto Theatre * The Palace Theatre
Washington Opera House
* Woodstock Opera House * Fitzgerald Theatre )

Conscientious Employees or Owners:

( Pantages Theatre * Harvard Exit Theatre
The Egyptian Theatre * The KiMo Theater * Tampa Theatre )


At least one known male and one female entity make The Riverside Theater their home.

A strong scent of floral perfume and the unmistakable aroma of cigar smoke have been noticed by staff, performers and patrons alike.

When the theatre is quiet and empty, these entities have made themselves plainly known  in front of the staff.

The solid form of a male entity has been seen lying on the auditorium chairs, and standing in/walking down the aisles.

The feeling of being watched is strong at times.

The custodial staff which cleans the theatre during the wee hours of the morning have told the entities that they have work to do, and don't even react to paper mysteriously floating down from the ceiling, or turning their back on their cleaning supplies, and finding them moved from where they were last left.


Yes indeed!

These theater enthusiasts continue to appear, tease and watch the living.


Interview with Eye witnesses * Cinema Treasures.org * Cinema Treasures.org