By Joe Bachman
Wisconsin Rapids was born out of the unity of two municipalities, so it’s only fitting that at one time, they had two different theaters.
Feb. 10, 1913 was the date of the grand opening of the Ideal Theater in Grand Rapids, located at 220 E. Grand Ave. Built by John Stark, the theater was previously located in the northern part of E. Grand Ave. before moving to its current location now known as Rogers Cinema.
Paul Rogers would end up with the theater in 1977, as he purchased it from Tom Poulos after going through multiple owners in the meantime. While everyone recognizes what is now known as Rogers Cinema, and still catches the latest on the big screen daily, not many know about the other theater in the city’s history.
The Wisconsin Theatre, located at 233 W. Grand Ave., opened on Feb. 2, 1939 after a remodel of the property. Built by A. Moorman & Co. in 1917, the property first served as Citizens National Bank until 1929. After going through a period of time as Fritzsinger’s Insurance, next to “The Spot” Tavern, it opened its doors to the public with a screening of “Honolulu” starring George Burns.
“The Wisconsin” was owned by Frank and Henrietta Echardt, who owned two other theaters in the area, including The Ideal. It was considered a top-of-the-line theatre for its time, and was even featured in the June 24, 1939 edition of the Motion Picture Herald, hailed as one of the ‘best theatres’ in the region.
It wasn’t until 1984 that The Wisconsin Theatre closed its doors for good, leaving one remaining movie theater standing in the river cities. The site was eventually demolished, and now serves as a park.
While a city of Wis. Rapids’ size doesn’t need more than one theater, there was a time where one just wasn’t enough, much less two.