'A temple of oriental art': Milwaukee movie theater is added to the National Register of Historic Places

NOW: ’A temple of oriental art’: Milwaukee movie theater is added to the National Register of Historic Places

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The 95-year-old Oriental Theatre is officially a historic landmark in the US. When Milwaukee Film took over operations of the theater in 2018, they applied for recognition. Now, five years later, it's been added. 

From the chandeliers to all of the other ornate detail, walking through the grand lobby of the Oriental Theatre offers a showcase of how the venue earned that spot. 

"The signature piece of the lobby is arguably the eight-foot-high chandeliers, one-of-a-kind, can't find anywhere else in the world," said Jonathan Jackson, CEO of Milwaukee Film. 

You don't need to know the backstory to appreciate all of the art, but it was part of the process of getting the Oriental Theatre on the National Register. 

"We commissioned a historian to research the architecture of the building, what went into its design, its living history throughout his lifetime," said Jackson. 

It also included an $18-million restoration that fixed dozens of decorations, replaced all of the chairs in the theaters and fixed up the deteriorating ceiling which included a large medallion. 

"We didn't know the color of it when we acquired operation of the building in 2018," said Jackson. "It actually revealed its gold color and luster by removing decades and decades and decades of soot, cigarette smoke and various debris to uncover that, make it the true centerpiece of the theater, and make it shine and bring the whole experience together." 

The theater is a mix of different architectural designs that make it an exotic palace theater. 

"The idea is that by going to the movies, by going to the space, you travel -- you travel far, you travel to the exotic," he said. 

It's only one of merely a few exotic palace theaters that still exist today. 

Last year, the Oriental Theatre was placed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places. 


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