It may not be the only Milwaukee theater to bear the name, but it is certainly one of the oldest. And it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of.
For this edition of Urban Spelunking, we visit the Grand Theater at 2917-23 N. Holton St., right on the border of the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods.
Built in 1911, it predates Downtown’s Grand Theater (formerly the Warner, built in 1930), and is roughly the same age as another Grand Theater which opened on 3rd St. in 1904.
This Grand was one of the city’s original “atmospheric” theaters. The ceiling inside was decoratively painted to show a starry night scene, and in the lobby, you’ll notice similarities to other theaters of the era including faux stucco walls, golden painted columns, and arched doorways.
And much of that original detail work is still there.
It operated for more than a century as a neighborhood theater, drawing in a hyper-local audience. But, sadly, as the years went on, the theater’s businesses steadily declined, and it ceased operations in the 1970s. It would later re-open as a church and remained a place of worship, on and off, for decades following.
These days, though, the theater is vacant again. Tax foreclosure transferred ownership to the City of Milwaukee, and the building is currently for sale for a mere $20,000.