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The 1,000-seat Barrymore Theatre originally opened in late December 1929 as the Eastwood Theater, allegedly Wisconsin’s first theatre to be constructed for talking pictures. The opening was attended by Madison Mayor Albert G. Schmedeman and featured the Mack Sennett comedy Midnight Daddies along with radio organist Dave Welton.
The auditorium was designed in a Spanish colonial style while the exterior features an Italian Renaissance-style octagonal dome. The auditorium’s atmospheric details include tile-roofed balconies and twinkling star lights in the ceiling.
The theatre mostly screened double features of films, special features, vaudeville performances, organ recitals broadcast over commercial radio, Chicago radio country music stars, plus live music and events.
In 1946, the theatre was sold and remodeled, and in 1948 was added to the Milwaukee theatre chain Standard Theaters. During this period, the theatre was used for various church, community, and children’s events.
The theatre changed hands in 1967 and underwent another extensive remodel: the lobby was paneled, carpet was added, and a concessions stand was installed. A drop ceiling was also installed and the Spanish-style porticos were stripped in the auditorium. The capacity was reduced to 825, and the venue was renamed the Cinema Theater. The grand opening was held on 20th December 1967, nearly forty years to the day that the theatre first opened, with Madison Mayor Otto Festge in attendance for the movie The Bible .
In the 1970s, the theatre began to move towards more mainstream movie, with the theatre’s success ebbing and flowing during the 1980’s.
In 1986, with the support of local investors Richard Slone, Tom Petersen, and Steve Sperling – plus other investors and neighborhood support, the theatre was revamped again. The venue reopened on 10th July 1987 as the Barrymore Theatre. The theatre’s namesake comes from the famous family of Barrymore actors.
Though the movie aspect of the theatre did not see success, the music aspect stuck. The venue began to attract niche artists and audiences such as rock, folk, and women’s acts. In 1988, the theatre acquired a beer and wine license in addition to a neighboring restaurant.
The Schenk-Atwood Revitalization Association saw continued success in the Barrymore Theatre, and purchased the venue in 1992, and from then on shifted focus to utilizing the space as a rental opportunity. In 1996, former investor Steve Sperling became the theatre’s general manager, and continues to bring the Barrymore Theatre quality entertainment and steady success.
Information in part sourced from the Barrymore Theatre .
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