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Friday, 24 February 2017 12:07

Downtown Lake Geneva movie theater ready for an encore

Written by  Lynn Greene
Geneva Theater General Manager Daniel Colwell is shown in one of the theater's four remodeled screening rooms. Geneva Theater General Manager Daniel Colwell is shown in one of the theater's four remodeled screening rooms. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The passage of time has a way of making us appreciate the past.

But for those with fond memories of watching movies in downtown Lake Geneva, the past has caught up to the future.

Renovations are nearly complete and the Geneva Theater, located at 224 Broad St., could open as early as this coming week.

The exact opening date will be announced online at

Facebook.com/GenevaTheater.

The downtown landmark originally opened in 1928 with a world premiere film showing and its own orchestra. The early years featured Vaudeville acts that included the Marx Brothers.

Originally the theater had a single screen. That’s how it was when Julie Chuck of Lake Geneva saw her first movie there.

“I was probably about 6 and we saw ‘Lady and the Tramp.’ Was scared during the fire scene and then so sad,” Chuck recalled.

“My last movie there was ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” she added. ”It took about 10 minutes after the credits before I could collect myself to leave. Such strong emotions.”

 The theater is now a four-screen cinema. One of the theaters will have a retractable curtain and lighting for live shows thanks to the Friends of Geneva Theater, which is working with new owner Shad Branen to ensure some live performances.

Ann Shean, who grew up visiting Lake Geneva every summer, said she remembers live performances of a different kind.

“Me and my sister used to sneak up to the balcony and watch the teenagers make out -- that was the spot,” Shean said. “We were so boy crazy then, even if we didn’t have our own boy. Such young voyeurs we were.”

The plan is for that balcony to be part of the main theater, which will be used for some community-based performances.

“We’d really like to see it used by some of the nonprofit groups in town that may not have a place of their own,” said Ken Etten, president of the Friends group. “We’ve been working with the owner to come up with some dates that can be used.”

Branen bought the closed Geneva Theater in March 2016 after working with the Lake Geneva City Council to form a tax increment finance district. In exchange for the $895,000 in TIF funds for renovating the theater, Branen will operate it for at least 10 years as a for-profit center open to the public.

“We’re very happy to see it come back, and it will be a great addition to the downtown,” Etten said.

Extensive renovations costing $1.3 million are nearly complete. Branen entered the project with his eyes wide open -- he owns the Burlington theater, also built in 1928, and renovated that. The Plaza Theater has been successful in bringing theatergoers to downtown Burlington.

“We’ll be doing some of the same things here,” General Manager Daniel Colwell said. “First-run movies, special showings, Sony digital cinema 4K. ... Plus, we’ll have a full menu concession including pizza and dinner delivered to your seat.” 

Colwell said they are partnering with Sprecher’s Restaurant in downtown Lake Geneva to serve some of their favorite menu items.

“Food and film, can’t beat that for a night out,” Shean said.

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