Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017


DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    We have an older theater in our town that a young lady has purchased and is running. It probably isn’t as vintage as some but it is pretty fun to get your tickets from the window outside and we get first run movies which is great. They also do free movies for kids a lot and have a really great presence in the community. It is fun to go here instead of one of the multiplex theaters in Asheville or Hendersonville.

  2. Growing up for me our family dressed up to go to the theater – it was an event and a rare experience too. Hopefully someone gets this hidden beauty back on stage. I love art deco too. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Valerie Says:

    The neighborhood I grew up in had a Hollywood Theater…and several years ago I know it had been restored…I don’t know if it’s still in operation. Had a flashback when reading your post.

  4. L.E. Hansen Says:

    I went to a movie every Saturday afternoon—it cost 14 cents. There were theaters all over then: The Hollywood, Rivoli, 5th Avenue, one off 12th avenue with name forgotten, and the Wisconsin on the *gasp* Northside. There may have been more but it slips away. Our next-door neighbor, a Mr. Erlansen, actually ran the movie projector at the Hollywood. Sometimes, if there was a very low attendance, I and his kids could go up into the projector booth. There was a second floor balcony that was usually roped off. Sometimes we could sneak up there also. BTW, Audrey, I posted your Bridges photo (with credit & comments) on my blog space: lehansen.blog.

  5. L.E. Hansen Says:

    Oh, and there were two drive-in theaters too. Maybe more?

  6. Don Says:

    Mt. Lake where I grew up had a theater when I was in grade school and it was owned by one of my friends father at the time. I remember going up to the projector room and seeing those huge projectors and film spools, wow what memories! Later in my teenager years that movie theater closed down and we would go to Comfrey, St. James or Windom to see a movie. I miss the local theaters with the exception of the seats! Those old seats were not nearly as comfortable (no cushions just wood) as those in newer theaters and the height of the rows left a lot to be desired. The pitch of the rows was much to shallow in that it was difficult to see over the row in front of you. Now a days the pitch is much higher so that it is now easier to see over those in the rows in front. On a side note, what is it about theater pop corn that makes it so good?

    • I agree about the theater popcorn.

      Speaking of the St. James theater…when I lived and worked there, the theater was on the second floor. Part of the movie projected onto the ceiling because of the small screen and low ceiling. I think I went there once and that was it.

  7. Dave Says:

    Have you checked out the KEE Theater in Kiester, MN

  8. Don Says:

    Oh how I too remember the screen size but we enjoyed them nonetheless! Simpler times then………………………

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    That would be a fun place to poke around in. I’ve never been to see a movie at an old theater before. Although my parents frequently remind me that I screamed through a drive in movie and they had to leave. I guess babies don’t like drive ins either

  10. Jenny Says:

    The Heights Theater in Columbia Heights, MN is wonderfully restored. They even show 35mm reel movies, I think on Thursday evenings. Certain shows they have an organist for a half hour ahead of time and the organ raises and lowers from a platform in front of the stage. A perfect evening out!

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