The The Al. Ringling Theater was once a hotel that was lost to fire, but is now a beautiful theater and playhouse. Located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, this theater is what I deem to be a must-see place.
The theater was built and designed over the course of eight months in 1915, and cost an estimated $100,000 to construct. It was the most expensive theater in the state at the time of it's construction. The theater was a gift to the people of the community that Ringling loved, and has been in operation over 80 years since it's opening night in November 1915.
The theater brings back memories of a time long ago. A time of elegance and of beauty. A time that is so foreign to most of us today. Everything in the theater is original, and while there's many areas in need of repair, the theater does hire out artists to carry out these repairs. The theater plans to do a full restoration of the theater. Currently they are expanding the main lobby. You can read a brief note about it here.
Al. Ringling was the eldest of the five Ringling Brothers. He is also buried in the Baraboo cemetery. Here you see a framed photo of Al. that hangs in the theater's lobby.
We had gone by this theater many, many times. Talking about going there some day to see what it was like inside. The brochure depics a golden theater rich with details that have long been abandoned in favor of more modern architecture.
We finally went to the theater on January 12 of this year. What we saw was much more than a movie, nay, we saw a gem that had been lying in wait for us to experience. We went on a snowy day, you know the days where there's nothing to do but go to a movie. Here's a shot of the theater before we went inside. Even the outside display is beautiful.
The lighted marquee seen here was not installed when the theater was built. It was later added in 1937. The facade of the theater has been fully restored and is made of terra cotta. The highest point of this facade is an astounding 38 feet tall.
Once inside these doors you enter into the lobby. The lobby is circular in shape and is adorned with cherubs galore. It's currently being restored, and we were fortunate enough to see the artist while there.
The following photos will attempt to recreate the circular wonder that the lobby holds. This cherubic detail goes around the entire top portion of the lobby.
Between the cherubs we see floral baskets.
For a better idea of what the lobby holds you can view my video clip of it here.
The following photo is a detail on the door side just as you enter into the hall.
The ceiling of the lobby is adorned with gentle pastel paintings of Victorian-esque cherubs.
Hiding behind the artist's tarp I discovered one more painting of those beautiful cherubs.
I had asked permission to take these photos, and you probably should do the same should you go with a camera. My concern was due to the fact that many historical places ask you to refrain from photos as well as theaters being concerned of someone using a camera as a means to pirate a movie clip.
The view that greeted us in the hall was one of mysterius darkened halls and luxurious red velvet. I felt like I had entered dear Lestat's paradise. There's a certain air of mystery about the theater. I cannot place my finger on it, but something about it just speaks to me.
This is a shot of the circular hall that leads around the theater. There's one of these halls on either side of the large theater.
We had gone for a matinee showing of our movie, and were amazed to see that we were the only ones there. We sat there for our own private showing of a movie in a theater fit for a king.
The theater's auditorium is done in golden tones and has rich Victorian carvings, details and more beautful paintings. Those curved tiles at the top of the wall are home to several pastel-toned paintings.
The theater originally seated 874, it now seats 798 people. The box seats are closed during movie showings and we were not allowed up there during our visit.
The auditorium seats are made of leather and the backs are rich red velvet. So classy and so unique for a theater.
The width of the theater's audiorium is 81 feet. There are box seats on either side of the theater in the same fashion as you see in the photo below.
The theater is shaped like a half circle with the stage at the front. The movie screen sleeps behind a thick red velvet curtain that lifts as the movie is starting up.
Here you see a closer look at the columns that are all around the theater.
The chandelier was very ornate and added a hint of mystery to the theater while we waited for the movie to begin.
Below is a closer look at one of the box seats. I would have loved to go up there and toview the theater from above.
The following three photos are just a small portion of the paintings that are found in the theater. The angle of the room made it slightly difficult to capture them without an angle to the shot.
The movie paled compared to the theater's details. One thing I enjoyed was seeing the theater lit with the brighter scenes of the movie. The movie's glow cast itself upon the elaborate room often, and I found my attention drifting to look up at the beautiful room that surrounded us.
To get a better idea of what the theater looks like you can view my short video clip of it here.
Outside in the lobby there's a restored chair. I imagine at one time all the seats would have had this amount of detail.
This shot was taken from in the hall peering into the theater. You can actually see the movie credits on the screen if you look close.
After the movie they turned the lights up bright and I took advantage of the moment to look around more and to take some more photos.
Here's a better, brighter view of the chandelier.
A closer look at the columns and a peek at the theater behind them.
The box seat on the upper left of this next shot is one of the areas in need of restoring.
Here's the stage. The velvet curtain lifts to reveal the screen. Though you cannot tell it here, the height of the building above the stage is an astounding 60 feet.
This is a view from the hall. I love the gold details on the red velvet curtains.
The hall has these dainty light fixtures all around it as well as a couple information tables.
It is quite evident that Ringling and the Chicago architectual firm Rapp and Rapp who built this gem spared no expense when it came to details.
What you see here is what the theater looked like when it opened. It's all original and no alterations or remodeling has ever been done to it. They are, however restoring it to it's natural beauty.
In 1976 the theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater offers guided tours of the building. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and take you behind the stage. They are offered every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day at 11:00AM. Cost of the tours is a meager $4 per person. We have yet to take in a tour, though it is certainly planned and on our to-do list.
When you are in the Baraboo area, be sure to take in this beautiful theater. You'll have done more than see a play or a movie, you'll have had an experience unlike any other.
To see a virtual tour of the theater you can click here. It has far more information than I could ever place here about the architectural details.
Information gleaned from the Ringling Theater website, two brochures from the theater as well as a poster in the theater.
You can view the poster below. It shows the Wisconsin House Hotel which once stood where the theater is now as well as varied stages of the theater's growth and some statistics and information about the theater.