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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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General view

Interior (Photo by Mark Fay)

136 Fourth Avenue, Baraboo, Sauk County
Architects: C W Rapp and George Rapp
Date of construction: 1915

This lavishly appointed, terra cotta clad, Beaux Arts style building is one of the nation's first "movie palaces." These theaters were consciously designed to transport the moviegoer from everyday reality through the lavishness and exotic appearance of the interior decoration. Constructed at a cost of over $100,000, the Ringling Theatre was an important commission for one of the nation's foremost theater design firms, Rapp and Rapp of Chicago. Their theaters were often modeled after 18th and 19th century French classical interiors. Here, the auditorium was based on the opera house at the Palace of Versailles and the lobby displayed a replica of a relief by Renaissance sculptor Luca della Robia. The auditorium is lavishly decorated with painted murals and gilding and is considered one of the most ornate small town theaters in America.

Al Ringling, one of Baraboo's leading citizens and one of the founders and leaders of the Ringling Brothers Circus empire, built the theater as a gift to the city. Befitting a great showman, the building is a true showpiece in the community. As in many smaller municipalities, the theater served a dual purpose, housing both stage and screen shows, as well as public lectures and local graduations. It continues in an entertainment capacity.

More information may be found on the Ringling Theatre website.


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