Wisconsin Historical Society

National or State Registers Record

136 4th Ave.

National or State Register of Historic Places
136 4th Ave. | National or State Registers Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:Ringling, Al, Theatre
Reference Number:76000202
Location (Address):136 4th Ave.
Al. Ringling Theatre
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 and other examples of their work include the Oriental Theatre in Chicago and the Paramount Theatre in New York. Here, the auditorium was based on the opera house at the Palace of Versailles and the lobby displayed a replica of the relief "Singing Gallery" 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. A unique element of the theater is the “Mighty Barton” Organ manufactured by the Barton Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin and installed after the Theatre sold its first organ in 1928.

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.

The Al. Ringling Theatre has been operational since its construction. Recently, the Sauk County Art Association and the Al. Ringling Theatre have developed a “partnership of the arts.” This partnership has led to new developments, including The Al. Ringling Theatre Art Gallery, located in newly renovated rooms to the left of the Theatre’s grand entrance. More information may be found on the Ringling Theatre website.

Period of Significance:1900-1924
Area of Significance:Architecture
Area of Significance:Entertainment/Recreation
Applicable Criteria:Architecture/Engineering
Applicable Criteria:Person
Historic Use:Recreation And Culture: Theater
Architectural Style:Beaux Arts
Resource Type:Building
Architect:Rapp,George L.
Historic Status:Listed in the National Register
Historic Status:Listed in the State Register
National Register Listing Date:05/17/1976
State Register Listing Date:01/01/1989
Number of Contributing Buildings:1
Number of Contributing Sites:0
Number of Contributing Structures:0
Number of Contributing Objects:0
Number of Non-Contributing Sites:0
Number of Non-Contributing Structures:0
Number of Non-Contributing Objects:0
National Register and State Register of Historic Places, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

How to Cite

For the purposes of a bibliography entry or footnote, follow this model:

National Register of Historic Places Citation
National Register of Historic Places, "Historic Name", "Town", "County", "State", "Reference Number".

Have Questions?

If you didn't find the National Register listing you were looking for or have other questions about the National Register, please email us and we can help: