315 S BARSTOW | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

315 S BARSTOW

Architecture and History Inventory
315 S BARSTOW | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
NAMES
Historic Name:THE CAMEO THEATRE
Other Name:DOWNTOWN CINEMA
Contributing:
Reference Number:232219
PROPERTY LOCATION
Location (Address):315 S BARSTOW
County:Eau Claire
City:Eau Claire
Township/Village:
Unincorporated Community:
Town:
Range:
Direction:
Section:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
PROPERTY FEATURES
Year Built:1946
Additions:
Survey Date:2015
Historic Use:theater
Architectural Style:Art/Streamline Moderne
Structural System:
Wall Material:Metal
Architect:Leibenberg & Kaplan (Minneapolis)Walker Brothers (Builder)
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished?:No
Demolished Date:
DESIGNATIONS
NOTES
Additional Information:The theater is two stories in height with a rectangular plan and shares party walls with the adjacent buildings on its north and south sides. The front façade is dominated at the street level by a recessed grouping of five full-lite wooden doors with a convex curved marble and glass ticket window to one side and a new metal fully glazed storefront door to the other, all sheltered by a large, trapezoidal canopy marquee. The upper façade is clad in peach and white colored, roughly square metal panels with prominent letter signage reading “Downtown Cinema.” The letters composing “Cinema” are hollow metal letters lined with exposed lightbulbs, and include the salvaged original letters “C”, “e”, “m”, and “a” from the original sign reading “Cameo” with matching reproductions for the letters required for the current name.

The Cameo movie theater, designed by architects Leibenberg & Kaplan of Minneapolis, began construction in January 1946 by the Walker Brothers general contractors. The theater opened in December of that same year and was operated by Mindako Theaters, a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Minnesota Amusement Company, which operated a chain of 90 movie theaters throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The same company already had operated three other movie houses in the city: The State, Eau Claire, and The Badger theaters. Between the main floor and rear balcony, The Cameo originally sat 470 patrons.

A local newspaper article advertising the theater’s opening showing of “The Bachelor’s Daughters” on December 21, 1946, described The Cameo as having “the latest and most desireable features in movie theater construction,” including indirect flouroescent and neon lighting, continuous aisle lighting, cushioned seats set 32 inches apart, acoustic treatments including a “floating ceiling” and “special wall linings which absorb sound and prevent echoes in any part of the auditorium,” and a fireproof projection booth with automatic fire protection controls. Interior finishes “in pastel greys and blues cobined with deep Castilian red” included a neon-lit foliage design in front of the screen, a large ivory cameo head on each side wall lit with black fluorescent lights to glow in the dark, stainless steel railings, and natural wood accents in the lobby. A lounge, popcorn room, restrooms, and manager’s office were located in the basement, finished in tile, large mirrors, and silk gold cloth wall treatments. Decorations were applied by J.R. Kwitchak, long time Minnesota Amusement Company employee from Minneapolis.

The theater has remained in its original use to this day, under various ownerships. Within the past several decades, the theater was converted into a twin screen theater; with a new screen installed at the front of the existing balcony to create a second auditorium. The theater most recently changed ownership in 2014. At that time, the theater was converted to digital projection and simultaneously underwent a major interior renovation, re-opening in 2015. In the lower original auditorium, the original acoustic wall linings which remained to that time were deteriorating heavily and were replaced; new cameo head decorations were installed at this time as well. New paint, carpet, and seats were installed in both auditoriums. A new accessible restroom and enlarged kitchen facilities were constructed, configured at the back of the lower theater. The lobby retained its original terrazzo floor and steel and etched glass stair balustrades. The basement restrooms were completely renovated with new fixtures and tile finishes. The basement stairs and lounge received new carpeting and paint. While not matching the original finishes, tremendous effort was spent ensuring the new finishes coordinated with the original Art Moderne style.
Bibliographic References:
RECORD LOCATION
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, State Historic Preservation Office, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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