Building Description Al. Ringling Theatre, Baraboo Wisconsin

The building, 81 feet wide by 136 feet deep, is rectangular in shape, virtually filling the site. The front portion is occupied by stores, offices, and the theatre entrance. Behind them is the auditorium with the stage at the very rear. The building is a low rectangular block, with a tall stage loft rising at the rear. The elliptical wall of the auditorium block rises through the surrounding roof and abuts the front of the stage loft. The block containing the projection booth is located on the roof of the office section abutting the front end of the auditorium upper wall. The office section of the building is two stories high. The auditorium rises considerably higher.

The street facade is four bays wide, finished in gray terra cotta over a dado of polished granite. The wooden trim is painted white. The left three bays, identical in design, contain storefronts with office windows above. The right bay is the theatre entrance. It is said that Mr. Ringling's original intent was to duplicate the storefront bays to the right of the theatre entrance, placing the entrance at the center of a seven-bay building, but that the necessary land was unavailable.

The left three bays are defined by paneled piers which support a continuous entablature. The piers are set on polished granite bases. The panels are outlined by bellflower moldings, and at the top of each is a pendant bell-flower motif. The friezeless entablature consists of a three-banded architrave, ornamented at intervals with raised disks. Above the architrave are a cyma reversa and a row of dentils. A wooden trellis resting on slim projecting brackets takes the place of a cornice. Above the trellis, the unornamented parapet wall has a slightly projecting coping.

At the first floor level there is a store front with a large plate glass show window and recessed door of standard design within each bay. The westernmost bay also contains the stairway to the second-floor offices. Above each show window, extending the width of the bay, is a tripartite small-paned glazed transom of 12-21-12 lights. The spandrel panels between floors are of gray terra cotta, containing a recessed panel with a raised diamond-shaped ornament over each of the mullions which divide the transoms below.

At the second-story level, the tripartite arrangement of the fenestration is continued, here made up of pairs of French windows separated by unfluted Renaissance Ionic engaged columns. Between the columns, and protecting the openings, are ornamental iron railings of simple design. The central windows contain 15 panes each, while the outer ones contain ten. Above each pair of windows is a low glazed transom, with panes equal in size to those in the windows below.

The eastern bay is the entrance to the theatre, and is treated with great elaboration. To either side, a pair of rusticated Renaissance Ionic pilasters (flanked by paneled piers identical to those described above) is set on a high polished granite base. The pilasters contain recessed panels framed by bell-flower moldings, the narrow alternating courses breaking forward of this pattern, and each block bearing its own inscribed central rectangle. The volutes of the capitals are connected by small floral festoons. Each pilaster pair supports an entablature segment of a four-stage architrave and a wide frieze containing two projecting disks with an overdraped, ribboned, floral garland, and denticulated, enriched modillioned cornice. In the span between the pilaster pairs, the cornice and low parapet break upward to form a semicircular arch. To either side of the arch, over each pilaster pair, is a heavy block pedestal, its outer edge in the form of a volute, repeated in a set-back facing outward. Pedestal fronts show bound floral garlands and C-scrolls, and on each pedestal, an elaborate tetrapod supports a plain stone sphere.

Within the bay, the theatre entrance consists of three pairs of glazed wooden doors, painted a brownish purple color. They are topped by a tri-part segmental arched transom, glazed with mirrors. In recent years, the left pair of doors has been replaced with a ticket booth of transparent and opaque glass, the opaque panel matching the purple color of the doors. Above the transom is the projecting marquee. Above the marquee, at the second story level, is a wide, four-part window, the inner sections being a pair of French windows. The window unit, with a three-centered arched top, is divided by a transom bar at the spring line. The windows are glazed with small panes. To each side of the second-floor window opening, and continuing upward under the curve of the cornice, is a plain band with the inscription, " AL RINGLING THEATRE" following the curve. In the tympanum between the high semi-circular arch and the lower four-centered arch of the window there is a large, egg-shaped cartouche, unornamented except for a small bell-flower pendant at its top. Its narrow molded frame is scrolled to accommodate a diminutive cartouche still higher. To either side is a curved-sided triangular recessed panel with a wide molded frame.

The side and rear walls of the main building mass, the side walls of the stage loft, and the sides of the upward projection of the auditorium walls are of pink common brick laid up in common bond. The walls of the projection booth, the street end of the auditorium wall, and the front of the stage loft are of dark red face brick with projecting belt courses and projecting and recessed ornamental panels. They have a heavy white terra cotta coping.

Projecting above the segmental arched transom of the entrance, the marquee was originally a slim canopy of iron and glass in the form of a segmental curve. The present marquee now contains illuminated lettering and attraction panels in a high metal and glass parapet.


The lobby is a small elliptical room, approximately 14' X 16' in size, with its long axis parallel to the street. The floor, originally carpeted, is covered with alternating black and white composition tiles. The circumference of the room is divided into eight bays, the three at either end being of approximately equal width, those on the long sides somewhat wider. The bays are defined by unornamented shallow pier pilasters which extend through the wide frieze surrounding the room. Each of the two wide bays has three sets of paired glazed wooden doors opening to the street or to the auditorium foyer, respectively. In the west end bay is a door to the adjoining store, now used as the theatre office. The door is balanced at the east end of the lobby by a large mirror in a bronze frame. The intermediate "corner bays" contain bronze framed display panels. The walls are of cream-colored plaster above a white veined marble base. The lobby is surrounded by a wide decorative terra cotta frieze.

The horseshoe-shaped foyers which surround the auditorium at both the main floor and mezzanine levels are decorated in a rather restrained manner. The mezzanine foyer has a low chair rail with panels above and below. The ground color of the panels is dull gold with a stencilled pattern in grey. The woodwork which occupies most of the remaining wall area is painted light cream. The ceiling is divided into a series of coved panels which are painted pink, the coves decorated with anthemion and flower cluster motifs and painted a metallic gold. The main floor foyer is similar in treatment. As the ceiling is lower, the chair rail and lover panels are omitted. The ceiling cove ornamentation is less elaborate and is painted entirely in dull gold. Both foyers taper in width, terminating at the proscenium wall in a semicircular niche of small dimension. Lighting is provided by silk-shaded candle sconces on the side walls and acorn-shaped bronze and pebbled glass pendant lanterns. In the lower foyer the lanterns are lighted alternately by electricity and gas.

The auditorium is a truncated ellipse in plan with a gently sloping floor and a flat, level ceiling surrounded by a wide cove. The sides and rear are surrounded by a 15-bay oval engaged Corinthian colonnade. In lieu of a balcony there are 17 boxes projecting between the columns. The columns are set on paneled pedestals which vary in height with the slope of the floor the rearmost columns resting directly on the floor. The lower portions of the columns have enriched stopped fluting. The entablature, which completely surrounds the auditorium, is composed of architrave, frieze with draped disk ornament above each column, and enriched denticulated modillion cornice. From each of the wall segments within the intercolumniations, at approximately mid-height, projects a semi-elliptical box. The boxes are stepped down to follow the main floor slope. Each box front is decorated with a rinceau and a central cartouche with a molded figure on either side. The rectangular opening to the main floor beneath each box is surrounded by a rope molding. The sides of the enframement are enriched with the guilloche, the top with leaf panels. The openings are draped in dark red with gold trim and on either side is a silk-shaded single candle sconce. The openings to the boxes are more rich in treatment. They also have the surrounding rope molding and the horizontal bay leaf panel above the opening. Above this there is a hood ornamented with egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel moldings and fluting, and supported by two enriched consoles. Since the hoods are all at the same level and the box levels vary, an additional horizontal panel is inserted within the rope molding of the forward boxes. This panel contains a recessed central panel with a small central wreath. The panel is framed with Greek key and bead moldings. Above each of the door hoods is a cartouche garlanded with polychromed plaster flowers.

The proscenitmi boxes flanking the stage are treated with exceptional grandeur. They are smaller than the other auditorium boxes, each containing only four seats. They are narrower and have gilded balustrades in place of the ornamented parapet walls which front the other boxes. To either side of each box is a pair of freestanding Corinthian columns, with enriched stopped fluting, set on a common pedestal. The columns support the main entablature of the room, which is broken forward over them. Above the entablature, in front of the ceiling cove, is a broken segmental pediment with an elaborately garlanded cartouche. Within the space framed by the columns is the rectangular opening to the box set below an arched architrave, the tympanum decorated with a Greek key molding and a central wreathed disk. Above the arch is the garlanded cartouche motif used above the auditorium boxes. Each of the 17 boxes in the room is lighted by a vasiform etched glass light ornamented with a metal pendant tassel, and suspended from a plush-sheathed chain.