Pabst Theater Building Description Pabst Theater, Milwaukee Wisconsin

The building measures 147 feet 6 inches (east-west) by 80 feet (north-south). The building has an irregular roof line, with the west or stage pavilion being four stories, the center portion or auditorium being three and one-half stories, and the east or lobby pavilion being three stories.

The main entrance, near the east end of the south elevation, consists of four sets of metal-framed, metal-clad, rectangular double doors with rectangular lights. Each set of doors is surmounted by an arched transom light. The doors are set within two large arched openings flanked by polished granite columns. On this elevation, at grade, are also two sets of rectangular double fire doors near the center of the facade and an iron stage door near the west end. There are multi-level fire escape exits on both the south and north elevation and a basement-level entry on the south immediately west of the main entrance. In the west elevation are two rectangular metal stage doors; in the east wall of the auditorium are two rectangular fire escape doors at the top level above the roof of the lobby and a rectangular door near the north end, just above grade.

Most of the windows throughout the building are wooden double-hung units with one-over-one lights. As mentioned earlier, many have been bricked up, but the original treatment is, for the most part, still evident.

Above the second floor balcony, the facade is divided into a five-part composition with the end pavilions having three bays and the center pavilions each having one. (The central bay probably never contained windows but initially may have had paneled doors which gave access to the second and third floor balconies.) An additional strip of narrow, deep-set windows punctuates the outer edge of the second and fourth parts of the facade. With the exception of the latter, all the second and third floor windows are within arcades crowned by keystones, with those on the end pavilions being framed by pilasters. These strong vertical elements are off-set by a heavy string course which runs across the entire facade above the third story windows. The five-part composition of the facade is somewhat imbalanced because the east or entrance pavilion is purposely emphasized by heavier and more elaborate decoration. The simple triple arcade of the west or stage pavilion has been modified on the east to a single arch, the top of which is filled by an ornate medallion flanked by a pseudobalustrade with two round windows above it. The pilasters framing the windows have decorative capitals and there are decorative spandrels between the second and third floors. This pavilion also differs from the others in having single rather than paired windows. On the first floor there is a small oval window with a small square window below it on the east and west ends of the facade. These extend the pattern of the two strips of narrow, deep-set windows above. Placed high in the first story of the west pavilion, there are three pairs of small windows underscored by a continuous stone sill, each pair separated by a single pilaster.

On the west side The pattern established on the south facade--two stories of paired windows in pilastered arcades broken by a string course--is repeated on the west elevation with a single arcade on each end of the wall. Most of these windows have been bricked up. The rest of this side of the building is devoid of windows.

Because the remaining portion of the old Nunnemacher Grand Opera House originally stood along the east side of the building, the only window is one large iron-framed unit located near the entrance at the north end of the wall.

On the north side most of the original openings have been bricked up and it is difficult to discern at this point the original plan of this side of the building. There are, however, a few remaining double hung windows at various levels.


The basement level contains dressing rooms, restrooms for performers, property rooms, two electrical equipment areas, light storage room, paint room, blower and heating equipment rooms, plenum space, and public lounge and restrooms.

On the main level at the east end are the foyer, ticket office, main lobby, and checkroom, with auxiliary spaces. To the west are the theater proper, orchestra pit (slightly below the level of the theater), and stage (five risers above theater level). Backstage, at stage level, are two stars' dressing rooms with restrooms.

The second level is the Mezzanine lobby, with toilet and storage rooms, and first balcony.

The top level contains the second balcony, ladies' restroom, and corridor.

Backstage, dressing rooms, with toilets, are located above the two stars' dressing rooms north and south of the stage. Lighting control panel and fuse board are situated in a room at the second level on the south. At the fourth landing above the stage is the catwalk used for storing and controlling scenery drops; a second catwalk, above the stage, holds mechanical equipment for the drops.

On the first landing above the mezzanine lobby is an office; on upper landings are the projection room storage space and a men's restroom.

Above mezzanine level is an office and a storeroom.

The upper area at the rear of the first balcony contains the projection room.

The main staircase on the east end of the building joins the main and mezzanine lobbies. Its white marble treads, balusters, newels, and handrails all were salvaged from the original grand staircase, removed in 1928. The wainscot along the east wall is Alps green and gold Siena marble.

Just west of the ticket office, on the south side of the building, is a stairway joining all levels of the theater. At mezzanine level this stairway splits into two sections, the east portion leading to an office and to the upper rows of the first balcony, the west section leading on up to the projection room storage space (which is connected to the projection room proper by an iron stairway) and the second balcony. The east portion is stone, the west iron, with both having iron balusters and newels and wooden handrails.

In the Foyer the east and west walls have gold Siena marble wainscot with Alps green marble base and chair rail. Above the wainscot the walls are painted plaster which simulate stone. The ceiling is ornamental plaster.

In the main lobby the wainscot is like that in the foyer, and the upper portions of the walls are painted plaster. There are gilded Ionic pilasters between the portals opening into the theater and alongside the checkroom. Free-standing columns are gold scagliola with Alps green marble bases and gold-painted Ionic capitals. The ceiling is paneled ornamental plaster, with light fixtures recessed.

In the Theater the north, south, and east walls are painted plaster punctuated by gilded pilasters. The proscenium arch, in the west wall, is set in a large rectangular panel with triangular panels above the arch at north and south having ornamental plaster grilles. The archivolt is heavily encrusted with gold-painted decorative plaster work, and a gilded sculpture of Apollo with Tragedy and Comedy crowns the proscenium. Side walls meet the proscenium wall at shallow angles and contain the former box seat areas, remodelled in 1928 but retaining portions of the original plaster ornament. Balcony railings are also richly decorated. Crowning the auditorium is a shallow circular dome with a stained-glass oculus (not original). Dome and walls meet at a richly ornamented plaster cornice, about the base of which are pilaster-framed plaques bearing the names of famous painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers.