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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

10. Recreation and entertainment,   pp. 177-188

Page 182

Several small movie houses sprang up in Janesville's commercial district in the early twentieth
century. Some lasted for many years, but most were nickelodeons with short life-spans. Of all
the movie theaters established in downtown Janesville, only one is still operating as a movie
house. In the late twentieth century, most of the local movie business moved to the suburban
shopping district along Milton Avenue. Today, there are two modem multiplex movie houses in
this area.
The first movies were shown in Janesville at the West Side Skating Rink and Theater on South
River Street (not extant) around 1903 or 1904. This establishment showed movies and had
vaudeville entertainment. The first nickelodeon in Janesville was on South Main Street
(location unknown). In 1908, James Zanias opened the Lyric Theater at 113 W. Milwaukee St.;
around 1915, it moved to 210 W. Milwaukee St., where the Royal nickelodeon had been housed
from 1909 to around 1913. The Lyric closed sometime before 1920. Another short-lived
nickelodeon, the Unique, opened and closed at 303 W. Milwaukee St. around 1909. In that same
year, Nick Pappas opened the Majestic at 119 W. Milwaukee St.; it closed around 1930.
("Movie Theaters Numerous; First One of River St." 1935:27; City Directories; Sanbom-Perris
The opening and closing of theaters and nickelodeons was common during the early twentieth
century as entrepreneurs tried to find their audiences. Soon, bigger and better movie theaters
opened. The most well-known theaters in downtown Janesville during the twentieth century
were the Jeffris Theater, 319 W. Milwaukee St., opened around 1935; the Beverly Theater, 17 S.
Main St. (not extant), opened around 1915 and closed sometime after World War II; the Apollo
Theater, 306 W. Milwaukee St. (building extant, but remodeled, theater not extant), opened in
1913 and also closed sometime after World War II; and the Myers Theater, 118 E. Milwaukee
St. (old Myers Opera House), converted to movies in 1929 and closed and demolished in 1977.
(City Directories; Sanborn-Perris Maps)
Only one old movie theater is still extant in downtown Janesville, the Jeffris Theater, now
known as the Park Place Cinema. The Jeffris Theater was first remodeled around the 1970s, and
was recently converted into a multiplex movie theater. While there may be some of the old
theater still extant in the building, the extensive remodeling makes the Jeffris Theater
currently not potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and a non-
contributing element in the West Milwaukee Street Historic District). The building that
housed the Apollo Theater has also been completely remodeled into an office building, making
this location not potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Two
theaters located in the Milton Avenue business district-the Rock Theaters, 1620 Newport
Ave., and the U A Cinemas, 2500 Milton Ave.-are too modem to be potentially eligible for the
National Register of Historic Places.
Live theater did not totally disappear in Janesville when the Myers Opera House converted to
a movie house in 1929. That same year, Malcolm Mouat and Mary Lovejoy called a meeting to
organize the Janesville Little Theatre. The core group then called a public meeting in August
1929 to recruit additional supporters. A board of directors, half of whom were appointed and
half elected by season ticket holders, was established to oversee the organization. The early
years of the Great Depression of the 1930s could have caused the theater to fail, but ticket
prices were reasonable, and many people had extra free time to spend on the productions.
(Niles and Lenox 1979:n.p.)
The first play that the Little Theatre performed was "The New Lady Bantock," mounted in
the auditorium of the then Janesville High School (old Marshall Middle School, 408 S. Main
St.). This first production was not particularly memorable, but the troupe cemented its fine
reputation with their next play, "The Admirable Crichton," a large production with elaborate
Recreation and Entertainment

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