2230 North Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee's Eastside
INFO: 3 Screens DLP Digital Projection and Sound. Built in 1927. Operated by Landmark since 1976. The Oriental Theatre is located a mile north of downtown, a mile south of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and 5 blocks west of Lake Michigan, in the heart of Milwaukee's Eastside. On select Saturdays before the 7pm show in the main theatre, the lush sounds of the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ introduce the film, just like the good old days. This pipe organ is the largest of its kind in a theatre in America, and the third largest in the world. On November 13, 2009 the theatre opened its own bar at the concession stand. In addition to a wide selection of gourmet concession items, theatre patrons are now able to enjoy cocktails, wine by the bottle or glass and beer from Milwaukee and the world. Patrons are welcome to bring their drinks into the auditorium, so they may enjoy them prior, during and after their movie-going experience.
The Oriental is Milwaukee's only operating movie palaces, certainly the most beautiful and ornate one that has shown movies for 90 years solid. When the Oriental opened on July 2, 1927, it featured 2 minaret towers, three stained glass chandeliers, 6 larger-than-life Buddhas, several hand drawn murals, 8 porcelain lions, dozens of original draperies, and hundreds of elephants. This is how the papers described the Oriental when it opened and this is how it could be described today! The Oriental Theatre was the crown jewel among the 45 theatres in the Saxe Brothers' chain. The motif is not what first comes to mind today as being 'oriental.' Designed by Gustave A. Dick and Alex Bauer, the themes of the decor are East Indian, with no traces of Chinese or Japanese artwork. Milwaukee's Oriental is said to be the only standard movie palace ever built to incorporate East Indian decor.
Miraculously, the Oriental survived as a movie theatre until 1972, when local electricians the Pritchett Brothers purchased the theatre and graciously obliged the request of Parallax Theatres (now Landmark Theatres) to start running the Oriental in 1976. Landmark developed the programming strategy of repertory films; short runs of classic and cult double features, and the Oriental existed as a popular ‘calendar’ house for many years until video and cable TV again took away the customers.
Landmark then switched programming strategies to foreign and specialty films and now is the largest "art" house circuit in the country. In the '70s and '80s, the Oriental was also known for live performances, and was the venue to see such acts as Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, INXS, Supertramp, Jay Leno, Blondie, Devo, REM, Tears for Fears and Milwaukee's own Bodeans, among others. The Pretenders lost their opening act one fateful day, so they invited three guys who happened to be regular performers on the sidewalk in front of the theatre to take their place. Such was the beginning of the Violent Femmes, whose Greatest Hits compilation pays homage to the Oriental.
After live performances were discontinued, Landmark refocused the Oriental as solely a movie theatre. In 1988, the Oriental was painstakingly and successfully triplexed by adding 2 theatres underneath the balcony without touching any of the original artwork of the main auditorium. A one-of-a-kind vending stand was added, and the two new theatres were sensitively created by architects and artists to match original designs and colors of the theatre.
The Oriental Theatre is the U.S. record holder for a current and continuing film engagement. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has played as a midnight film since January, 1978. Rocky Horror now shows every second Saturday of the month with a live shadow cast.
PARKING: Metered parking is available on surrounding neighborhood streets and lots. The Oriental staff is happy to feed your meter.
Best Movie Theatre (2017, 2015-2001) - Shepherd Express
Top 10 Historic Movie Theatre (2015) - USA Today
“Readers' Choice: The 25 Best Movie Theatres in America” (2011) - Flavorwire.com
“One of the 10 Best Movie Theatres in America” (2009) - Moving Pictures Magazine
“One of the 10 Best Movie Theatres in America” (2005) - Entertainment Weekly
One of Travelocity's 2005 "Local Secrets, Big Finds" in Wisconsin - Travelocity
Best Make-Out Spot (2004) - OnMilwaukee.com
Best Movie Theatre (2001-1993 Reader's Choice) - Shepherd Express Metro
Favorite Milwaukee Area Movie Theatre (2001 Web Browser Poll) - OnMilwaukee.com