Oriental Theatre will remain closed as restoration work continues this summer

Oriental Theatre
Oriental Theatre

Work to restore the Oriental Theatre on Milwaukee’s East Side will continue this summer while the theater remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Milwaukee Film, the nonprofit owner and operator of the 93-year-old theater, said Tuesday that it plans to complete renovations to the main and east theaters over the next few months. 

Restoration work includes replacing seats and carpeting, improving sightlines and sound quality, restoring plaster on the ceiling and walls, and beginning the process for installation of a 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ. 

Milwaukee Film expects the work will be completed in the fall.

“Our operations have been highly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has created significant uncertainty over when we’ll be able to safely open our doors again to large crowds,” said Jonathan Jackson, chief executive officer and artistic director for Milwaukee Film. “We are, however, able to safely embark on several long-planned restoration projects that, if not done now, would require future shutdown of the cinema.” 

The organization met its $10 million fundraising campaign goal for the project in spring 2019, and completed the restoration of the Oriental’s west theater later that year. 

“Going forward with this work now is an important decision, and as we’ve reached out to our major donors, they’ve been extremely supportive that this is the perfect time for restoration to ensure we’re ready when it’s safe to bring film back to a packed house,” said Patti Keating Kahn, board chair for Milwaukee Film.

Due to the pandemic and restoration work, Milwaukee Film has canceled its screenings of “Cats,” which were originally scheduled for March and moved to August. 

While Milwaukee Film continues planning for a 2020 film festival, Jackson has said the likelihood of a 15-day, in-person event on the scale of the 2019 festival is “exceedingly low.”

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