When you walk out of Washington House Inn‘s front door and turn right, your eyes are automatically drawn to a striking black-and-white Vitrolite Art Deco façade, complete with a marquee that juts out onto the pavement on the west side of the street … Cedarburg’s beloved Rivoli Theatre. But not everyone knows that in 2005, the city was in danger of losing this little gem.
Constructed by Friedrich Boerner in the late 1880s, the building housed a general store before it was converted into a cinema in 1936. Operated by Marcus Theatres for many years, the Rivoli was a convenient mainstay for residents … somewhere for that special Friday night date or a safe place to drop off kids for a Saturday matinee. However, over the years, attendance dropped – the exterior started looking “tired,” and a night at the movies didn’t have the same appeal as it once had. When Marcus decided not to renew its lease, the rumor quickly spread around town that the little single-screen theatre was about to close.
That’s when the Cedarburg Landmarks Preservation Society, a small local non-profit group, stepped in and committed to purchase and restore the building to its former retro glory. Multiple fund-raisings took place, professionals and craftspeople donated services and materials, and the whole community stood 100 percent behind the project. Incredibly, with the exception of a professional projectionist, to this day the cinema is entirely run by volunteers who show up daily to sell tickets and manage the concession stand. And, get this, although ticket prices of $3.50 still reflect the “good old days,” on Tuesdays, the line of movie aficionados often snakes into Center Street. Want to know why? On that day, tickets cost $2!