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Working at the Modjeska

Category : History , Uncategorized


Jerry Konz now lives in Sheboygan, but he reminisces fondly on his time working at the Modjeska Theater in Milwaukee.

“Sometimes, certain dates stick in your mind,” says Konz. “On Oct. 12, 1963, I went downtown to get a work permit and was hired on the spot.”

Jerry worked at the Modjeska from October, 1963 until February, 1965.

Before shift, theater staff members would exit stage left to dress in the basement-floor dressing rooms, frequently used in bygone Vaudeville days. They returned ready for their shift, adorned in uniforms of black pants, white dress shirts, and double-breasted suit coats – complete with a tie.

Adult admission was 95 cents. During that time, new movie showings started on Thursday, and every night the movie screen would light up the theater, smell of popcorn wafting. Jerry was an usher, and normal duties included cleaning the movie house and prepping film.

“On Wednesdays, we would do the marquee,” says Konz. “They would send me up on this big 10 ft. ladder to take down the old, put up the new.”

Jerry enjoyed working at the Modjeska, and he credits the people he worked alongside.

“One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much were the people I worked with,” he says. “There were good folks there, many were people I went to school with.”

Jerry went to South Division High and graduated in 1965. He grew up on the corner of 15th and National Avenue.

Jerry laughed as he shared a favorite memory while on the clock.

“One of the wildest ones, we were running a Beatles film, and my job was to keep the noise down. The girls would scream every time they came on the screen,” says Konz. “A couple of our employees were among the worst! We eventually gave up. They would just pause, look at you and continue screaming.”

Like so many, Jerry looks forward to the Modjeska doors reopening to the public.

“I would love to see it once it’s open again. I really loved working there.”

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Withstanding the Test of Time

Category : History


The Modjeska Theater (1134 W. Mitchell Street) officially opened its doors to patrons in 1910, serving as one of Milwaukee’s premier vaudeville outlets. Named after the Polish actress Helena Modjeska (1840-1909) who specialized in Shakespearean roles, the theater catered to the Polish-American community in the city. First built with 840 seats, the theater was replaced in 1924 on the grounds of the same address with a much larger structure full of grandeur – holding 2,000 seats, a full orchestra pit, trap doors abetting the most famous of vaudeville acts, and a Barton pipe organ. For decades, the theater operated prosperously. However, after enduring several changes in ownership, the success of the theater palace remained limited, and the venue eventually closed in 2010.

The Modjeska Theatre Project LLC is now operated by the not-for-profit group Mitchell Street Development Opportunities Corporation (MSDOC). A combined effort between the group and a number of committee members seek to breathe life back into the Modjeska Theater and again see it prosper and be available for the Milwaukee community. The end goal amongst these efforts is to showcase a theater district with a thriving arts and entertainment scene, as well as cultivate the development of local business.

Come early spring 2016, the theater will again host entertainment of all kinds – comedy shows, theater acts, graduations and community forums, weddings, art gallery nights and more. The sidewalks will again hear the sound of laughter and joy in the spirit of entertainment, and the lights of the Modjeska Theater marquee will again shine on Mitchell Street.