Lake Mills group works to revamp theater

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 18, 2003

The lights flicker no more, the corn isn’t popping and the floors aren’t sticking at the Mills Theater in Lake Mills. In fact, the theater room is no longer there, but one might not guess that from looking at the entrance.

The theatre closed in 2001, but a non-profit group known as Lake Mills Entertainment Inc. has been formed to revitalize the Mills.

“We really want to preserve our downtown,” Rachel Ringham, a board member of Lake Mills Entertainment Inc., said. “Another huge thing is the community wanted something for all ages.”

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According to Scott Helgeson, who is the chairman of the organization, the idea to revive the theater came after a town meeting in which people voted on which issues were most important to them. The theater topped the list of almost 80 ideas.

The group was formed and the owners of the theater at the time, Al and Willie Skellenger, deeded the building over to them.

The building is in poor condition at this point. The theater part of the building has been completely torn down due to its poor shape. What remains is the lobby and the upstairs projection and crying rooms. Also in good shape is the marquee.

The building was built in 1936 and reflects the popular Art Deco style that many theaters of that time had. The marquee is packed with light bulbs, and flourescent lights highlighting the letters on the sign. The look of it makes one think they might still be able to see a movie for a quarter.

The city of Lake Mills has been instrumental in getting the project moving, according to Helgeson. They have forgiven the taxes on the building, and paid for the destruction of the back part of the building and paid for those materials to be hauled away.

The non-profit group is in the planning stages of their Mill revitalization project. Helgeson said the group is looking for ways to raise funds to get the plan off the ground.

The group plans to go after a few grants from the state as well as local businesses, but they are also hoping to host fund raisers and sell seats in the theater to donors.

Ringham said she hopes the theater project can begin in late summer or early fall. But, she guesses that at least $150,000 will be needed to complete it, which may not happen quickly.

The group is planning that the theater would show more than just movies.

“We want it to be multi-functional,” Ringham said.

Ringham said the theater would house community plays, possibly school performances as well as concerts and other events.

For Don Cole, another member of the board for Lake Mill Entertainment Inc., the theater project has a personal angle, too. He’d moved to town and started working at the theater many years ago.

Touring through the projection room and the lobby, he pointed out the projectors. He explained how they worked, spoke of how the theater looked and remembered how they put on each movie.

He hopes that the theater can be restored in order to strengthen the community.

“I have a 12 and 13 year old,” he said. “It’d be wonderful if we had a theatre here again before they go off to college.”