After design and construction, the Sherman Theatre is born!

The Sherman Theatre was designed by noted Milwaukee architect Herbert W. Tullgren (1889-1944). Tullgren came to Milwaukee with his family as a young man when they moved to the city from Chicago in 1905. Soon thereafter, he was sent to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia where he graduated in 1908. He returned to Milwaukee and in 1910 entered into business it his father, a Swedish-born architect, under the company name Martin Tullgren & Sons.

Herbert Tullgren had a short but prolific career. He designed a large number of apartment buildings, businesses, schools, and stores in Milwaukee and in cities across southwestern Wisconsin. He was an architect for the Schroeder Hotel Company and designed the Shorecrest Hotel in Milwaukee as well as hotels in Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Madison, and Manitowoc. Many of Tullgren’s buildings are now listed on the National Historic Register for their architectural and historical significance.

Construction on the Sherman Theatre complex began in mid-1935 on a large empty lot between neighborhoods that had been, as one early neighborhood resident recalled, “the scene of furious inter-neighborhood football games.” The building cost $100,000, or about $1.7 million in 2014 dollars, and was said to be one of the largest building projects in the city that year.

The theater opened on Christmas Day 1935 under the management of Fox Wisconsin Corporation with the films She Married Her Boss, Diamond Jim, and the Popeye cartoon You Gotta Be a Football Hero. Admission for the whole day was a 25 cents, or about $4.38 in 2014

Architecturally, the Sherman Theatre is an excellent example of 1930s movie theater construction. Built in the middle of the Great Depression, the building’s muted decor and clean lines stand in sharp contrast to other Milwaukee movie houses built only a few years prior. The 1920s had produced, as one observer wrote, the “cinema palace of crystal and gold”, however the bleak economic conditions of the 1930s favored the simpler, less ornate Streamline Moderne style, a late version of Art Deco, which became the standard for theater design during this time. The construction of the Sherman Theatre was also congruent with a broader trend that emergence of neighborhood movie houses.

The theater was unique in one other respect. Unlike earlier theaters, the Sherman Theatre was built exclusively for “canned” entertainment. With synchronized sound movies now standard, the theater contained no pipe organ or orchestra pit. Nor was there a stage, dressing rooms, or any other accoutrements typically required for live performances. The theater was strictly a movie house in every respect.

Wisconsin Historical Society property records indicate that the Sherman Theatre is one of only a few such buildings Herbert Tullgren ever worked on or designed. Martin Tullgren & Sons designed Milwaukee’s Savoy Theater, which opened in 1914, and Herbert himself designed Kenosha’s Orpheum Theater, which opened in 1922. Neither building presently house theaters. The Savoy, located at 2626 W. Center St., has lost many of its character-defining features and its façade no longer resembles a movie theater.

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