Retlaw Theater
Fond du Lac, Wis.


This undated post card image looks north on Main Street in Fond du Lac, Wis., with the Retlaw Theater on the right. The Retlaw Hotel--built by Walter Schroeder, the same real estate developer who built the theater--can be seen further up the street, and the vertical sign of the Fond du Lac Theater is visible about a half-block north of the hotel. Both theaters opened in the latter part of 1925 and were about a city block apart. The buildings remain standing in 2013, but the auditorium of the Fond du Lac theater has been demolished, leaving only the lobby structure, retail space, and apartments still standing. Both theaters' vertical signs were removed before the 1950s.

The Retlaw was designed by Rapp & Rapp of Chicago (the firm also designed other theaters located in the Wisconsin cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Baraboo) and construction was completed by the Immel Construction Co. of Fond du Lac in December, 1925. The theater opened to the public Dec. 26, 1925, and closed as a movie house in 1998. The building was sold in 2000 and reopened for a time as the Bravo Performing Arts Center. The property was sold again and the possibility of a restoration project was mentioned at that time. In 2012, the property was listed for sale. A local developer acquired an option to purchase the property and proposed a boutique hotel project for the site. The plan was later revised and currently involves an apartment and office project.  A group of local citizens formed "Friends of the Retlaw Theatre" to halt the developer's planned demolition of the auditorium, and their website is They also have a Facebook page and a fund-raising website

Commonwealth Development finalized their purchase of the property in August, 2014, and began partial demolition of the theater structure Sept. 2, 2014. While the lobby facade and the retail and office portions of the building will remain standing, the original 1925 auditorium, the stage,  and two additional theaters added in the 1980s will be leveled.

Demolition Update:

Link to video coverage of the first day of demolition on the Retlaw Theater site (Theater Five was added in the 1980s and is not part of the original Rapp & Rapp-designed building). 9/2/2014 

Link to second day video coverage. Walls of Theater Five start to come down. 9/3/2014

Page updated Sept. 3, 2014

1960 Photos | 1961 Photos | 1962 Photos | 2008 Photos |

What do you know?

Please e-mail if you have information about the history--or future--of the Retlaw, or photos to share.

Copyright 2008-2014, Norman Lenburg