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Stink bombs and rival unions: the surprising history of this old Milwaukee theater

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In our Urban Spelunking podcast, we’re on a never-ending quest to prove every Milwaukee building has an interesting story.

That journey continues this week on Mitchell Street as we explore a duo of unassuming buildings — a former furniture store and an old theater — both packed with history.

The art moderne facade seen from the street. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.

The building site, 723 W. Mitchell St., has recently received some media buzz at OnMilwaukee.com because construction workers uncovered both an interesting piece of retail history and a cool piece of mid century moderne art.

They found an intricate glass facade and a retail sign bearing the name “BILT RITE,” covered for nearly 40 years, as they were removing steel panels above the main entrance. The finding, sadly, was temporary; it had to be removed hours later due to structural issues.

But even more interesting than the facade is the history of the theater that was, for a time, connected to the furniture store. The Park theater opened in 1907 and hosted traveling vaudeville acts, and later, feature films.

With the theater, unfortunately, came a lot of drama.

The resilient building somehow survived a major fire, a bomb threat, a rival union and, no joke, a scheming ring of high school chemistry students.

Chat we chat about the history on this week’s podcast episode below. For more history and photos, visit OnMilwaukee.

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