History of Three Lakes Center for the Arts Building
This meeting held in October of 1947 was the first step of what would become Three Lakes Center for the Arts. A second step was in the spring of 2004 when Donna Goeddaeus of Conover brought the idea of an art center to an intrepid group of Three Lakes women led by Anita Kendall and Linnea Ebann brought the second element and a third step was a meeting between Gay Scheffen and an anonymous couple fused the streams into what has become the multi-use building we know today.
And now, bit of background and history…
TLCFA started as a movie theater that the resort and business owners of Three Lakes thought was needed 70 years ago.
This community theater is unique. The businessmen’s dream was realized by the sale of stock (a la the Green Bay Packers) sold to the community to raise the money. An architect and builder was commission to design and build the theater. Work started in early December 1948 and the theater opened on June 12, 1949. The first movie was “Red River” with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.
Of the several hundred movie theaters built in Quonset huts after WWII, TLCFA is one of only six Quonset theaters left in the entire country still showing movies. Also it is the only such theater that has been restored after going dark for over two decades. Built for the Military in WWII, the “elephant” Quonset found its way to Three Lakes in 1948 and became a center of movie entertainment throughout our area.
A little known fact is that the original theater was designed and built by a local sports hero, Cy Williams, who won an award for the design. Cy was one of the all time great baseball players – a peer with players like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. He was only the second person ever to hit 250 home runs (Rogers Hornsby did it first) – and that was during the “dead ball” era.
Then, due to the pressure of TV, the theater went “dark” in the mid-fifties until Steven Conway, a theater owner in Crandon, took over the operation in 1958. It operated in the summer under the Conway’s until about 1972. Parenthetically in 1967 it was managed by Steve Conway Jr. Steve hired a local girl, Alma, who did concessions and learned to run the projectors. It must have worked out since they married and have been active in the TLCFA and the theater business in Eagle River and Woodruff. The movie operation was closed in 1972.
In 1974 the property was purchased by the LaPlatte’s who updated the façade and added a second floor with 4 apartments. They lived upstairs but plans for the main floor never materialized. In 1992 the building was again sold and the downstairs was remodeled into retail space and did business as the “Hodge Podge Lodge” In 2005 the building was sold again to John Mason, however his plans for the building never materialized.
In 2007 an anonymous donor gifted TLCFA with $250,000 to purchase the old theater. A combination of professional contractors and skilled volunteers restored the interior of the quonset and in the process found that the original décor of the theater had not been removed.
The renovation of the building has taken over $400,000 of donations and fund raising to date and thousands of hours of volunteer effort. It has once again become a Three Lakes community-wide project, led by the Three Lakes Center for the Arts (TLCFA- a 501c).