The First Incarnation
In 1928, the Capitol Theatre opened its doors on State Street. Designed by the renowned Chicago firm of Rapp & Rapp, the Capitol was a marvelous example of the type of opulent movie houses that were built back in the silent film age. Seating 2,260, the theater's decor had a Moorish/Spanish theme. Uniformed ushers escorted moviegoers to their seats to watch features starring luminaries such as Harold Lloyd and Maurice Chevalier, as well as vaudeville acts like Mae West and Al Jolson. The state-of-the-art building boasted the latest in modern conveniences and, perhaps most wonderful, a Grand Barton theater organ constructed by the Barton Musical Instrument Company of Oshkosh.
Over the years, as vaudeville disappeared and television and multiplexes proliferated, the theater entered a long decline. In 1974, Mayor Paul Soglin set the wheels in motion to open a new performing arts center in Madison.
The Capitol Theater was part of extensive construction and renovation on the 200 block of State Street. Equipped with the latest in theater technology and renamed the Oscar Mayer Theatre, it was the main venue in a complex that also included the smaller Isthmus Playhouse, meeting rooms, and a Crossroads lobby connecting the performing arts venues with the Madison Art Museum under the same roof. Opening in 1980, the Madison Civic Center was Madison's home for great arts and entertainment for 23 seasons. Dane County residents were treated to a range of experiences from luminaries like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Itzhak Perlman, to performances by local arts groups including the Madison Repertory Theatre and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, to free festivals and kids shows in the Crossroads, to the silent film series in which the Grand Barton organ continued to play.
In 1998, local businessman W. Jerome Frautschi made a breathtaking, multimillion dollar commitment for the development of a cultural arts district in downtown Madison. The Overture Foundation was established to solve the space needs of the city's major arts organizations, and internationally famous architect Cesar Pelli designed the project.
From Mr. Frautschi’s astounding generosity, a state-of-the-art civic cultural center has emerged, one that successfully integrates more than a dozen new theatres, galleries, and elegant performance and meeting spaces while preserving the classic elegance of Madison’s historic Capitol Theater, now returned to its original name.