That was then…On Valentine’s Day, 1930 something very special took place in the heart of downtown Green Bay. After seven months of painstakingly hard work The FOX Theatre held its gala grand opening. People lined up for blocks to get a glimpse of the stunning new million dollar theatre, created as a vaudeville house and movie palace. The breathtaking atmosphere was reminiscent of the Spanish gardens of Seville where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella held court on summer evenings. Star lights twinkled overhead through a ceiling painted to look like the sky with billowing clouds. It was the mid-west’s first exposure to the grandeur of the FOX Theatres Corporation, run by William Fox, whose name lives on via various media ventures, most notably Fox TV Network, Fox news Channel, 20th Century Fox and 21st Century Fox. Star performers such as Liberace, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Donald O’Conner, Roy Rogers (and his horse Trigger), Dale Evans, The Mills Brothers, Lawrence Welk, The Beach Boys and Johnny Cash, just to name a few, would grace the stage throughout the years.
In 1932 Mr. Fox went bankrupt as a result of the depression. The theatre was taken over by the bank, then sold and renamed the Bay Theatre. In 1978, the theatre, struggling to keep its doors open, was sold to Standard Theatres and made into a tri-plex movie theatre. In 1998, to save the theatre from being torn down, a group of business leaders in the community raised money to renovate and rename it. Thanks to a generous gift from the Robert T. and Betty Rose Meyer Foundation and to others who gave notable charitable contributions, on February 27, 2002 the not for profit Robert T. Meyer Theatre, opened its doors.
All light fixtures are original, with only some of the glass panes replaced. The seating was reconfigured from 2,200 to 992 to restore the proscenium arch. Juliet viewing boxes were added to the left and right of the stage, adorned with Mediterranean influences such as cherubs, griffins and gargoyles. A grand staircase was created in the main lobby. The original orchestra pit was removed to enlarge the stage. Back stage was equipped with Broadway style “Fly Rigging” and a theatre sound system with speakers was built into the front of the stage.
The original Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, also restored with funds generously donated by Irene Daniell Kress, is housed in the second level organ chamber. This very unique instrument is one of only a few across the country still being used today in its original theatre.
This is now…..Today the Meyer Theatre is owned by a non-profit entity with a community board of directors. PMI Entertainment Group (PMI) of Green Bay manages the theatre and is responsible for the programming. With a capacity of 1,011, the historic theatre welcomes more than 80,000 guests per year with nearly 200 performances. The Meyer board and PMI work every day to make sure the theatre remains an integral part of downtown Green Bay.
Janet Elizabeth Rose (Betty) Meyer founded the Robert T. and Betty Rose Meyer Family Foundation for charitable contributions to the community. In hopes of revitalizing downtown Green Bay, Betty provided a generous lead gift for the renovation of the FOX/Bay Theatre. It was then renamed the Robert T. Meyer Theatre in memory of her late husband, the former president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of Green Bay. For her commitment and generosity to the community, Betty was the recipient of several awards including the Brown County Historical Society Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Preservation of Local History and the Mayor’s Civic Award for Community Philanthropy. These awards truly depict the giving nature of Betty Meyer.
There were many facets to Betty’s life. In 1976 she wrote and published a book, A Proud Step Forward, a history of the Rose family from 1741 through 1974 with special emphasis on her father, John Rose’s contributions to the community. And she loved the Green Bay Packers almost as much as she loved the arts!
Betty’s portrait, along with her husband’s, hangs proudly in the center of the Meyer lobby. She knew the theatre would need a lead gift to begin renovation and she also knew it would then become a special place for all to enjoy. We thank Betty Rose Meyer for her insight, generous spirit and her wonderful contribution that was the impetus for the renovation of the Meyer Theatre.
Wurlitzer Pipe Organ
The Meyer Theatre, once a prominent FOX Theatre, proudly houses its historic Mighty Wurlitizer Pipe Organ, with all 572 pipes beautifully restored, thanks to the generosity of Ms. Irene “Billie” Kress. Using the 1927 blueprint from which the original was crafted, a variety of organ technicians took on the task to bring the organ back to its original state. The pipes range in size from a pencil to 16 feet. With a relay system that was added since the original restoration, the instrument is poised to offer a variety of fun features. Now, with a push of a button, the audience can hear the incredible sounds of the “toys”—special instruments the organ uses in various songs in concert and to accompany silent movies. The toys are horse hooves, sleigh bells, bird whistles, castanets, drums, and cymbals, just to name a few. The organ was also re-wired to be able to record and do playback.
Organs were the “voice” of the silent films in the 1920s and 30s and provided all the sonic drama absent from the films themselves. The Meyer’s Wurlitzer is a style 190 instrument built in 1930 near the end of the boom for constructing theatre organs. The wood and steel pipes have been fully restored and each leather part replaced by hand. Today, only a handful of theatres across the country house their original pipe organs. The Meyer Theatre considers it a true rarity to possess this fascinating instrument. It is truly a distinctive, historic treasure.
Angels Among Us
If you stop to look at the Meyer Theatre logo, you’ll notice it’s adorned with two angels. The angels are actually images taken from ornate features within the building’s architecture.
Now, these two angels also have names—Melissa and Emily.
The angels have been named in memory of Melissa and Emily Schmeisser, sisters from Green Bay whose lives were tragically cut short in a 2005 automobile accident. At 17 and 14 years old, respectively, the sisters loved the performing arts and participated in drama productions at Notre Dame Academy.
Parents Steve and Mickey Schmeisser are friends of the Meyer Theatre, and Steve plays an integral role in helping to manage the theatre’s accounting and finances.
As a vital part of the community, the Meyer Theatre depends on the support it receives from families like the Schmeisser’s. What better way to thank the family and to honor the memory of their beautiful daughters than to name our angels after theirs. Visit their website.