Cuba Theatre history

Janet Schmieder wrote this history of the Cuba Theatre as a high school student in 1966, when the business was owned and operated by her parents. The movie theater was located at 113 S. Main St., in the building now occupied by State Farm Insurance and Newline Real Estate. This history is packed full of interesting details, so sit back and enjoy! 

Janet Schmieder


The building which is now the Cuba Theatre was built in 1919 by Will Marshall. He built the building to be a meat market, Mr. Marshall was a butcher. The building was two stories and the upper story was built adequately for Masonic Lodge meetings.

Due to old age, Mr. Marshall decided to sell the building. Mr. and Mrs. Skelding bought the building, he remodeled it, and turned it into a theatre. The dark green carpeting which was put into it came from the Morrison Hotel in Chicago.

The theatre opened in 1936, this was quite an event for Cuba City to have a theatre. Cuba City had a big celebration opening day. The band played, a platform truck was placed in front of the theatre, and speeches were given by almost every fraternal order in Cuba City. There were very large crowds opening night.

After two or three years, Mr. Skelding decided the building wasn't big enough but didn't have the money to build on. At this time the theatre contained approximately 200 seats. He sold half interest to Henry Kellner, and added room for about 100 more seats. Later Kellner bought out Skelding's interest.

It may seem funny to us today, but the theatre didn't allow popcorn or candy into the building, none of the theatres at this time allowed eating inside.

In 1944 or 1945, the movie industry put on a promotion drive. The slogan was "Movies are Better Than Ever." There was a big parade in Madison with many many movie stars. Theatre owners went to find out more and better ways to promote their business. From Madison, movie stars were sent to all the theatres in Wisconsin as a part of the campaign. To Cuba City came Arlene Dahl and Richard Arlen.

On July 1st, 1947, Leo Gohlmann purchased the theatre from Henry Kellner.

Since the Masonic Lodge was no longer in the upper story, Mr. Gohlmann remodeled the upstairs. He divided the area into offices. Doctor King had an office up there and two lawyers by the names of Hillery and Harvey Skewis. The Modern Beauty Parlor was also located in the upper story.

 Cuba Theatre, ca. 1951. Photo courtesy of the City of Presidents.

While Mr. Gohlmann operated the theatre, the prices of the tickets were much less than what they are today. Children's tickets were 15 cents and adult tickets were 35 cents. These ticket prices were raised gradually, and while Mr. Gohlmann had the theatre, adult tickets were raised to 44 cents, the odd number was because of a tax which is no longer on tickets. There was no student ticket price at this time.

Six or eight months after he owned the theatre, Mr. Gohlmann put in a concession stand, since before this they never allowed candy and popcorn into a theatre. The stand was put in circus style with pictures of clowns on one wall and red and white painted accessories. This included a candy counter and a popcorn machine.

To attract more business, Mr. Gohlmann had live attractions on the stage. Such things were held as: 4H club winners showed the ribbons they won; he held a dress-up contest and a bathing beauty contest for children up to twelve years old. He also had a photographer take pictures of babies to be entered in a Most Beautiful Baby contest and showed these pictures on the screen as an added attraction.

Often Mr. Gohlmann held special showings of certain movies for the nuns, free of charge, who lived in the surrounding towns. He said he often filled the theatre with sisters.

 Cuba Theatre, ca. 1953. Photo courtesy of the City of Presidents.

The movies at this time were almost all black and white, and it was a treat to see a colored movie. The screen that was used then was approximately eight by ten in size.

Among Mr. Gohlmann's employees were: Diane Donohue, Pat Cox, Donna Curtis, and Charolett Kanick who were cashiers. Norma Miller, Donna McCabe, and Patricia Ware worked in the concession stand selling popcorn and candy. Barney Holgraver was a janitor for a short time, but Henry Holt was the janitor almost all the time Mr. Gohlmann owned the theatre. Paul Latham, Bill Honshel, and Paul Cummins operated the projectors, all while he owned the theatre.

In September, 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Schmieder bought the theatre from Leo Gohlmann.

The businessmen in Cuba City put on a free show for the grand opening. The theatre had always been open every night as a general rule, but after owning the theatre awhile, they decided it would be better to have a show five days a week, Sunday Matinee, Sunday Evening, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. But later, it was reduced again to what we have now, operating only on weekends.

 Cuba Theatre movie poster, ca. 1955.

In the year 1956, the cinemascope lense was put in new and a new giant screen which covers the front from wall to wall. In order to do this, the heating duct work had to come up through the roof and over the roof and then back in again, so as not to interfere with the screen.

At about the same time, the upstairs was remodeled and made into two apartments, one apartment is small, two rooms, bedroom, and living room with a small kitchenette and small washroom, this apartment is in the front facing Main Street. The back apartment is larger with two bedrooms, a large living room, a kitchen, a bath, and a room for a washer and dryer. Both apartments were fully furnished.

Coupon printed in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, December 1, 1957.

In about 1958, new carpeting was required for the main aisle in the seating section.

The people who worked for Mr. Schmieder were, starting with the cashiers: Pat Cox, Norma Miller, Charolett Kanick, Judy Dawson, Marie McWilliams, Carol Schmieder, Mary Jean Chunk, Jo Anne Alt, Sandy Fiedler, Peggy Speth, and Carol McWilliams. Those who worked in the concessions were: Nippy Harty, Iva Andrews, Joan Udeloven, Joyce McWilliams, Carol Schmieder, Janet Schmieder, and Becky Loeffelholz. Projectionists were: Paul Cummins, Bill Honshel, Arnie Alt, Bob Boyd, Junior Marzofka, and Ken Booth. Cleaning ladies were: Mrs. Schulte, Mrs. Munyon, Mrs. Belken, Mrs. Shinn, and Mrs. Lewis & daughter.

When Ed Schmieder first owned the theatre, he used to send out free tickets for patrons' birthdays. He kept a record of everyone's birthday. This soon became very difficult because of the increasing population and the increase in postage rates.

The price of tickets ranged from 15 cents for children and 35 cents for adults, when it was first purchased. Later, a student price was started which was about 35 cents. These prices were raised slightly whenever an extra special movie was shown. The prices rose a small amount at a time till they reached 75 cents for adults, 60 cents for students, and 35 cents for children.

At Christmas time every year, the businessmen in Cuba sponsored about four free shows the Saturdays before Christmas. On the Saturday before Christmas, Santa Claus appeared in front of the theatre to hand out free bags of hard candy and peanuts to every child.

Over the years, now and then, Ed Schmieder would hold special free showings of some movies the nuns might enjoy. Some of these were Lilies of the Field, The Nun's Story, and Mary Poppins.

Just last summer, about one hundred seats were recovered with blue vinyl. These seats were taken out a few rows at a time and taken over to Dubuque to an upholsterer. There were other minor fix-ups also, such as painting.

The newest in store for 1966 is complete recarpeting.

 Cuba Theatre movie poster, ca. 1967. Courtesy of David Schmieder.


1. Mr. Leo Gohlmann, Madison, Wisconsin

2. Mr. Ed Schmieder, Cuba City, Wisconsin

3. Mrs. Ed Schmieder, Cuba City, Wisconsin

4. Record books

5. Janet Schmieder, Cuba City, Wisconsin

6. Carol Schmieder, Dubuque, Iowa

Thank you to Janet (Schmieder) Simonian for sharing this information-packed history, and thank you to David Schmieder for the image of the Cuba Theatre poster. Thanks also to Carol Hendricks and Patty Holt for helping with this project!


  1. My father, Royce Ralph, also was a projectionist for a while. I remember seeing "Bambi" and "Old Yeller" at the theater. - Dave Ralph


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