Center Cinema, formerly know as Eskin Theater, is located on the corner of Central Avenue and Seminary Street, across the street from the Richland County Courthouse. The movie theater has been in business for over 75 years. The theater has enjoyed being a vibrant part of the business district since its beginning. William and Lisa Muth have owned the theaters since January, 1988.
The Eskin Theater started when Jacob and Sarah Eskin wanted to build a state-of-the-art theater in Richland Center. The Eskins owned the Richland Theater located on Central Avenue, just north of present day Center Cinema. The Eskins purchased Richland Theater in 1929. After converting the Richland Theater to sound and adding a cooling system, the Eskins desired to build a new modern theater, one that would be suitable for both movies and live performances. The Richland Theater would change owners and eventually close in 1957.
In 1936, Jacob Eskin purchased the property on the corner of Central and Seminary Streets from A.H. Krouskop. The community was very pleased that improvements to the business district would attract travelers through the area. The property had been left vacant, except for a shed placed there for storage by A.H. Krouskop for many years after a fire burned down the former building. After clearing the shed from the property building began.
Jake Eskin hired architect Joe Durant, the same architect used to build the Blaine Theater in Boscobel, to design the new Eskin Theater. A.H. Krouskop provided the building materials for construction of the 45x122 foot building. The supervising foreman for the build was Clarence Steiner from Prairie du Chien. The building would be of brick and harmonize with the Krouskop building near it. Although Eskin Theater is not as large as other theaters he built, it has his tasteful décor, comfort and arrangement. It was the most modern theater in Southwest Wisconsin and equipped at a cost about $60,000. Jake Eskin says he spared no expense in the comfort and enjoyment of the patrons.
The following is Jake Eskin's vision of what a modern theater should look like in 1937:
“As one walks through the doors there is a lobby with a ticket booth. In the projection booth is the newest type of Western Electronic microphonic sound equipment; the first to be used in this locality. It will give the audience the opportunity to hear real voices of the movie stars for the first time, instead of reproductions of voices and sounds on the film soundtrack. This new technology is the most discussed topic in motion picture circles in the last ten years. Between the ticket booth and auditorium is a spacious foyer. To the right is a stairway that leads down to a lounge and restrooms. The restrooms are equipped with the most modern sanitary fixtures. The auditorium walls and ceiling are covered with acoustic tiles cut in various shapes and are shades of brown and tan. The lighting is modernistic chrome features. The carpet harmonizes with the velour covering of the seats. At the front of the house is a Walker sound screen. It sits on the stage that is large enough for vaudeville acts. Electronic Signs, Inc. of Milwaukee designed and erected the marquee, box office, structural glass building front, electric lighting fixtures and metal poster panels.”
On opening night, March 4, 1937, patrons were welcomed with an inaugural program that said:
“Greetings with a hearty handshake and cordial welcome we greet you, good friends of Richland Center, in our hope that the hours you spend with us will be pleasant ones. May this beautiful theater, erected in a wonderful city for your everlasting enjoyment, find you within its walls often, delighting in the magic of its entertainment, reveling in the enhancement of modern and luxurious appointments. Ours is a mission of making people happy. What a pleasure to be so engaged! The Eskin Theater.”
In a special section of the March 4, 1937 edition of the Republican Observer, businesses congratulated Eskin Theater.
“We feel that the construction of the new Eskin shows a commendable faith in the city of Richland Center and the community on the part of the builder, Mr. Eskin, and a desire to express our feeling that the theater and Mr. Eskin are to be congratulated: King Bros.; Keegan Bros.; Smith Bakery; Barry's Market; Art's Hat Shop; Schwingles Sales; Moon's Grocery; The Music Shop; Kaney's Grocery; The Fashion Shop; Pokorney's Market; James Hardware; Gables Restaurant; Farm Service Store; Pratt Funeral Home; Keegan's Drug Store; O.J. Campbell and Co.; Jones Chevrolet Sales; Wade's Cash Market; Wolf Shoe Company; Oswald's Pastry Shop; Huffman Beauty Shop; Lunenschloss-Doudna; LeHew Service Station; White Front Grocery; Clyde Poole's Barber Shop; Cities Services; E.W. Haug, Agent; O.J. Snodgrass Insurance Agency; Consumer's Cooperative; Gateway Lumber Company; Rochester Button Company; Farmers and Merchants Bank; Roscoe Annear Service Station.”
On September 24, 1951, Sarah Eskin acquired land east of Richland Center to be used as a drive-in theater. She was not able to purchase the land outright, but was granted a lifetime lease of 20 acres. The deed states the premises to be used for a drive-in theater, provided that when such premises cease to be used for such purposes title thereto shall revert to the grantor, his heirs, or assigns. The grantee can pass the business on to her heirs or assigns. The Hi-way 14 Outdoor Theater opened its gates on May 16, 1952. It is now known as Starlite 14. The Starlite 14 has upgraded, using FM radio for sound for many years. Speaker posts are still there to help cars park in the appropriate spot. The Starlite 14 is a county treasure; one of 11 in the state of Wisconsin. It is the last one in Southwest Wisconsin and has withstood the test of time. At one time in the late 1950's there were 79 drive-in theaters in Wisconsin.