Jeramey Jannene

Pabst Theater Lights Up New Sign

27-foot-tall blade sign lights up key downtown intersection.

By - May 17th, 2023 05:49 pm
The new Pabst Theater sign in front of City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The new Pabst Theater sign in front of City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

As of today you won’t have any trouble finding the Pabst Theater.

The historic theater’s new sign, 27 feet tall and seven feet wide, was lit up for the first time Wednesday afternoon.

A triple-wide track of lights “chase” around the sign’s perimeter, while the large letters spell out PABST.

Lisa Cudahy, the widowed wife of philanthropist Michael Cudahy, called the sign the “finishing touch” on the building’s restoration. Cudahy created a nonprofit that purchased the building, 144 E. Wells St., from the city for $1 in 2000.

“This was probably the best $1 sale the city has ever made,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, who was given the honor of flipping an oversized light switch.

The reason the deal has worked out so well is due as much to Cudahy’s generosity as to the man he hired to run the place, Gary Witt.

“The Pabst Theater with its rescued beauty simply is Milwaukee,” said Witt.

Witt, who runs the for-profit Pabst Theater Group (PTG) alongside business partner Matt Beringer, has helped fill the venue with approximately 200 events annually. The late Cudahy’s Pabst Theater Foundation has played the lead in restoring the venue, originally constructed by Frederick Pabst in 1895.

“It’s one of our shining stars,” said Bauman of the independent venue’s success.

Pabst Theater Foundation board president Jennifer Bartolotta said Cudahy’s vision has “literally put Milwaukee on the music map.” But since 1974, you would have been easily able to miss the theater itself. That’s when a prior Pabst Theater sign, estimated to be 35 feet tall by 10 feet wide sign, was removed.

“The new sign really pays homage to the original blade sign’s design,” said Witt.

The new sign, designed by former PTG art director Jason Gierl and constructed by Janesville-based Elevated Identify, has been four years in the making.

The theater was originally approved for two new signs in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. The Historic Preservation Commission, which has design oversight over the exterior of the historic theater, unanimously approved the signs’ design and a revision to just one sign.

It’s the third time in the past eight years the PTG has installed a historically-inspired sign on one of its theaters. A monument sign and marquee were installed on the Riverside Theater in 2015, a series of signs were added to Turner Hall in 2019 and now the Pabst Theater has received the faux-neon treatment.

The latest sign was also installed alongside the 20th anniversary of PTG’s operation of the theater. The group also books shows and events at the Riverside, Turner Hall, the Back Room at Colectivo, The Fitzgerald and the Miller High Life Theatre.



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