Al. Ringling Theatre

136 4th Ave., Baraboo, Wisconsin

Likely the first "movie palace" designed by Rapp & Rapp


Al. Ringling Theatre

Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey

View photos at Library of Congress



The Al. Ringling Theatre is one of the first example of palatial design applied to the moving picture theatre in this country. A touch of France in the Midwest, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1976. -- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS WI-261)

Editor's Note: "AL" is an abbreviation of Albrecht Ringling's name, and a period follows "AL" in the theater's official name.

History Detectives and the First Movie Palace 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Al Ringling Theater was the subject of an investigation by Elyse Luray and Gwen Wright for the PBS program History Detectives for the second episode of the first season of the popular series. The Al Ringling Theater was the first of the ornate movie palaces built in the golden age of the movie theater.

The theater was designed by the famous theater architects C.W. and George Rapp in Chicago. The snooty Theater Historical Society of America aided in the research, but denied that this was the first movie palace built because it does't have enough seats to qualify as a "movie palace."

More likely, members of the society can't stand the fact that the first movie palace wasn't built in Chicago but in a central Wisconsin city with a population of 11,500, on top of it all, it was built by a circus magnate.

You can read about the episode here: History Detectives.

Baraboo is not only the home of the first movie palace, it was the birthplace of the Ringling Brothers and their internationally famous Ringling Bros. Circus. Baraboo is also home to the International Crane Foundation.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1976
Reference number
NR name
Ringling, Al, Theatre
Architectural style
Late 19th and 20th Century Revival: Beaux Arts
Areas of significance
Entertainment/Recreation; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction; B - Person
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Period of significance
Significant year

Update Log 

  • February 8, 2019: Updated by J.R. Manning: Corrected a spelling error and updated status
  • September 11, 2010: New photo from J.R. Manning
  • August 27, 2010: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • August 27, 2010: New photos from J.R. Manning

Related landmarks 



Al Ringling Theatre
Posted September 11, 2010, by J.R. Manning (thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

I was lucky enough to be in Baraboo at just the right time, on a perfect evening, to grab this shot.

Uploaded file: JPEG image data, EXIF standard 2.2, 194285 bytes