This sign is located at N41 51.652 W80 56.916.
Naughty, nightly entertainment
It was built to be a movie theater, but people did not come to Geneva-on-the-Lake to watch movies. No, they wanted to see skin.
And so it was that this 1,000 seat cavern was soon converted to a burlesque theater that booked in top acts during the summer months. Getting the acts to come to GOTL was made easier by the fact that the burlesque houses in the big cities usually closed during the summer months.
The theater had a short run as a movie house prior to 1948, when Klumps and Herby, partners who ran the Rabbit Run Theater in Madison, purchased the Geneva Theatre and run one season of live theatre. They produced “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and then folded.
The next owner was Johnny Kane, an experienced show business promoter who understood what GOTL customers wanted. In 1949 he revamped the movie house into a burlesque house. The new venture was a success, and Kane would run the show for the next 18 years.
The Burlesque hosted some of the biggest names in the business, including Irma the Body and Busty Russel. Louis DiFabio has an autographed photo of Irma and shares this story about how they met. At the time, DiFabio owned LAD’s Grille, at the east end of The Strip:
“…I received some orders that required me to use the kitchen to prepare them. The previous night someone had complained to the police that the jukebox was too loud and I was ordered to turn it down. Well, to be safe, I turned it off. While I was preparing the orders, Norm came back to the kitchen and asked me if it was okay to turn on the jukebox as a customer had requested it. I told him yes but to keep the volume down. A few minutes later, I heard the refrains of the “Striper Song” at full volume and the clapping of the hands, etc. Immediately went out o see what was going on and sure enough there was Irma the Body, burlesque queen, doing one of her routines and was about to undo her top. I immediately took off my apron and put it around her and pulled the plug on the jukebox when she picked up a milk shake from the counter and threw it at me and left. She continued her act outside on the sidewalk for a minute or so when the police came and escorted her away. It was just another crazy night at Geneva-on-the-Lake.”
The Burlesque Theatre also hosted beauty pageants.
Prior to 1947: Operated as motion picture theater.
1947: One season as a playhouse under Klumps and Herby.
1948-1967: Johnny Kane runs Burlesque shows at theater.
1967: Pete Macchia purchases. Building is used for storage.
1984: Woods Inc., invests $60,000 and converts the building into a playhouse. One production, “Godspell,” is staged.
1984: Building sold back to Macchia.
2000: John Bloom and girlfriend, Bloom, a magician, purchase and renovate the building. They run a magic show for one season, left town and went on to become a top magic act in the U.S.
2001: P.J. Macchia opens P.J.’s Arcade in the front of the building. Back of building is used for storage.