The Montello Movie Theater comes alive again

In an interview for the Marquette County Tribune in 2005, just two years after Dave and Dawn Anderson bought the Montello Movie Theater, Dawn said, “We knew nothing about the business.  We had to learn the equipment, how to book movies, everything about it.  But the previous owners were very helpful and stayed with us until we learned it all.”

Almost twenty years later the new owners of the movie theater, Kerry and Jen Mann, are saying the same thing.  Said Kerry recently, “I want to really put a thank you out there to Dave and Dawn for what they did to keep this theater going for the public for all these years and for how great they’ve been helping us start out as the new owners.”  

Yes, the Montello Movie Theater is back after COVID closures dampened the enthusiasm created by renovations completed by the Andersons of new seating, sound and digital equipment.  Today, the new owners are enthusiastic about honoring their predecessors’ goals and are bringing movies back to Montello that are family friendly and affordable.  Plus, they have a bevy of creative activities planned for the future.

The Manns hail from the Milwaukee/Beloit area but have been entrepreneurs in Marquette County since moving here onto property that they fell in love with.  Kerry does website marketing and they operate Evergreen Homestead Retreat, a tourist rooming house air B&B, as well as Evergreen Dog Retreat, a kennel, doggie day care and pet spa retreat.  They also have almost 80,000 subscribers and over 12 million views on their Homestead How YouTube channel and Facebook page.

“We knew nothing about Montello when we moved here,” said Kerry, “but one of the first things we did was go to a movie at the theater and thought it was so great that this small town had an affordable movie theater.”

In fact, their daughter Alyssa told her mom and dad that one day she wanted to own the theater.  Guess what? Her wish came true.

The family of seven with daughters Lily and triplets Katie, Alyssa and Emma, are tag-teaming this adventure.  They’re in it together and have taken on all the responsibilities that go with that.  They’ve identified their mission statement: To show family friendly films with fair prices for generations to follow.  

Besides the movies themselves, they’ll be offering sale of items which promote the history of the theater that was built as an opera house.  Kerry has already self-published a history book on the theater.  It and the sale of other items like T shirts and cups will help support the maintenance of this well over 150-year-old building.

The building that houses the Montello Theater has been used for community entertainment since it was built sometime before 1878.  First known as Dodge’s Opera House, it fulfilled the citizens’ need for amusement and diversion by offering traveling shows, concerts, dances, holiday parties, graduation ceremonies and more. It was remodeled in 1914 and again in more recent years.  It has seen many changes but has been used continuously for entertainment.

The changes that the Montello Opera House has undergone are typical of that of other such buildings.  The Wisconsin State Historical Society says about these sturdy visages of the past, “In the Teens and 20s, other forms of entertainment began to vie with theatrical productions, most notably radio and the emerging film industry. The working class was the first to leave, because movies were cheaper than live entertainment. Radio effected attendance as more the affluent theatergoers were initially those who could afford radios. By the 1910s theater owners were having trouble filling up the gallery seats. As film began to take over as the primary entertainment choice, opera houses were adapted as motion picture theaters.”

Kerry has captured all this and more in his Montello Movie Theater book for sale at the theater.  He plans on adding more information to future editions of the book.

“We’ve had so many people stop by and give us their own memories and history about this theater,” he said.  “We’re so grateful for all this help and information.”

He especially thanked John Otto who was the projectionist for many years at the theater.  That was when big rolls of film were delivered, and two projectors had to be set up ready to roll from one to the other with no break in the film for the viewers. 

“We’re going to be giving tours of the theater, too,” said Kerry.  Still in the planning stage, the cost of the tours will include behind the scenes views of the old building including the original upright piano that was used during the showing of silent movies as well as a collection of past movie projectors.  Participants will also get popcorn and a movie…a silent one, of course, once seen at the theater in bygone years.  

For now, the Manns have been giving sneak previews of the theater and selling concessions on the weekends.  The grand reopening is coming up this weekend, September 16, 17, and 18 with a showing of Back to the Future I, II and III.  Book your tickets ahead to assure that you get a seat.  You can do so at The website tells you all about the theater and what’s happening including the replica Back to the Future car that will be parked in front of the theater.  

What a great way to take Montello back to the future than with the reopening of the Montello Movie Theater, a once grand opera house with a wonderful future ahead of it with the Mann family.