Majestic Makeover: Revamping a Madison Classic

Heather Sliwinski

The smell of fresh paint covers the pungent stench of stale sweat. Shiny faux-wood floors hide the sticky stains of spilled mixed drinks. Acoustic melodies and soulful lyrics replace thumping bass-driven dance beats. A psychedelic purple motif is painted over with rich crimson and gold. Teens no longer gyrate in a single, claustrophobic mass beneath a DJ, but bob their heads perched on high stools and sing along word-for-word, eye-to-eye with the performer on stage.

majestic theatre
photo courtesy of Majestic Theatre
Click on the image to view interactive picture of the Majestic renovations.

When Madison’s Club Majestic on King Street turned off its lights earlier this year, it made way for two new owners with a dream of turning this historic theater from skank to swank.

The grand reopening in September 2007 unveiled the Majestic Theatre as perhaps the closest the theater has been to its original name and purpose—a live music and performance venue—but with necessary refurbishments to the décor and set-up.

At its first opening in 1906, an evening general admission ticket for the Majestic Theatre cost a shy 15 cents. Its stage featured vaudeville acts performed by the “Majestic Players.” When films became a growing presence in the entertainment industry, it turned into a movie palace to fend off closure. After a short term as an “art house” theater showing international and American movies, it reinvented itself again as the trendy Club Majestic. But the dance club feel the setting gave off wasn’t in sync with the Majestic’s revived use.

New faux-wood floors, a bigger dance floor and a new paint color made the list of renovations owners Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie wanted to make when they bought the theater in June 2007, but not without keeping the Majestic tradition alive.

“When people walk in, [they] can see the history,” Gerding explained. “There’s sort of this awe walking in. It makes it a special experience for people.”

Gerding seems to have the winning combination of tradition and modernity, but his savvy isn’t apparent at first sight. Dressed in jeans and an unassuming black Majestic T-shirt, the 29-year-old looks more like the college-aged part-time help carrying boxes than a businessman. After some years living in Los Angeles, Gerding had heard about Madison and its thriving music scene and knew his place was in the Midwest. He partnered with Leslie, and together they saw the Majestic as the perfect place to achieve their vision.

“I think it’s got a great location, beautiful marquee, a lot of history and top-notch sound and lights,” Gerding boasted.

However, the owners had their work cut out for them to get the Majestic ready for opening night. The former Club Majestic owner left the theater covered in garish purple and cramped for space unfit for live bands.
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