Jason LaCourse is itching to reopen a portal into La Crosse’s history when he reconnects his Cavalier Lounge with his newly purchased La Crosse Community Theatre.
The Cavalier, at 114 Fifth Ave. N., and the theater were joined at the hip as an upscale lounge and dinner theater for many years, LaCourse said.
LaCourse, who declined to disclose what he paid for the 300-seat theater, plans to knock out part of a wall to restore passage from the Cavalier into the theater.
He also plans to continue its entertainment tradition. Possible uses including a stage for local, regional and national musical acts; a comedy club; a recital hall; a performing arts venue, and an art house cinema, he said.
“Basically, I’ll throw anything against the wall and see what sticks,” said LaCourse, who bought the Cavalier in November 2010, restored it to its glory days as a retro lounge and reopened it in January.
“If there’s a crowd outside, I’ll try anything,” he said.
LaCourse’s target date for opening the theater is March, after the community theater thespians wrap up their final show, “A Christmas Story,” in December and he completes his work to restore the link.
The La Crosse Community Theatre, which has owned its section of the building since 1967, is wrapping up its final season there before moving into the new downtown La Crosse Performing Arts Center in January.
Greg Parmeter, the LCT’s artistic director, expressed delight about LaCourse’s plans to maintain the building as an entertainment focal point.
“We’re very excited,” Parmeter said. “It’s a good space for a lot of theatrical ventures. One more space for the arts to thrive is good for all of us.”
The Cavalier became one of La Crosse’s best-known lounges in the 1930s, when Jack Sheetz Sr. opened it as the Cavalier Inn. A 1982 Tribune article described it as “the classiest watering hole in town.”
The Fifth Avenue Theater opened in 1937, according to La Crosse Public Library archives. The theater closed in 1959, when Sheetz bought it and made it into a supper club next to his lounge. It once was known as the Cerise Club.
When the restaurant fell on hard times, Charles Gelatt bought that part of the building from Sheetz in 1966 and sold it to the LCT a year later.
One of Sheetz’s claims to fame is hiring an unknown piano player in Chicago in 1940 and bringing him to La Crosse to perform at the Cavalier.
He paid the unknown, who eventually became the famed Liberace, the princely sum of $85 a week for the 14 weeks he played there.
“There’s a lot of history here,” LaCourse said. “A lot of old-timers come in and say, ‘Hey, I remember …’”