Historic State Theatre enters its next chapter

Theater to host Luginbill Children’s Foundation and its programs

Lea Kopke

More stories from Lea Kopke


Photo by Elena Dawson

The State Theater, located in downtown Eau Claire, originally opened its doors in 1926.

The State Theatre, originally opened in 1926, has housed a myriad of entertainment programs; from vaudeville shows, to Hollywood movies, to performances put on by the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre. Recently the State Theatre was purchased by Azara Properties and will be brought into its next chapter of life by the Luginbill Children’s Foundation.

The Luginbill Foundation, which is the non-profit beneficiary of the building, is in the midst of planning for the different programming that will take place at the theatre. Joe Luginbill, founder of the organization, said while more specific information will be revealed at a press conference in the coming weeks, the general purpose of the theatre will be to support performing arts in the community.

“We’re looking to restore the theater and auditorium space so that it can once again be used for performances, culture events, entertainment,” Luginbill said. “And have other kinds of programming with a focus on underserved youth and families. Kind of a mix of entertainment and education as well as services that enhance young people’s lives.”

Luginbill himself was a member of the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, Chippewa Valley Youth Symphony and Chippewa Valley Youth Chorus — each of which held some performances at the State Theatre.

“It was a huge, formative part of my life,” Luginbill said. “For me, one of the great things about theater and performance arts for young people is that it helps you find your voice and express yourself in healthy ways, as well as meet people.”

While the venue itself is in need of some repair, Luginbill said he is excited to bring the theater back to a point where they can not only put on productions as before, but also bring new programs to the table.

“It’s exciting because it’s so often in communities that have buildings like this they are lost to history,” Luginbill said. “You sometimes see them torn down or in a state of disrepair. I’m thankful we can save this building. We want to get it to a point where we can do what was already done, but also bring it into a new chapter.”

For now, the focus of the planning committee is to address the immediate needs of the facility while also thinking of short-term programs to initiate as the theater enters its next chapter.

“It’ll be a process,” Luginbill said. “I’m patient, but we’re focused on getting things done by working diligently and involving the community through fundraising, capital campaigns, and planning.”

Pam Rasmussen, president of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, said the ECRAC board is excited to see what is next for the State Theatre.

“I think there’s going to be great opportunities for us to work together given (Luginbill’s) visions,” said Rasmussen. “There’s opportunity for collaboration with the Pablo (Center), like with the Art Mobile, and with other stuff we do. We’ve realized there’s always opportunity for more youth-centered programs in Eau Claire.”

The State Theatre was originally put on the market around the beginning of 2018, according to WEAU13 – News. Rasmussen said the ECRAC board is happy the Luginbill Foundation is a part of the plans of the new State Theatre. Luginbill himself is excited to have the chance to bring the State Theatre into its next chapter.

“It’s been months of conversation with the partners and basically we saw (The State Theatre) as a good fit,” said Luginbill. “It’s an opportunity to breathe new life into the facility and provide new programs and services that aren’t elsewhere.”

Kopke can be reached at [email protected].