Art in Alternative Spaces


All The World's a Stage

Artists take a historical look at Chicago area theaters  - both past and present -

and explore the theatrical journey from vaudeville stages,

through silent pictures to talking motion pictures

and full circle back to live performances once again. 


Bruce Cutter, Don Elmi, Thomas Gessner, Bart Harris, Barbara Herring, 

Howard A. Jacobs, Debra Paulson, Russell Phillips, Bruce Sharp and Jack Siegel

On Exhibit at the

Paramount Arts Centre 

23 East Galena Boulevard

Aurora, IL  60506

June 28 - July 26 2008!

Artists Reception:   Saturday, July 19, 2008 (7:00 - 9:00 pm)

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and prints through our online store!

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The Uptown  Oil on Canvas   ©  Don Elmi

The Uptown  Oil on Canvas   ©  Don Elmi


The Uptown   Oil on Canvas   © Don Elmi

The Esquire  Oil on Canvas   ©  Don Elmi

Address:  58 E. Oak St.
Year Built:  1937
Architect:  William L. Pereria

The Esquire was built and owned by H&E Theaters, (the 'H' and 'E' being the two youngest brothers in the Balaban family.)   Elmer & Harry started their own theater company, H and E Balaban Corporation and built a dozen or so theaters in Illinois and Detroit.    Their most famous theater was the Esquire.    The Esquire held the Chicago premiere of Gone with the Wind.

The original art-deco style theater had 1,400 seats, but the Esquire underwent a conversion to a six-plex Loews Cineplex chain n the late 80's.    Most recently operated by the AMC Entertainment, the Esquire was closed on September 14, 2006.

Sun-Times Article, May 11, 2007:

REDEVELOPMENT | Owner alters plans from small shops to 130-foot hotel; rezoning OK needed

The owner of the shuttered Esquire theater, 58 E. Oak, has changed plans for the property and now plans to replace it with a 120-room hotel.

Zoning documents filed with the city show that the owner, M Development LLC, plans a building about 130 feet tall with the hotel and about 24,000 square feet of retail space.   The site is on a stretch of Oak Street that includes high-end shops.   But it needs a zoning change to proceed. When M Development closed the Esquire last September, its principals said it wanted to replace it with a small building exclusively for boutique stores, a project that would not have required new zoning.   The new request triggers a review by the city's Planning and Zoning departments that could lead to a Chicago Plan Commission hearing in a few weeks.   Mark Hunt and Jeff Shapack, principals at M Development, could not be reached.

Their firm also plans a 20-story hotel at 1112 N. State, site of a four-story building that dates from 1924. It's the old Cedar Hotel, and its terra cotta facade is to be incorporated into the new design.

The Esquire was an example of an ornate movie house dating from Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s, but in its last years it was relegated to second-run films. The newer multiplexes got the best bookings.   The City Council turned down landmark status for the theater in 1994.

Photo courtesy of

Address:  4816 N. Broadway
Year Built:   1925
Architect:   C. W. and George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp Architects)           Year Designated a Chicago Landmark:  1986

The Uptown Theatre was built by architects Rapp and Rapp for the Balaban and Katz Corp. This amazing corporation started as a family business in the late nickelodeon era and by the early 1920s had control of most film markets in Chicago.   A financial analysis Balaban and Katz completed in 1923 suggested that their best interests were served by building a theater as large and lavish as they could manage near Broadway and Lawrence. And so, the Uptown was planned.    According to the press of the time, all of these buildings were built for substantial cost and quality in order to be "for all time." When the Uptown opened in August 1925, the phrase "an acre of seats in a magic city" was coined to describe the wonders of over 4,300 seats in a theater that covered 46,000 square feet of land. At the time, it was the third largest in terms of seating. But it was the largest, by far, in land area and cubic volume, due in part to the three vast lobby areas.   Many of the details we associate with a movie palace had not been codified by the time the Uptown opened. The stage shows were planned in consideration of the feature. Music was customized for the large orchestra, as well as for the Uptown's Wurlitzer organ, the second largest one in operation. Stars of national fame played regularly. Even the posters in the display cases were custom artwork with new items every week.  By the end of the 1920s, after more than 20 million people had already attended the Uptown. Some of the greatest theaters, such as Radio City Music Hall in New York, were not even on the drawing boards yet.

Initially, sound film and depression economics did not affect the Uptown, because of the uniqueness and quality of the entertainment, and the competition that had been eliminated through the policies of Balaban and Katz. Eventually, with the availability of 1930s musicals and the like, film became the mainstay. The stage was used only on rare occasions through the 1940s. By the end of the decade, Balaban and Katz reinstituted their traveling shows, booking first the Chicago and then traveling weekly to the Uptown in the north, the Marbro in the west, and the Tivoli in the south. This system proved unsuccessful. Competing distractions such as radio and television, and an increase in the number of working housewives limited both evening and matinee audiences.

Thereafter, through the 1950s and early 1960s, film fare became the mainstay again with occasional use of the stage for rentals. The most notable rented use of the stage was for the television show "Queen for a Day," which televised one week every year in the theater. The Uptown was also used as a large hall, especially for corporate meetings, such as those held here by Standard Oil of New Jersey. These uses created revenue. But later, with declining film revenue, furnishings were sold on occasion, starting with the organ in 1962. Soon, because of high insurance costs and vandalism, all extraneous artwork was sold, including more than 90 major oil paintings and 18 major marble groups. These sales yielded several million dollars.

In the early 1970s, a campaign of interested volunteers petitioned the corporate successor to Balaban and Katz to investigate other uses for the theater beyond just movies. This was an attempt to ensure sufficient revenue and interest was generated to maintain the viability of the structure. At this time, various rock concert promoters were booked occasionally to great success and profit. Bands such as ELO and the Grateful Dead performed at the theater.

However, with deferred maintenance in the 1960s and 1970s, when revenues were failing, the building at more than 50 years had reached a point of much-needed repairs. Rather than manage the building, it was marketed, sold, and reverted back to the successor, Plitt Theatres. With no ability to manage such a complex facility, Plitt boarded up the building and awaited further ideas.

The American Broadcasting Corporation purchased the theater in 1969 and was subsequently operated as part of the Plitt Cinemas theater chain. The theater closed in 1981.

Most of the damage to the building occurred in the early 1980s, making it unusable without restoration. Subsequently, even with the assistance primarily of volunteers, the building remained in the hands of a notorious tax-sale buyer and continued to deteriorate.    In 1986, preservationists teamed up with neighborhood activists to secure the addition of the Uptown to the National Register of Historic Places. Several plans to restore the theater, perhaps as a venue for concerts and other live performances, have been proposed, but none has thus far moved beyond the planning stages. One recent restoration campaign centered around an organization known as the Uptown Theatre and Center for the Arts. Founded in 2001, the organization received the support of prominent Chicago philanthropists, but suffered a major setback in April 2002, when the Illinois attorney general's office charged its head with misappropriation of funds.
office charged its head with misappropriation of funds.
The building was auctioned in August 2008 and the highest bidder was Jam Productions.  Their intent is to return it to a live performance venue.

Internet Resources: and

A documentary film by John Pappas and Michael Bisberg was released in 2006 about the theater titled Uptown:  Portrait of a Palace.   The dvd is available for purchase or can be viewed for free by following this link (click on the documentary button on their website to find the link to the film)

To purchase directly from Compass Rose follow the link below:


The Nortown, Chicago, IL

The Nortown    Oil on Canvas   © Don Elmi

Address:    6320 N. Western Ave.
Year Built:    1931 
Architect:    J.E.O. Pridmore 

© Theater Historical Society of America (Brian Wolf)

© Theater Historical Society of America (Brian Wolf)

The Nortown was known for it sea horse, mermaid, and zodiac motifs and featured a 3/15 Wurlitzer theater organ.

After an unsuccessful triplexing in 1984, the theater closed in 1990 and was rented out as a community center and later as a church.  

Unfortunately, the Nortown was demolished in June-August 2007.   Much of the original artifacts had already been sold or stripped from the theater.



Don Elmi

A self taught artist, Mr. Elmi worked as a freelance illustrator for most of his life and is known for his paintings of Chicago's historical buildings.    Mr. Elmi also teaches painting to youths age 10 - 16 through Anatomically Correct.

Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:  175 N. State
Year Built:   1921
Architect:   C. W. and George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp Architects)          

The grandeur of The Chicago Theatre often leaves its visitors breathless. The elegant lobby, majestic staircase and beautiful auditorium, complete with murals above the stage and on the ceiling, are components of an amazing building called “the Wonder Theatre of the World” when it opened on October 26, 1921.

The Chicago Theatre was the first large, lavish movie palace in America and was the prototype for all others. This beautiful movie palace was constructed for $4 million by theatre owners Barney and Abe Balaban and Sam and Morris Katz and designed by Cornelius and George Rapp.   It was the flagship of the Balaban and Katz theatre chain.

Built in French Baroque style, The Chicago Theatre’s exterior features a miniature replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, sculpted above its State Street marquee. Faced in a glazed, off-white terra cotta, the triumphal arch is sixty feet wide and six stories high. Within the arch is a grand window in which is set a large circular stained-glass panel bearing the coat-of-arms of the Balaban and Katz chain – two horses holding ribbons of 35-mm film in their mouths.

The grand lobby, modeled after the Royal Chapel at Versailles, is five stories high and surrounded by gallery promenades at the mezzanine and balcony levels. The grand staircase is patterned after that of the Paris Opera House and ascends to the various levels of the Great Balcony.

The 3,600 seat auditorium is seven stories high, more than one half of a city block wide, and nearly as long. The vertical sign "C-H-I-C-A-G-O," at nearly six stories high, is one of the few such signs in existence today. A symbol of State Street and Chicago, the sign and marquee are landmarks in themselves, as is the 29-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ.

Balaban and Katz spared no expense on the workmanship and materials for this miniature Versailles. Marshall Field's supplied the drapes, furniture and interior decoration. Victor Pearlman and Co. designed and built the crystal chandeliers and lavish bronze light fixtures with Steuben glass shades. The McNulty Brothers' master craftsmen produced the splendid plaster details and Northwestern Terra Cotta Company provided the tiles for the facade.

The Chicago Theatre first opened its doors on October 26, 1921 with Norma Talmadge on screen in "The Sign on the Door." A 50-piece orchestra performed in the pit and Jesse Crawford played the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. After a "white glove inspection," a staff of 125 ushers welcomed guests who paid 25 cents until 1 p.m., 35 cents in the afternoon and 50 cents after 6 p.m.

During its first 40 years, The Chicago Theatre presented the best in live and film entertainment, including John Phillip Sousa, Duke Ellington, Jack Benny, and Benny Goodman. The Chicago Theatre was redecorated in preparation for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and "modernized" in the 1950s when stage shows, with few exceptions, were discontinued. In the 1970s, under the ownership of the Plitt Theatres, The Chicago Theatre was the victim of a complex web of social and economic factors causing business to sag. It became an ornate but obsolete movie house, closing on September 19, 1985.









Chicago Theatre Day and Night  Oil on Canvas © 2003  Don Elmi


In 1986, Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, with assistance from the City of Chicago, bought and saved the theatre from demolition and began a meticulous nine-month multi-million dollar restoration undertaken by Chicago architects Daniel P. Coffey & Associates, Ltd. and interior design consultants A.T. Heinsbergen & Co. of Los Angeles, interior design consultants. The Chicago Theatre reopened on September 10, 1986 with a gala performance by Frank Sinatra.

Since that time, an array of the entertainment world’s brightest stars and greatest productions have graced the stage, including Johnny Mathis, Al Jarreau, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Barry White, Harry Connick Jr, Lyle Lovett, Prince, the Isley Brothers, Allman Brothers Band, Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, Gipsy Kings, Buena Vista Social Club, Oasis, Beck, Robin Williams, David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres and lengthy engagements of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

The Chicago Theatre remains a vital part of both the history of State Street and the future of the North Loop Theatre District.   It was purchased by TheatreDreams Chicago, LLC on April 1, 2004, and will continue to be an active and vibrant venue offering a variety of entertainment, including stage events, concerts, dance, comedy and special events. With something for everyone to enjoy, The Chicago Theatre is truly Chicago’s Theatre.



Address: 104 N. Ninth St, Mt. Vernon, IL
Year Built: 1937
Architect:   Boller Brothers

The Granada, Mt. Vernon, IL   Oil on Canvas ©  2007 Don Elmi

On December 14 - 17, 2007, the Granada Theater celebrated its Grand Re-Opening and 70th anniversary after an extensive renovation and held a marquee re-lighting ceremony.      As part of the celebration, theater goers gathered to share memories, hear live musical and theatrical performances, and watch the first movie shown in the theater when it opened in 1937, True Confession starring Carole Lombard.   The Granada is an Illinois Historic Landmark and after its 70th birthday (Dec. 2007), will be eligible to be listed as a National Historic Landmark. 

[Following is an excerpt from the Mt. Vernon Register News:   Dec. 12, 2007 by Kandace McCoy]

...Clinton Electric has been putting in sconce lighting on the walls, Lipps Construction has done a lot of work, as well as Ray Black and Sons and T. Ham Signs. These people are trying to get it done.   In order to remain open, the Granada Center for the Performing Arts has to be a multipurpose facility, Lister said, and construction and renovation of the building has been expensive. Some furniture, though, has been donated. Among the donations are 376 theater chairs which came courtesy of Rend Lake College, of which Lister says 190 will be installed. Other furniture — original items from the theater itself even — has been donated back to the project.  However, tiering of the floor is estimated to cost $90,000, while ceilings and walls have been repainted and fabric on walls has been repleated. New heating has been added as well as a renovation of the lobby and women’s bathroom.   Lister has been in communication with former Granada manager Mary Hall Rollinson, who has provided pictures of the old building and theater that have never been viewed by the public. It is those pictures that Lister said has been the foundation for the renovation. “(We’re) trying to stay as close to the original design as possible.  And though those pictures will be displayed during the anniversary celebration, the public is reminded that help is still needed to front the cost of reopening the theater. Lister said the men’s bathroom still needs work as well as other operating expenses. Light bulbs for the marquee may still be purchased at $25 a light. Those who purchase one will have their names listed and displayed as contributors.



Address: 314 N. Main St., Rockford, IL.
Year Built: 1926
Architect: Frederic Klein
1979: Listed on National Register of Historic Places
1980: Entered onto the State of Illinois Register of Historic Sites (one of only six in the state at that time). It is also listed as an historical landmark of the City of Rockford, Illinois.

The Coronado opened on Oct. 9, 1927 as an atmospheric style theatre and movie palace - complete with Spanish castles, Italian villas, oriental dragons, starlit skies and a Grande Barton Pipe Organ. The name "Coronado" was chosen through a contest sponsored by the Rockford Register Gazette and Great States Theaters. On its first day of operation, the Coronado hosted 9,000 patrons during three showings of "Swim Girl Swim," a silent film starring Bebe Daniels. In 1927, Bob Hope appeared in "Roberta." In 1928, the theatre hosted legends of show business, the Marx Brothers. That same year, the Coronado showed its first "talkie," the Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolsen. In 1941, Gypsy Rose Lee scandalizes the community by appearing at the theatre, performing her striptease routine on Easter Sunday! Sammy Davis, Jr., Liberace, Tommy Dorsey, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra all performed at the Coronado.


The Coronado Oil on Canvas © 2003 Don Elmi

In 1970, the Theatre was sold to the Kerasotes Corporation. Upon finalizing the sale, George Kerasotes stated that the acquisition of the "showplace of Rockford" by his group was a proud event in his business career, because the Coronado had long been recognized as one of the finest theatres in the nation.

In 1973, the Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society formed to restore the Coronado's Grande Barton Pipe Organ and to host concerts. In 1984 (its 56th year), the Coronado closed its movie business. The Disney feature, "Mickey's Christmas Carol" was the last movie scheduled in the theatre and the theater went “dark”.

In 1995, the Rockford Area Arts Council commissions architectural firm van Dijk Pace Westlake to conduct a feasibility study on restoring the Coronado and/or Midway Theatres. The study recommended expanding and renovating the Coronado, creating a comprehensive performing arts and entertainment center. In 1997, the Kerasotes Theatre Organization donated the Coronado Theatre to the City of Rockford and in 1998, The Friends of the Coronado was formed to raise $18.5 million to renovate and restore the historic movie palace. In 2001, the theater re-opened with a black-tie celebration and in 2002, a 75 year historic gala was held. Since then, the theatre has continued its original grand style as a state-of-the-art performance and entertainment facility.


Devon Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:  6225 N. Broadway
Year Built:  1915
Architect:  Henry L. Newhouse

The Devon was originally known as the Knickerbocker by the Lubliner & Trinz circuit.   Located in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, the theater was later renamed the Devon (although it was more than two blocks away from Devon Avenue. It actually stood on Broadway.)   Around the time it was renamed, the operation of the Devon was taken over by Essaness.    It continued to operate through the 70' as a second-run movie theater, and later housed a church for a time.   The Devon was demolished in 1996 after the block was acquired by Loyola University.



The Devon  Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


Village Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:  1548-50 N. Clark St.
Year Built:  1916
Architect:  Adolph Werner

The Village, built as the Germania in 1916 but changed to the Parkside after the US entry into the First World War when anti-German sentiment was running high. The theater later went through a couple of other name changes over the years including the Gold Coast and the Globe. The theater is located on Clark Street at Germania Place in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.  Prior to being divided into four small auditoriums in the early 90s, the theater could seat 900. Little remains of the original interior design, but the facade, despite being almost entirely hidden behind an ugly modern marquee, is still intact and features red brick and beige terra-cotta highlights.

Long a popular venue for art, foreign and cult films, the Village was closed in March 2007.

The Village  Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:  3733 N. Southport
Year Built:   1929
Architect:  Louis I. Simon

When it was opened in 1929, the Music Box Theatre was considered tiny compared to its much larger, more palatial neighbors. Many of these larger theaters, like the Uptown, were often too large to stay in business throughout the rest of the 20th century.   The Music Box later played mainly second and third-run movies as well as closing and reopening several times.   By the 1970s, the theater was showing Spanish and Arabic-language movies, as well as porn. The theater had become more than a bit rough around the edges when it was closed in 1977.

Renovated in 1982, the Music Box reopened in 1983 and has been showing an eclectic mix of classic, foreign, and art house films ever since.   In 1991, the Music Box added a small 100 person auditorium.   The theater is located in the bustling Southport area of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

The Music Box  Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


Bruce Sharp


Bruce Sharp is the founder of the Mekong Network and lives in a very old house in Chicago, with three cats, two children, and one wife. He is currently the network administrator for a software development company, and maintains the Mekong Network websites in his spare time.   His photographs from Cambodia have appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post. His photos appear in David Chandler's biography of Pol Pot, Brother Number One, and on the cover of Richard Lunn's book, Leaving Year Zero.   He has been involved with Cambodian issues since 1987, when he began tutoring refugees for the Cambodian Association of Illinois, and for the Southeast Asia Center.

More recently, he has written several essays on the Iraq War, including a comparison of Iraq and Vietnam for the online journal Sobaka, and an analysis of the work of conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. He is currently working on several short stories and longer works of fiction, which he expects to languish indefinitely on the hard drive of his computer.

"There was once a time when I loved movies.   I had the good fortune to work in a movie theatre, the Adelphi (North Shore Cinema) so I saw lots of movies.   I also saw lots of movie theatres. I was shocked to learn that not all theatres looked like the familiar cookie-cutter mall cinemas.   No, these buildings were fantastic: colossal, gaudy, ornate, fabulous palaces. But they were rapidly falling into decay.   I realized that something truly amazing was disappearing.   An era was ending, and I decided to do what I could to document it.   Weekends, evenings, days off: whenever I had a little time, I'd head to a theatre and take a few more photos.  In doing this, I learned something: if you are willing to click the shutter a couple thousand times, eventually, you will wind up with a few interesting pictures."

Double-Sized Love Seat

400 Theater, March 1987

© Bruce Sharp

Ladies Room Sign

Sprague Theater, Elkhorn, WI , April 1987

© Bruce Sharp


The Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

Uptown Exterior 1990 (left)  and July, 2007 (Right)  Note Parapet and Vertical Sign Removed

© Bruce Sharp


Drinking Fountain

Uptown Theatre,  June 1990

© Bruce Sharp


Uptown Theatre,  June 1990

© Bruce Sharp

The Balcony is Closed

Uptown Theatre,  June 1990

© Bruce Sharp


The Granada Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:    6427 N. Sheridan Rd.
Year Built:    1926 
Architect:    Edward Eichenbaum

The Granada (originally owned by the Marks Brothers) was of the Spanish baroque style and was considered the sister theater to the Marbro Theater (also owned by the Marks Brothers).    The theater was known for its Giant Wurlitzer, 3,447 seats, and live theatrical productions.  Balaban and Katz purchased the theater in 1929 and later sold to United Paramount ABC and then Plitt Theatres where it became a second-run movie house.   The theater closed in 1975; however a promotional company rented it out for rock performances for a few more years.    Following complaints from the neighborhood residents, the building was boarded up and sat vacant for many years.    The property was sold for close to $1 million and torn down in 1989-1990.    An apartment complex named the Granada Centre was built on the site.

Granada  Oil on Canvas (1989) © Don Elmi


Granada Theatre,  1987

© Bruce Sharp

Beginning of the End

Granada Theatre,  1989

© Bruce Sharp

Ceiling Detail

Granada Theatre,  1989

© Bruce Sharp

Setting Sun

Granada Theatre,  1989

© Bruce Sharp

Facing the Wrecker

Granada Theatre,  1989

© Bruce Sharp

Save Me

Granada Theatre,  October 1989

© Bruce Sharp

Granada is Gone

Granada Theatre,  March 24, 1990

© Bruce Sharp


The Nortown Theatre, Chicago, IL

Nortown Exteriors (Pakistani American Community Center)

Nortown Theatre,  June 23, 2007

© Bruce Sharp


Terra Cotta Detail

Nortown Theatre,  June 23, 2007

© Bruce Sharp


Auditorium Detail

Nortown Theatre,  June 23, 2007

© Bruce Sharp



Nortown Theatre,  June 23, 2007

© Bruce Sharp


Nortown's Final Days

Nortown Theatre,  June 24, 2007

© Bruce Sharp



The Portage Theatre, Chicago, IL

Address:    4050 N. Milwaukee
Year Built:    1920 
Architect:    Henry Newhouse

The historic Portage Park Theatre, located on the northwest side of Chicago, is the new home for The Silent Film Society of Chicago.    Designed by architect Henry Newhouse, the theatre opened on December 11, 1920 with 1,938 seats as part of the Ascher Brothers theatre chain. Pre-dating the advent of America's movie palaces, the Portage Theater's megaphone-shaped auditorium features a formal beaux-arts opera house design.   When the theatre was taken over by Balaban and Katz in 1940, its marquee, entrance lobby and foyer were redecorated in a sleek, streamlined art deco style to complement its new art deco neighbors -- the monolithic Sears department store and the five-story Klee Brothers building.     In the 1980s, the theater underwent a dramatic change when a wall was constructed down the middle of the existing auditorium, resulting in two oddly-shaped cinemas. After a five-year period of darkness, the theater has reopened to its original shape, and has been refurbished and restored to its 1920's splendor.


Portage Facade

Portage Theatre,  2007

© Bruce Sharp

The Portage © Don Elmi



Auditorium Theatre, Outer Lobby, Chicago, IL

© 2007 Bart Harris 

A postcard of the building circa 1900

Address:  50 E. Congress Parkway
Year Built: 1886-90
Architects:   Dankmar Adler & Louis H. Sullivan
Date Designated a Chicago Landmark: September 15, 1976

The Auditorium Hotel is now the home of Roosevelt University (renamed the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University) and is also the resident home of The Joffrey Ballet.    At the time of its construction, it was the largest theater in the country and had 4,237 seats, originally intended for operatic performances.    The theatre was the first home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Opera Company.   Concerts, recitals, lectures, charity balls, social gatherings and sporting events took place in the theatre. Known for its internationally renowned acoustics, Fred Sosman often played the large pipe organ.    In 1893, new hotels were built all over the city for the guests of the World’s Fair.   Many of these new hotels included bathrooms in every room, making the Auditorium Hotel one of the last European-Style hotels built in the city.   The common bathroom made the Auditorium Hotel less desirable to the elite guests.   In 1904, the Symphony moved to a new smaller home, Orchestra Hall, and the Chicago Opera Company moved to the Civic Opera House in 1929.   In the early 1930s, estimates were taken to demolish the building, but the cost of the demolition was more than the land was worth. The Auditorium Theatre went bankrupt and closed in 1941.  In 1942, the Auditorium Building was taken over by the City of Chicago to be used as a World War II servicemen's center. The stage and front rows of the theatre were converted to a bowling alley and much of the stenciling, plasterwork and art glass was painted over.   At the Auditorium Building, more than 22 million servicemen were housed, fed, and entertained between 1941 and 1945.   In 1946, Roosevelt University (then in its second year) moved into the Auditorium Building.   The Hotel dining room became the library and the hotel rooms and offices became classrooms, but the theatre was not restored.   For many years the theatre was neglected and abandoned. Various plans to turn the theatre into a parking garage or gymnasium fortunately did not come to pass.   Through the valiant efforts of Mrs. Beatrice T. Spachner and a group of dedicated civic leaders, an independent council was formed to raise funds to restore the theatre to much of its original splendor.   Thanks to their efforts, the theatre reopened in October 1967 and has since hosted performances by Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Beach Boys, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, Bette Midler, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, B.B. King, and Miles Davis.    Today the building hosts a variety of events, from dance to music, from Broadway to rock concerts.v


Fine Arts Building, Exterior, Chicago, IL


© 2006  Bart Harris

Address: 410 S. Michigan Ave.
Year Built: 1885; addition and remodeling, 1898
Architect: Solon S. Beman
Date Designated a Chicago Landmark:  June 7, 1978


The Fine Arts Building was built by the Studebaker company for the assembly and display of their carriages and wagons.   It was converted into studios and theaters for artists and craftsmen in 1898.   The renovation involved adding three floors and designing an interior that would reflect the interests of the new tenants. The interior public spaces, including murals painted by residents in the early 20th century still encircle the atrium on the 10th floor.   The building's fourth floor was once home to the Chicago Little Theatre which seated only about 90 people.     The exterior fire escape was demanded by the Chicago Fire Department after many theaters were closely inspected and new codes instituted after the great Iroquois Theatre fire which killed over 600 people.    Currently, the Fine Arts Building spaces are rented by a variety of local artists and includes, galleries and artist studios, in addition to music studios, dance studios, drama classes, architect studios, a restaurant and coffee shop.

Bart Harris

"I'm a native Chicagoan and a born photographer, and have never wanted to be anything else. Funny thing is I've been a pro since the age of 13 when I was commissioned by various friends' parents to shoot portraits of their families. I had my first legitimate show at 17 and sold my first photographs to an ad agency at 18: race car photos for use in Pure Oil national ads shot through Leo Burnett.     I started Bart Harris Photography, Inc. at 23 and shot retail fashion for Both Marshall Field & Co. and Carson Pirie Scott & Co. as well as several small ad agencies.  Through the years I worked on many famous advertising campaigns such as Virginia Slims, Walter Payton’s Wheaties Box, Michael Jordan for Gatorade, Miller Light Beer’s sports celebrities (Dick Butkis, Marv Throneberry, Joe Frazier and more), John Madden’s Ace Hardware campaign, Spuds MacKenzie for Bud Light and many more.  Eleven years ago, I became the first “people photographer” in advertising to shoot 100% digitally. Shortly after this I began beta testing for Eastman Kodak and advising various advertising agencies about technical aspects of working with digital files.

In late 2003, I was hired by 20th Century Fox to produce digital images of Chicago that were initially to be used as guides for digitally constructed Chicago scenes. A number of those photographs became backgrounds in the feature film I Robot. These images led me to continue photographing Chicago and creating limited edition, fine-art photographic prints. I still pursue my advertising photography career and have created the first ever photographic comic strip (which can be seen on line in the Tribune’s sports section: ). Please look for “Around The Corner”, my comic strip’s name."

Bart recently photographed featured artists for the Chicago Artists Month 2006 brochure and is pursuing publishing a book of his photographs of Chicago's artists.


The Palace, Chicago, IL

Address:   151 W. Randolph
Year Built:   1926
Architect: C. W. and George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp Architects)

Inspired by the palaces of Fontainebleau and Versailles, the theatre's distinctive characteristics included a lobby richly appointed in huge decorative mirrors and marble, which swept majestically through a succession of lobbies and foyers; great wall surfaces enhanced with gold leaf and wood decorations; and 2,500 plush, roomy seats.   The theatre was originally opened as the flagship of vaudeville's legendary Orpheum Circuit, and among the stars believed to have played the Palace in its early years are Jimmy Durante, Mae West, Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker and Bob Hope.   Despite the popularity of such acts, audiences in the late 20's and early 30's began to lose interest in vaudeville, and in 1931 the theatre was converted into a movie palace, initially presenting films with live stage shows, and then eventually showing only movies as the RKO circuit became popular.   When movie audiences began staying at home to watch television in the 50's, the theatre managers, hoping to attract larger audiences, booked occasional Broadway shows into the theatre, such as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" starring Carol Channing. During the late 1950s, the Palace was fitted with special equipment to show films in Cinerama.   During the mid-1970s, the management of the Bismarck Hotel transformed the auditorium into a banquet hall by removing the seats on the orchestra level and bringing the floor flush with the stage.   In 1984, the theatre was renamed the Bismarck Theatre and converted into a rock venue.   Sporadically used during the 90's, the venue was completely restored and renovated during 1999, and stands today as the renamed Cadillac Palace and is now home to the successful major loop theater operation Broadway in Chicago.

Howard A. Jacobs

A native Chicagoan, Howard (now 82), works in oils, acrylics, serigraphs, watercolors, inks and pencils. He also has created sculptures with Plexiglas. On commission, he creates renderings of homes and personalized notes and Xmas cards. His paintings hang in private homes, offices and restaurants in the United States and in Europe. After a WWII stint in the army, Jacobs attended the University of Illinois where he majored in architecture. He presently heads Howard Displays, Inc. designers and producers of industrial exhibits and commercial interiors.     This image was drawn from Howard's childhood memories of the theater.

The Palace 1930 

22 x 28"     Pen & Ink   ©  Howard A. Jacobs

Magic Show

18 x 24"  Watercolor 

©  Howard A. Jacobs


Stage Show

18 x 24"  Watercolor 

©  Howard A. Jacobs


Glorious Past

24 x 30"    Oil on Canvas 

©  Howard A. Jacobs



The Century, Chicago, IL

Address:   2828 N. Clark St.
Year Built:  ?
Architect:   Edward Eichenbaum (also designed Marbro and Granada Theaters)

Originally known as the Diversey Theater, the Spanish baroque style had 3,056 seats and held live performances.     Live performance venues began to suffer in the midst of the Great Depression and the building was sold to Balaban and Katz ("B & K") on February 7, 1930.    The Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation had already purchased or managed 23 other Chicago theaters (turning many into movie houses) by this time.    B & K continued its succession of converting live theaters into movie houses and renamed it "B & K Century" in honor of the Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair.    In 1973, the interior was gutted and the building was again renamed - the Century Shopping Center.  Thankfully, the exterior terra cotta facade was saved.     In 2000, part of the theater was rebuilt and dedicated as the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, a multi-plex theater.   

Jack Siegel

"I went to the Century in 1951 for the first time. That was about ten years after the period depicted in the painting. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the space ­ the height of the ceiling ­ and the grandiosity of the decorations. It was so typical of so many of the Balaban and Katz movie palaces. The most lasting impression was of the movie I happened to see that night ­ a full-length documentary of the Nazi Holocaust. So few people were in the theatre audience watching it."

Jack Siegel, now 73, was born and raised on Chicago’s West Side. He exhibited artistic talent and a compulsive desire to draw and paint from an early age.  Jack graduated from The School of the Art Institute Of Chicago, with a degree in drawing, painting and advertising design.

The Century    Oil on Canvas   ©  Jack Siegel

He then served in the US Armed Forces as a graphics and set designer in Germany.  During his two-year stint in Germany he traveled throughout Europe to view some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Back in the States, he began a long career in advertising, working for major advertising agencies in Chicago, New York and Minneapolis. The pressures of work and family made it too difficult for him to seriously pursue his love for painting.

Over the years, though he did sell several paintings to private collectors, the constraints of a business career made any serious output difficult. About seven years ago, he determined to pursue his love for painting and, since then, has developed a substantial body of work.

Jack feels his paintings show the influence of both the 19th and 20th century impressionist and expressionist painters that he loves.



Randolph Street     Oil on Canvas   ©  Jack Siegel


The Biograph, Chicago, IL

Address:   2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Year Built:   1914                                                                                                     Architect:     Samuel N. Crowen
Date Designated a Chicago Landmark:     March 28, 2001

The Biograph Theater is one of Chicago's oldest remaining theaters.     The movie house was known for its historical connection to the infamous gangster John Dillinger.   John Dillinger was shot and killed in 1934 after attending a screening of "Manhattan Melodrama" starring Clark Gable (allegedly the ghost of Dillinger has haunted the theater ever since).

During the 70s, the balcony was converted into two small additional screens. The original decor mostly lost, the historic Biograph continued to show movies until 2001.   The theater reopened in 2002 under the Village Theatres chain, which operated it until September 2004, when it again closed.

Biograph    Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi

The Biograph was purcha
sed by Victory Gardens Theatre company in 2004.   The interior has been entirely rebuilt, from a venue which could originally seat over 900 to 299 today. The facade was repaired and cleaned and the marquee was rebuilt to resemble the original. (The words "Victory Gardens" have replaced the word "Essaness" over the neon-lit Biograph name, Essaness being the chain that operated the movie house during the 1930s.)    The original marquee is housed in the Chicago History Museum.

The Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph was opened on September 28th, 2006, with Charles Smith's drama, "Denmark".

Biograph Theater

Photo:  Liz Lauren, courtesy Victory Gardens Theater


The Coronet, Evanston, IL 

Address:   817 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL                                           Year Built: 1915                                                                              Architect:  Unknown                      
Status:  Torn Down in 2000

Originally known as the Triangle Theatre, then re-named Park Theatre, and later the New Main Theatre.   In 1938, it was again renamed as the Coronet Theatre and was part of the Balaban & Katz chain for many years.   

In the 50's and 60's the theater was known for its foreign and art films.   In the 70's it served as a first-run movie theater.

From 1990-1994, the theater was the home to Northlight Theatre Co. (now located in Skokie, IL) 

It was torn down in 2000.   A condominium building stands in its place.

Coronet    Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


The Paradise, Chicago, IL 

Address:   231 N. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL
Year Built:     1928                                                                                             Architect:     John Eberson
Status:  Demolished 

The Paradise Theater was built in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.   In 1956, the Balaban and Katz chain demolished the theater.  

The theatre was immortalized in 1981 when the rock band Styx recorded its album Paradise Theatre.Paradise Theater



Paradise    Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


The Paramount, Aurora, IL  

Address:   23 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora, IL 
Year Built:    1931

Architect:     C.W. and George L. Rapp

The venetian style theater was commissioned by theater owner J.J. Rubens who, before construction, sold the company to the Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation.  When Paramount Pictures owned the design, they decided to build movie palaces all over the country, using this theatre as a prototype.

The first movie that played at the Paramount was "Secrets of a Secretary" starring Claudette Colbert.  The first live appearance was Groucho Marx.    

For more than 40 years, the Paramount offered the public a variety of entertainment, including "talking pictures", vaudeville, concerts and circus performances.

In 1976, Aurora Civic Center Authority purchased the Paramount and closed the theater for restoration. The $1.5 million project restored the Paramount to its original grandeur. On April 29, 1978, the Paramount Arts Center opened, offering a variety of theatrical, musical, comedy, dance and family programming.

In 2006, a 12,000 square foot lobby was added. The Grand Gallery houses a state-of-the-art box office, a cafe, a gift shop and an art gallery. The renovation of 28 Downer has provided a home for the Paramount School of Performing Arts bringing professional acting classes to the western suburbs.

Today, the Paramount Theatre supports an annual audience of 150,000 patrons and was named one of the Top 10 theatres in Chicago by the League of Chicago Theatres. The theatre continues to be an anchor in the city bringing in approximately $3.3 million in ancillary revenue as well as hosting many free community events including the Midwest Literary Festival, the Air Force Band Concert, the Aurora Idol Competition and staging the annual Fox Valley Park District children’s production.

Paramount    Oil on Canvas © Don Elmi


Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL



Address:  102 N. Chicago St.
Year Built:   1926; restoration began in 1980 by
Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin, - gala reopening Nov. 27, 1981.
C. W. and George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp Architects)

THE SCULPTOR - The Rialto's magnificent European architecture is the work of the late Eugene Romeo, a Sicilian immigrant who settled in Park Ridge, IL and worked for the McNulty Brothers Company of Chicago, one of the largest plastering firms in the country.  He also worked on Chicago's Board of Trade, Chicago Daily News Building, Soldier Field, Merchandise Mart, Blackstone Theatre, and Wrigley Building.

Once home to many important vaudeville performers, the Rialto Square Theatre continued live performances until it was sold in 1968 and subsequently turned into a movie house.     The building continued to serve as a movie house into the late 70's, but as the downtown area of Joliet grew tired and "out of style",  the building was soon on the "chopping block". 

In 1978, a campaign to "Save the Rialto" for future generations as a performing arts center was initiated by local piano instructor Dorothy Mavrich, president of the Rialto Square Arts Association - now the Cultural Arts Council of the Joliet Area.    "Save the Rialto" involved the entire community.  With the assistance of local businessman, Christo Dragatsis, support was sought from city, state and federal officials. Former State Representative, LeRoy Van Duyne, was instrumental in obtaining the necessary funds for purchase of the properties.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rialto is a not-for-profit organization under the direction of the Rialto Square Theatre Corporation.    The Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority heads the Rialto Square properties.


Rialto Ushers circa 1926.




During the 20's , the "golden voiced" Barton Grande Theatre Pipe Organ accompanied silent movies and vaudeville with its variety of sounds and sound effects.   Today, it continues to be a popular attraction as well as a historic treasure.   The Joliet Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts have provided its care and maintenance as a labor of love since 1972.


The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Exterior Facade

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Exterior Facade

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Front Entrance, Box Office

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

View from Above

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL


© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

A Look Above

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Detailed Carving

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Detailed Carving

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Inside Theater

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Stage Curtain

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Box Seats

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL


© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Stage Lights

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Stage Manager's Office

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Piano, View from Stage

© 2007 Debra Paulson

The Rialto, Joliet, IL

Piano on Stage

© 2007 Debra Paulson

Live Performance: Vaudevillian
Debra Paulson

"I'm a photographer born and raised in the City of Chicago, a living architectural museum - every conceivable style of architecture is on display here in the 'Second City'.    With that as my inspiration I set out to isolate the elegant, repetitive patterns found within the facades and interiors of Chicago architecture and public art, inviting the viewer to take a second look at these innovative structures.    When the opportunity arose to photograph the restored Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Illinois how could I resist?    Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rialto’s sumptuousness is evident everywhere – from the welcoming marquis and ornate box office that entice visitors to enter to the detailed overhead lighting fixtures and carved and guilded woodwork.   Entering this elegant theatre was like taking a step back into a bygone era and it was a privilege to capture it on film."

Debra shot these photos during a group outing where 44 other artists were invited to tour the Rialto and create art on the spot en plein air style.    Her photographs have been exhibited at Woman Made Gallery, the Illinois Institute of Art, and ARC Gallery to list just a few.   She is also known for her pet portraits.


Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL

Inside the Rialto

 6 x 12"

Oil on Canvas

© 2007 Barbara Herring

Rialto Lobby

6 x 12"

Oil on Canvas

© 2007 Barbara Herring

Barbara Herring

"I am a Chicago based artist currently affiliated with the Chicago Artists Coalition and the Palette and Chisel Academy of Art.    My skills were developed in private studies at the historic Tree Studios in Chicago and the Drawing Workshop with George Sotos.   Currently, I am part of the plein air group that paints in Chicago neighborhoods every Saturday Morning.

I was able to travel to Joliet with other plein air painters early in spring.   This is an old theatre with a renowned organ. It still plays to headliners. What was striking was the extensive renovation effort the city undertook to keep this gem. It was quite something and lots of fun."

Barbara is a member of the Plein Air Painters of Chicago.   She created these paintings during a group outing where 44 other artists were invited to tour the Rialto and create art on the spot.


The Varsity

Address:  1710 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL
Year Built:   1926
John E.O. Pridmore

Status:   Converted to Retail Space

The Varsity Theater was the largest and most lavish of all the suburban Chicago movie palaces.    Its original owner, Clyde Elliot was from Evanston and worked in Hollywood for several years.   

The Balaban & Katz chain bought the theater in the early 30's and it continued to show movies into the 1980's.    In 1988 it closed and the building was coverted to retail spaces.    The former Varsity Theater building on Sherman Avenue has lost its marquee, ticket booth and entryway.   It is currently undergoing  landmark consideration to save what is left.

The Varsity  Oil on Canvas   ©  Don Elmi

Photo Courtesy of



"The interior views in this collection represent movie theaters from the 1920’s and 30’s. As an American architectural development its uniqueness can be attributed to the film production it presented and the audience it sought to entertain. In its hey day the masses were escaping into a fantasy of Persian courts, Egyptian temples, seafaring towns with mermaids and seahorses, or Aztec and Mayan ruins. These houses of fantasy were scattered throughout our cities and could be found in every small town. They were as abundant as houses of worship and often regarded with equal stature. George L. Rapp , one of Chicago’s prominent theater architects, believed the movie house was a "shrine to democracy...where the wealthy rub elbows with the poor.."

As much as I respect the historic value of the vintage movie theater, my initial attraction was not to just document for preservation. As well, I have an interest in how the application of color defines our perceptions of place. My response of fascination and seduction to these interiors is not unlike that of its original audience. There is an uninhibited use of color and ornamentation that reflects an age of optimism. The inclusion of vending machines, candy counters and posters, all of which have their own vintage place and chromogentic ambitions, contribute to this seductive atmosphere of fantasy.

These images are a result of four years of perusing all theaters that would provide me access. They are all in the Chicago area, many having been razed, abandoned, or split up into smaller spaces. All images are exposed on to 4x5 color transparency film, scanned and printed on an Epson 7600 with Ultrachrome Ink."

Mr. Phillips received a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute and a MS from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design.   His photographs have been exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Historical Society, the International Photography Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK and the Illinois State Museum, the Water Tower Gallery and O'Hare Airport in Chicago to list just a few.

Nortown Theatre Auditorium, Ink Jet Print

Nortown Theatre Staircase, Ink Jet Print

Chicago Theatre Auditorium - Main Floor, Ink Jet Print

Chicago Theatre Grand Staircase, Ink Jet Print

Pickwick Theatre Exterior, Ink Jet Print

Music Box Theatre Lobby, Ink Jet Print

United Artist Theatre, Detail, Ink Jet Print

Oriental Theatre Lobby, Ink Jet Print

Coronado Theatre, Upper Lobby, Ink Jet Print

Coronado Theatre, Auditorium, Ink Jet Print

Paramount Theatre, Auditorium, Ink Jet Print

DuPage Theatre, Auditorium, Ink Jet Print



Thomas Gessner

Pen & Ink Drawings

(Available in 8 x 10" Prints and 5 x  8" Notecards)

Trained in architectural drawing, Thomas has always been interested in historical preservation and landmark buildings.   Thomas has created a large collection of pen & ink drawings of numerous historic theatres across the country.   He is also a member of the Theatre Historical Society of America.   Thomas was born and raised in Rockford, IL.


The Pickwick © Thomas Gessner

Address: 5 S. Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, IL
Year Built: 1928
Architect: Zook & McCaughey
1975:  listed on National Register of Historic Places

This art deco style theatre was designed as a vaudeville and movie house.   Falling in to disrepair in the late 70's, it was forced to shut down due to code violations.    In 1981, the theater was renovated by the Vlahakis family.   From 1991 - 1994, three smaller screens were added to the rear of the theater, however the theater's original 40-foot screen was preserved.  The theater's facade was used as the backdrop for the opening sequence of Siskel and Ebert's At the Movies.  Currently, the theater shows first run movies.

The Music Box © Thomas Gessner



See Above Description

The Tivoli © Thomas Gessner

Address:  5021 Highland Ave, Downers Grove, IL Year Built: 1928
Architect:s:  Van Guten and Van Guten

Operated for its first 20 years by the Balaban and Katz Corp., it was only the second theatre in the U.S. designed to play "sound" movies.  Known as the "wonder theatre of the western suburbs" the theater used Vitaphone and Movietone sound systems.   A typical show featured a talking picture, talking and singing acts, and a Movietone news reel.

In the 1950's, a CinemaScope screen was added in front of the proscenium arch covering its architecture and preventing the use of the stage. 


The theatre's original marquee was removed in the 1960's and replaced with a "modern" one.  The parpet was also removed.

In the 1970's attendance declined and the theatre's owners allowed the theatre to deteriorate.   In 1978 the Tivoli close
d its doors.   The theatre remained closed for a short time until it reopened under new ownership - Tivoli Enterprises, Inc., Renovation and restoration started in 1980.   In the 1980's,  the screen was moved back behind the proscenium arch to once again allow orchestra or live entertainment capabilities.

Also added in 1992 was a Wurlitzer organ that rises from the orchestra pit. The original organ, also a Wurlitzer, was removed in 1932 and sold to a private collector in Great Britain.  The present organ came from the Indiana Theater and is owned and maintained by
CATOE, the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts.

Today the theater is home to the Midwest Ballet Theatre and continues to show films and host live performances and plays.


The Coronado © Thomas Gessner

Address: 314 N. Main St., Rockford, IL.
Year Built: 1926
Architect: Frederic Klein
1979: Listed on National Register of Historic Places
1980:  Entered onto the State of Illinois Register of Historic Sites (one of only six in the state at that time). It is also listed as an historical landmark in the City of Rockford, Illinois.

The Coronado opened on Oct. 9, 1927 as an atmospheric style theatre and movie palace - complete with Spanish castles, Italian villas, oriental dragons, starlit skies and a Grande Barton Pipe Organ. The name "Coronado" was chosen through a contest sponsored by the Rockford Register Gazette and Great States Theaters. On its first day of operation, the Coronado hosted 9,000 patrons during three showings of "Swim Girl Swim," a silent film starring Bebe Daniels. In 1927, Bob Hope appeared in "Roberta." In 1928, the theatre hosted legends of show business, the Marx Brothers. That same year, the Coronado showed its first "talkie," the Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolsen. In 1941, Gypsy Rose Lee scandalizes the community by appearing at the theatre, performing her striptease routine on Easter Sunday! Sammy Davis, Jr., Liberace, Tommy Dorsey, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra all performed at the Coronado.

In 1970, the Theatre was sold to the Kerasotes Corporation. Upon finalizing the sale, George Kerasotes stated that the acquisition of the "showplace of Rockford" by his group was a proud event in his business career, because the Coronado had long been recognized as one of the finest theatres in the nation.

In 1973, the Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society formed to restore the Coronado's Grande Barton Pipe Organ and to host concerts. In 1984 (its 56th year), the Coronado closed its movie business. The Disney feature, "Mickey's Christmas Carol" was the last movie scheduled in the theatre and the theater went “dark”.

In 1995, the Rockford Area Arts Council commissions architectural firm van Dijk Pace Westlake to conduct a feasibility study on restoring the Coronado and/or Midway Theatres. The study recommended expanding and renovating the Coronado, creating a comprehensive performing arts and entertainment center. In 1997, the Kerasotes Theatre Organization donated the Coronado Theatre to the City of Rockford and in 1998, The Friends of the Coronado was formed to raise $18.5 million to renovate and restore the historic movie palace. In 2001, the theater re-opened with a black-tie celebration and in 2002, a 75 year historic gala was held. Since then, the theatre has continued its original grand style as a state-of-the-art performance and entertainment facility.


Chicago Theatre © Thomas Gessner


See Above Description



Bruce Cutter

Bruce works professionally as a graphic designer.    He holds degrees in both theatre and graphic design.   He has an interest in the architecture and history of classic theatres and movie houses.    He frequently travels the country to tour and photograph the buildings and marquees that have survived the years and are in current danger of disappearing forever.    More of Bruce's theatre images can be found at

Esquire, Color Photography 

Paramount, Color Photography

Music Box, Color Photography

Geneva, Color Photography

Midway, Rockford, IL, Color Photography

Times, Rockford, IL, Color Photography


RIP's:    Tivoli (Chicago) - 1963;  Marbro - 1964; Regal Theater - 1968;  Century (Diversey) 1973 -  McVickers - 1985;  Sheridan Theatre - 1989;  United Artists Theatre (formerly Apollo, now Chicago's "Block 37") - 1989; Commodore Theatre - 1990;    Granada Theatre - 1990;  Rhodes Theatre - 1990; Belmont Theatre - 1991;  Southtown Theatre - 1991;  Devon Theatre - 1996;  Coronet Theatre (Evanston) - 2000; Adelphi Theatre (later North Shore Cinema) - Feb. 2006;  Esquire - 2006; Three Penny - 2007; Village Theatre - 2007;  Nortown - 2007; DuPage Theatre (Lombard, IL) - 2007.

Joe DuciBella - June 29, 2007 - Theater historian and founder of Theatre Historical Society of America.    He led the renovations of two of Classic Cinemas' most historic theatres, the Tivoli Theatre, in Downers Grove, IL, and the Lake Theatre, Oak Park, IL.    Joe worked for B&K in many of its theatres, including the Marbro and Uptown theatres.   The Chicago Theatre was saved with his help and he was active as a volunteer in the continuing "Friends of the Uptown" effort since 1979 – even before the theatre closed to the public.

Theatres in jeopardy:   Uptown , The Gateway, and The Patio

Resources:   Please Note;   Anatomically Correct does not endorse sites behind external links.  (Theater Historical Society of America)

A Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago, Richard Christiansen © 2004, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL

The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz, David Balaban © 2006 Arcadia Publishing, Chicago, IL

Founded in 1991, Anatomically Correct is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to showcasing works by artists in alternative spaces in a combined effort to educate, diversify, and promote community awareness of the visual and performing arts.     This project is sponsored in part by the Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs Program I grant, the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.


For more information or to purchase artwork, please contact:

Anatomically Correct