Get Nostalgic at Chicago's Historic Neighborhood Movie Theaters
Amid the film boom of the early 20th century, Chicago had more movie theaters per capita than any other city in the United States. Among these theaters that once lined the streets of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs were extravagant movie palaces.
Although most of these grand establishments were vanquished in the era of the multiplex, a surviving few give moviegoers a chance to step back in time and enjoy the opulent theaters of old. Here are six of the best historic neighborhood movie theaters that remain.
Logan Theatre - Logan Square
Originally opened in 1915 as The Paramount Theatre, the Logan Theatre has long been a fixture in the Logan Square neighborhood. The Logan, as it’s often called, owes its longevity to cheaper-than-average ticket prices, engagement with the community in the form of trivia nights (every Tuesday) and other events, as well as an expansive schedule of screenings that includes blockbusters, classics, and midnight movie fare. The theater’s gleaming “Logan” marquee serves as an unofficial landmark for the neighborhood.
Portage Theater - Portage Park
Opened in 1920, the Portage Theater in Portage Park holds the distinction of being the first theater in the Chicago area to be built specifically for film and not vaudeville and live performance.
Screenings make use of the theater’s original barton pipe organ, which was used to accompany silent films. Undergoing a complete restoration just a few years ago, the theater’s single auditorium retains much of what made it popular in the first place, including its Spanish and Italian architectural influences and its stunning auditorium ceiling that mimics a night sky, granting moviegoers a truly special atmosphere.
Pickwick Theatre - Park Ridge
The Pickwick Theatre quickly established itself as a theater whose grandeur could rival those in the city limits when it opened in Park Ridge in 1928. The theater is known for its art deco facade, featuring a monumental 100-foot tower and marquee that famously appears in the opening credits of the TV show “Siskel & Ebert & the Movies.” Inside the main theater, an art deco mermaid fountain greets moviegoers. The main auditorium seats roughly 1,400 people and was built to resemble a golden Mayan temple.
In addition to showing recent films, the theater holds a classic film series each month with picks like “The Godfather” and the original “King Kong.” The 90-year-old theater continues to modernize by adding more screens, and plans are in the works to add a new screen that’s four times the size of the already large screen in the main auditorium.
Music Box Theatre - Lakeview
The Music Box stands out not only for its distinctive art deco architecture but its emphasis on showcasing independent, foreign, cult, and hard-to-find classic films. Operating in Lakeview since 1929, the theater recalls the past with round columns, a live organist accompanying silent film screenings, and a red velvet curtain that rises to introduce every film before the lights dim until only the starry ceiling remains.
Recent renovations brought an adjacent lounge, and the concession stand offers craft beers alongside typical movie snacks. At the Music Box you might also meet “Whitey,” the theater’s resident friendly ghost. Believed to be the spirit of the theater’s former manager, moviegoers can usually find him pacing around Aisle 4.
Davis Theater - Lincoln Square
The Davis Theater has been a beloved staple of the Lincoln Square neighborhood since opening in 1918. Originally known as The Pershing, the theater began its life showcasing live vaudeville acts and silent movies and has since evolved to offer the latest wide-release films—plus some special screenings—in a sleek space.
Despite several moments of uncertainty regarding its future, specifically during the late 1990s when the theater faced demolition to become a shopping mall, the Davis has always persevered thanks to its loyal fans. The theater reopened in late 2016 after a year spent renovating and preserving the building, ensuring that moviegoers will continue to enjoy this 100-year-old theater for many more years.
Lake Theatre: Classic Cinema - Oak Park
Designed by Thomas Lamb, the architect known for his movie houses, Lake Theatre opened in Oak Park in 1936. Another prime example of opulent art deco design in the Chicagoland area, the theater was bought by Classic Cinemas in 1984, who set out to completely renovate the theater’s then faded appearance and upgrade the space with three additional screens.
The theater has also become the home of many decorative features saved from other Chicagoland theatres that are no longer around, including ceiling fixtures from the Will Rogers Theater, two plaster musician busts from the demolished Southtown Theatre, and art deco wall fixtures from the Colonial Theatre. These rescued artifacts from another era add to Lake Theatre’s charm and character, making it a memorial to the bygone neighborhood theater.