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Lost Palaces: A Gallery of Old Movie Theatres

Granada Theatre, 1989 There was once a time when I loved movies. I had the good fortune to work in a movie theatre, so I saw lots of movies.

I also saw lots of movie theatres. I was shocked to learn that not all theatres looked like cookie-cutter mall cinemas. No, these buildings were fantastic: colossal, gaudy, ornate, fabulous palaces. Sadly, 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 thousands of times, eventually, you will wind up with a few interesting pictures.

Sets of these photos can be viewed by clicking on the images below. High-resolution copies of these photos can be downloaded from the high-resolution images page.

Please note that these photos are protected by copyright. If you would like to use any of these images, you can contact the photographer at ricoh35 AT gmail DOT com.

Many of my photos on other subjects can be seen on this site's main photo page.


A true palace: Photos taken in 1987, prior to the beginning of demolition, and 1989 and 1990, during the demolition.
More photos from the exquisite Granada, taken in 1989 and 1990, during the demolition of the theatre.
A massive, gorgeous theatre, teetering on the edge of ruin on the city's north side.
For sentimental reasons, my favorite theatre: I worked there for years. The Adelphi, in later years, was renamed the North Shore Cinema.
Sad photos from early 2006: my beloved Adelphi makes its final curtain call.
An original art deco beauty, a modern retro throwback, a few old neighborhood theatres, and a well-manicured adult theatre.
An oldie from Rogers Park, the 400 was originally the Regent, and has at various times been called the 400 Twin and the Village North. It's now the New 400.
The Sheridan and the Rhodes were demolished in the 1990s. A shame: they each had their virtues. The Glenwood, in the south suburb of the same name, sits empty and is slated for demolition.
The Esquire, a beautiful Art Deco palace, is closed, awaiting an uncertain fate. The Rivertree Court, in Vernon Hills, is also closed.
The Brighton and the Coronet are gone; the Belmont morphed into a bowling alley, then condos. The Jefferson, originally a nickelodean, is a woodworking shop; the Albany, part of a warehouse.
Vanished cinemas from the heart of the city: The United Artists, the Woods, the Dearborn... gone, all gone.
The Howard, the Southtown and the Englewood, shared a common fate: they fell victim to blight and decay.
Few people would recognize that any of these buildings were once theatres. But look for an eloquent farewell on the pic of the Varsity...
The Sprague? A little theatre in Wisconsin. The Showplace? A multiscreen house in Naperville. The Portage? Nicely restored. The Riviera and the Broadway? I've never been inside.
The Biograph's claim to fame was that Dillinger was shot outside; the Music Box, meanwhile, is a triumph of restoration. The Highland and the Beverly are now churches.
The gorgeous Patio reopened in June 2011, after being closed for several years. Go there, right now, because this is how movies were meant to be seen.
The lovely Nortown, a Balaban and Katz gem, fades into history.
A renowned beauty in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the immaculately maintained Al Ringling was one of the world's first movie palaces.
The Morse Theatre (known in later years as the Co-Ed) was converted to retail space and stripped of most of its original features. Renovation is now underway to resurrect it as an entertainment venue.
The Cadillac Palace and Waukegan's Genesee are nicely restored, and feature live performances. The Congress is less well-known and less well-preserved, but it's still hanging on.
The Chicago is not merely one of the city's most beautiful theatres; it's also a genuine landmark. After a period of decline, the building was immaculately restored in the mid-Eighties.
An Art Deco masterpiece in the heart of Park Ridge.
The venerable Wilmette soldiers on, year after year. The Arcada in St. Charles is old and pretty; the Muvico in Rosemont is new and gorgeous.
An old "atmospheric" theatre on Chicago's northwest side. It's beautifully restored, and is now known as the Copernicus Center.
Last used as a church, the Lawndale has fallen into disrepair, and is dying a slow death.
The Cascade in West Chicago is one of Illinois' few remaining drive-ins. The Loews Streets of Woodfield is a new multiplex, and the Loews Garden, actually two separate buildings, is a multiplex in Skokie.
The Devon, originally the Knickerbocker, closed in 1984 and was demolished years ago. The Lincoln Village closed in 2008, and its future looks bleak. The Three Penny and the Village, both on the north side, are also closed.
A modern multiplex in Skokie, the Village Crossing has a total of 18 screens.
The Oriental Theatre, also known as the Ford Center for Performing Arts, is an over-the-top Balaban and Katz house, located in downtown Chicago.
The Ramova, a sister to the renowned Music Box, has been empty for many years.

Time permitting, I'll add some pages with additional information about some of these theatres. For now, die-hard theatre fans may find this very brief anecdote from the 400 Theatre a little amusing.

On the subject of movies, meanwhile, I've written a lengthy review of the movie Mystery Men, outlining the reasons for my bewildering belief that it is one of the best movies ever made.

If you like these photos, you might also enjoy Stages of Decay, an album of photos by Julia Solis.

And, in the "I wish I had done that!" department, there's The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project, a photo archive of abandoned and converted movie theatres in Southeast Asia.