Ever since the late 1890s when movie theatres began to pop up in towns across the U.S., people have loved the diversion of watching a story on the big screen.
West Chicago’s first moving picture show was the Improv Theatre or “Imp” located in the Atcherson Building on west Washington. The “Imp,” showing silent films as early as 1912, vowed not to present anything that would “offend the most refined taste.” Anna Steffes Mann’s fine soprano voice set the mood with songs like “The Battleship Maine,” “Mockingbird Rag,” and “Moonlight Bay” as film reels were changed.
After Chicago’s disastrous Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903, safety became a prime concern. The West Chicago Theatre, built in 1912 right next to City Hall (now the Museum), was of fireproof cement blocks with front and rear exits. Unlike the “Imp,” films shown here such as the 1917 “Paradise Garden,” were more risqué in nature.
By 1923 the name changed to the Lyceum Theatre and by 1927 it was operating in the red. Perhaps it went out of business at this time as sound technology developed and silent movies became “talkies.” The building was demolished in 1931.
In 1924 Lester Norris proposed building a new theatre on Depot (Main) Street. The two story building would have two storefronts and a theatre located behind the stores. The theatre plan fell through, but three years later Harlow Belding built on the site using the original façade design. Check out the ornate terra cotta at 213-215 Main, home of the St. Vincent DePaul Society.
The lavish Roxy Theatre at 111 W. Washington opened in 1936 in a remodeled car dealer’s garage. Movies were shown here until 1952 when the American Legion bought the building.
Movies took to the outdoors with drive-ins. In 1961, the Cascade opened on North Avenue showing “Mr. Roberts.” Still thriving, it is one of twelve remaining Illinois drive-ins. Experiencing a drive-in should be on everyone’s bucket list!