Evanston Theater to become Condos

posted by CSWalczak on July 26, 2006 at 11:58 am

EVANSTON, IL — According to this article in the Chicago Tribune, the once grand Evanston Theater will follow many others in greater Chicago area into oblivion:

It debuted with a hit comedy back in the day when a Saturday matinee started with a Porky Pig cartoon and children lined the sidewalk to pay 75 cents for a movie and a bag of popcorn.

Almost half a century later, Evanston Theaters is a dank and musty place filled with cobwebs and torn movie screens. High-rise condominiums threaten to replace the theater’s high ceilings and plush curtains.

For the full story, visit the Chicago Tribune Article.

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Comments (2)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 26, 2006 at 8:04 pm

I don’t know. The Evanston is a huge piece of North Shore history but really had become a pit at the end. I must admit that I like the new Century too. I just hope they don’t build something completely out of place with the landscape.

strawberry
strawberry on April 11, 2008 at 8:17 pm

The links no longer work, so here is the text of the article:

“Progress sinks small theater: Once-regal Evanston movie house another casualty of multiplexes

Jul. 25—It debuted with a hit comedy back in the day when a Saturday matinee started with a Porky Pig cartoon and children lined the sidewalk to pay 75 cents for a movie and a bag of popcorn.

Almost half a century later, Evanston Theaters is a dank and musty place filled with cobwebs and torn movie screens. High-rise condominiums threaten to replace the theater’s high ceilings and plush curtains.

Like other family-owned movie houses in the Chicago area, the small cinema on Central Street couldn’t compete with modern multiplexes offering the latest blockbuster, even after the owner, Gordon Magill, carved the grand old theater once operated by his grandfather into four screens.

“These community theaters are just going the way of the dodo bird,” Magill said. “They’ve been dwarfed by the multiplex.”

Across the Chicago area, small theaters have been closing for more than a decade, casualties of a changing industry. From Hinsdale to the North Side, they have found it difficult to stay afloat.

“People tell me it’s a shame all these small theaters are closing,” said Jim Burrows, owner of 3 Penny Cinema, a Lincoln Park theater that recently closed. “But people stop going.”

A few years ago, the Hinsdale Theater ran into similar troubles, said owner George Avgeris. In that case, even a grass-roots effort to save the theater didn’t keep it open. It closed in 1999, and a bank and a retail store moved in.

“It really became economically not feasible” to operate, Avgeris said.

Last week, the owner of the Esquire theater in downtown Chicago announced that he wanted to close the once-gilded movie house and replace it with stores. Burrows predicts that more of the opulent theaters built decades ago will follow.

“They’ve built all those new ones,” he said. “It’s become too hard to compete.”

Four years ago, Magill closed the Adelphi, another family-owned theater in Chicago. It has been replaced by condos, he said.

And condos are likely to replace the Evanston cinema, which shut in 2001 and went up for sale two years later.

Magill has sold the theater to developers who hope to convert the lot into 55 condominiums, pending permission from Evanston.

Developer John Crocker said he hopes the $20 million condo project can be started in 2007.

“It’s a little bit disheartening,” Magill said.

He remembers the first movie the theater showed, “The Wackiest Ship in the Army,” a comedy starring Jack Lemmon. It opened to a packed house in 1960, Magill said.

His grandfather, Jack Kaplan, expanded the theater in the 1970s, converting the health club he owned next door into a second screen, Magill said. Kaplan dug up the shallow end of the club’s swimming pool and filled in the deep end so seats would slope toward the screen.

Eventually the theater, which started decades earlier as a live performance hall, expanded into a quadraplex, Magill said. But the theater kept its high ceilings and balconies.

In 2001 Sony, which had been renting the space, abruptly cut the lease, Magill said. At first he sought to bring back the live performances that had once defined the theater.

He said he spoke with Evanston’s Light Opera Works about converting the screens to a stage, but the cost, estimated at $13 million, was prohibitive.

In 2003 he put the theater up for sale. A few months later, developers offered to buy it and drew up plans to convert it into condominiums aimed at empty-nesters and young professionals.

“It was sad because we had been in the business for 50 years,” Magill said."

â€"Deborah Horan, Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

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