Des Plaines Theatre restoration at standstill

posted by btkrefft on August 10, 2006 at 5:01 am

DES PLAINES, IL — In 2003, when brothers Dhitu and Dharmesh Bhagwakar purchased the Des Plaines Theatre in downtown Des Plaines, from a bank which planned to raze the historic landmark in this Chicago suburb and build a drive-thru bank on the site, there was great relief and optimism for the former movie palace.

The Des Plaines Theatre Preservation Society partnered with the building’s new owners, who allowed the group to hold classic film screenings and special events in the twinned theater, while Bollywood features also were screened at the theater. In return for free rent, the Society did volunteer repair work on the old theater, including restoring the Art Deco marquee, plasterwork, and fixing seats, tiles and the restrooms.

As of around six months ago, the Bhagwakars told the Society it would have to start paying rent to continue using the theater, and when the Society declined to pay rent, its repairs and use of the theater began to end.

It is estimated a full restoration of the Des Plaines would cost around $5 million to return the theater to its 1920’s look. The theater has qualified to be named to the National Register of Historic Places, but since that time, the owners have refused to allow the listing to be made official.

Dhitu Bhagwakar says that he appreciates the theater’s historical significance, but says also that the theater has tripled in value since he and his brother acquired it. In any case, they do not plan on selling the Des Plaines.

In 2004, the City Council rejected a $60,000 pricetag on a study to gauge community support for a performing arts center. City Manager Dave Niemeyer says, “A successful, lively theater would certainly be an asset downtown, but the question is, who is going to finance it?”

For more visit the article in the Chicago Tribune.

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Comments (3)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 10, 2006 at 3:55 pm

Brian Wolf, where are you?

Theaterat on August 14, 2006 at 10:41 am

Will they be showing “Snakes on a Plane” at Des Plaines?

Broan on August 14, 2006 at 9:43 pm

The article is essentially factually correct, except that the City Council did, in fact, commit the funds to a feasibility study that was never carried out, on the grounds that it could benefit the owner, a private businessman. Meanwhile, the land behind the theater was redeveloped, on land bought by the city and sold under market value to the developer, while the city itself passed up the opportunity to purchase the theater. As a result of this development, the theater – as the Tribune noted – now is worth three times as much. There’s a good chance the city will eventually decide to redevelop that stretch, with or without the theater, and Bhagwakar will get the difference in value, so the city effectively will be benefitting him anyway. Smart businessman. Due to this and other differences in philosophy, the society has been unable to continue presenting shows at the theater, and is exploring other ways to continue fighting for this important landmark. Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more, and visit the Society website at

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