Highland Park Theatre

445 Central Avenue,
Highland Park, IL 60035

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VicLee
VicLee on August 15, 2006 at 5:02 am

Here is an interesting exerpt from William Goldman who grew up in Highland Park. He is one of the great screenwriters and wrote the screenplays for movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Marathon Man”, “The Princess Bride” and alot more novels. I found it interesting how after his entire career…he talks about this movie theater.

This is from his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade”:

“Because of my Hollywood work, I have seen films on three continents and in at least twice that many foreign countries.

But for me, still, always, it is the Alcyon….

Certainly not a great movie theatre. Probably not even a very good one. But the Alcyon stands alone in memory because it stood alone on Central, even then an aging monopoly; if you wanted to go to the movies in Highland Park, Illinois, in the 1930’s, it was the Alcyonâ€"or it was no movie at all.

And the thought of no movie at all was just too painful.

Even when I was six and seven and eight, I was hooked. I suppose I still am, but the stuff I see today often vanishes, while the Alcyon remains."

I pretty much feel the same way about this movie theater…almost…well kinda like a church. The next time I ever make it back to Chicago…I’ll have to see how the 4 screens turned out. I bet it sucks.

Broan
Broan on August 14, 2006 at 6:40 am

I’ll explain my reasoning for why I think Betts & Holcomb had a relationship to this building. First, as the article I typed below notes, B&H and Mann had adjacent offices in one building and then moved together to another. They obviously must have been very close aquaintances. It’s very unusual to see Tudor-style theaters, yet the Chicago area had 5 – The Glen Ellyn, the Catlow (Barrington), the Villard (Villa Park), the Deerpath (Lake Forest), and the Alcyon. B&H designed the first 3, and are usually attributed as the designers of the Deerpath, although sometimes it is attributed to Stanley D. Anderson, a prominent Lake Forest architect who did parts of the nearby tudor-style Market Square shopping center. However, if you compare the Catlow to pictures of the Deerpath, many of the design features are exactly the same. It is therefore quite likely that Betts & Holcomb designed the theater entirely and Anderson was listed as the architect of record due to his local connections; or Anderson may have worked with B&H and been credited as its architect. I think a similar situation might have happened with Mann, who had a much clearer connection to B&H. Like Anderson, Mann had local connections as a Highland Park architect. And like Anderson, Mann had not designed a theater previously. Surely there was influence from the architects next door who had designed 5 similar theaters. Also the present owner of the theater said B&H were the architects. That said, the Alcyon is different in a number of ways from the other B&H theaters i’ve seen (Des Plaines, Catlow, Deerpath).

Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1926
“NEWS OF THE ARCHITECTS
The group of architects who for several years have maintained studios on the roof of the Ashland block [note: Now site of the Daley Center] in a sort of enlarged bungalow hooked up with the 16th floor by a mointain climbing circular iron stairway, have all decided to trek to more convenient quarters elsewhere in the loop.
Olsen & Urbain will move on May 1 to suite 2128 in the new Metropolitan block. Their phone will remain the same. Raymond Gregori also will move to the Metropolitan.
Betts & Holcomb will journey eastward along Randolph to the new Masonic temple [Oriental Theater Building], now nearing completion at the site of the old Iroquois (Colonial) theater. They will occupy suite 1809 [note: Now County Offices]. What their phone number will be remains a mystery as yet unsolved. William D. Mann also will move from the Ashland to the new Masonic temple.”

wendygraham
wendygraham on August 9, 2006 at 5:04 am

As the granddaughter of the architect, I am submitting this info written by my mother:

My father, William D. Mann, moved his Chicago office to Highland Park, IL in the mid 1920’s. Highland Park was his home since 1912 and he designed many English Tudor, French Provincial and Colonial style homes there. He toured England and Normandy, France in 1929.

Upon completion of the Alcyon Theatre, the theatre owner gave all members of the Mann family a 2 year movie pass. This was especially delightful for the 7 children. Mr Mann was disappointed when they decorated the indoor ceiling’s wood slats with colorful designs. He preferred the solid brown stain. The firm of Betts & Holcomb is not familiar to me.

VicLee
VicLee on July 21, 2006 at 10:13 am

I was an usher at the Highland Park Theater in 1975 and 1976. I have fond memories of this place. Back then it was still just one screen but you could feel the history of the place even back then. In back of the screen was like an old playhouse with old dressing rooms and wardrobes still there…kinda spooky but cool. They must have also put on stage plays there a long time ago. Changing the lights in the ceiling of the theater was an adventure. You had to climb an old ladder behund the screen and make sure U didnt fall thru the ceiling while changing the lights. Even in the 70’s the old balcony was closed by the fire dept. but it was great for an usher to take his dates up there…we had the whole balcony to ourselves! I used to superglue a quarter on the sidewalk in front just to watch people trying to pick it up. Hey ushering can be boring during the movie! I still think of that place for some reason….even after 30 years. Kinda sad its 4 screens now. But such is economics, I still vividly remember every nook and cranny of that place.

Broan
Broan on May 30, 2006 at 3:47 am

I spoke to the very friendly owner the other day actually; he said that the theater has a large base of loyal customers and that although the Renaissance multi a few blocks away took maybe 10% of business away; however it also helped open the local audience to art films, which is now the specialty. It’s really a very neat place, and it’s worth seeing just to look at the way they split it. It’s a very high-quality split; they put the wall halfway between the back wall and the stage so the main house is only split into two pretty sizable theaters with very big screens. A corridor was made along the side of the rear theater, and the partition wall was plastered and paneled to look like the original wall. This was extended into a former exit corridor to reach the third screen on the stage, which is more of a shoebox, but still decently done. The fourth screen, also a shoebox is built out of dead space upstairs and is accessed by the old stairs to the balcony. The small horseshoe balcony is used to access the various projection booths. It’s all very cleverly done. The owner also confirmed my architect information.

General Cinemas were often really just called CINEMA or CINEMA I & II or so on. The town name was just tacked on to differentiate them.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on May 30, 2006 at 3:00 am

So then there were 2 theatres named Highland Park? The one on Central Ave. and the one on Deerpath Road? Obviously they were not related.

How is this cinema doing considering the new multi-plexes that have opened up here?

Broan
Broan on May 25, 2006 at 4:26 am

I’m really quite confident that this is a William B. Betts design. The tudor style is so rare, and it reappears 4 times in the Chicago area. The Deerpath was similarly attributed to local architect Stanley D. Anderson – a well-connected Lake Forest architect – despite the fact that its interior is a dead ringer for the Catlow. On top of that, William D. Mann’s office was directly next door to Betts & Holcomb. I’m pretty sure it was just attributed to Mann to gain local support.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 25, 2006 at 4:16 am

This is recent photo of the Highland Park Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on April 9, 2006 at 6:23 am

Here is the breakdown on the seating:

“The Highland Park Theatre presents second-run films on four screens. The largest theater seats 410 with four-channel Ultra Stereo sound. Theater 2 seats 275, theater 3 seats 150, and theater 4 seats 130; all feature two-channel Ultra Stereo. Theaters 1-3 are also wheelchair-accessible; however, the restroom is not. Assistive listening devices are available in theaters 1 and 2”.

Broan
Broan on April 5, 2006 at 6:12 am

And he actually lived at 218 N Sheridan in Highland Park, so perhaps this was a Betts & Holcomb design attributed to Mann because a Highland Park architect would be more attractive to local investment.

Broan
Broan on April 5, 2006 at 6:11 am

Mann also designed an addition to the old Moraine Hotel in Highland Park and stores at the SW corner of Sheridan and Park

Broan
Broan on April 5, 2006 at 6:03 am

The Alcyon was announced in the Jan 11, 1925 Chicago Tribune, including a drawing.

“Architect William D. Mann believes suburban business buildings should harmonize architecturally with their surroundings. Therefore when he was commissioned to design a film theater for Highland Park, instead of the usual boxlike structure, overloaded with gingerbread designs, he planned the above attractive piece of architecture along old English lines – a thing of beauty and an asset to the neighborhood.

It is being erected on the north side of Central avenue, east of and near to Sheridan road. The owner now operates the Pearl theater in Highland Park. It’ll not be called “The Capitol” or “The Panorama” or “The Orpheum”! A good old English name will probably be selected—a name in keeping with the architectural charm of the building.

According to Mr. Mann, it will have 1,100 seats, with a regulation stage. The interior decorations will be carried out along old English lines. Instead of a balcony there will be a circle of boxes all around the auditorium. The building will have two stores, with studios on the second floor. The exterior will be plastered, with hand carved timbers and with slate roof. Completion date is set for July 1."

Interestingly, Mann’s studio was adjacent to Betts & Holcomb, who built the similarly Tudor Catlow, Glen, and Deerpath theaters. Surely there was some influence between them.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 14, 2005 at 3:56 am

Here is a recent photo of the Highland Park Theater.

Broan
Broan on May 29, 2005 at 5:57 pm

Updated photo link: View link

wordspecs
wordspecs on January 17, 2005 at 9:21 am

Brian, I am new to your site. We publish a magazine for Highland Parkers and we would like to know if there is a photos of the old Alcyon that we could have rights to use. We would, of course, give proper photo credit, or if there is a fee, please communication. You can reacy me by email at