Will Rogers Theater

5641 W. Belmont Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60634

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Showing 26 - 50 of 79 comments

DavidZornig on February 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Or theres that…Thanks.

I just reread RiisPark’s 2007 post that cited a 1986 selling criteria, as a “stipulation that the buyer cannot show movies in the building”.
This would seem a disturbing clause even by today’s standards.
It all but insures that the/a theater won’t sell, except to a developer with no intention of saving or restoring such a site.

To think that C-O was that ruthless to avoid competition even back then, seems shameful. Apparently to C-O, it was not a vintage theatre. Just another temporary screen to bring in some numbers.

The irony that such a corporate action took place involving a theatre named after Will Rogers, needs not even be said.

DavidZornig on February 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Go to the Commodore Theatre-(in Chicago) page on Cinema Treasures.
The link is embedded in the 01/29/07 post by Cam.
It’s got Mekong.net in the link.
Clicking on that link takes you directly to it’s theatre’s page.
Follow the instructions in the post. The Will Rogers is in the same gallery as the Commodore.

RiisPark99 on February 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm

What is the web address?

DavidZornig on February 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm

FYI. I just happened to catch some exterior pictures of the Will Rogers Theater on the “Mekong” site/link, that is on the Commodore Theatre in Chicago page. As well as a many others. I’m posting this because I see no other active links with exterior photos currently on this page.

wolfmanslick on November 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm

they definitely went CO before they closed. i was an usher there at that time and when plitt went to CO our uniforms went from red sports jackets with black ties to this weird red sgt. peppers-leisure-suit-thingy with a black ascot. really quite embarrassing.

RiisPark99 on September 3, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Most likely. I don’t ever remember seeing the name C-O anywhere at the Will.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on September 2, 2007 at 9:53 pm

So then the Plitt name must have been used for about a year after the C-O takeover.

RiisPark99 on September 2, 2007 at 6:53 pm


I can’t answer all of your questions but I can give you this much information:

This is from the local newspaper THE LEADER dated 11/19/86:

“The Will Rogers Theater, a Belmont Central landmark since the 1940’s, was boarded up and listed for sale last week. The asking price is half a million dollars and there is a stipulation that the
buyer cannot show movies in the building.”

The article goes on to state that the orignal owners were Balaban &Katz but later was owned by Plitt and that in the spring of 1985 was purchased by Cineplex Odeon of Toronto. The article also stated
that the head of the Belmont-Central chamber of commerce inquired of what the chain intended to with the Will he was told by a Linda
Friendly of their PR dept. that “we have no plans to stop showing films at the theatre at this time. It’s a good theatre for us.” and
that the rumor about razing the Will was “ridiculous” and “we don’t want to see it boarder up.”

Well boarding it up and razing it is exactly what they had in mind.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on September 2, 2007 at 8:34 am

In reviewing movie ads from 1986, the Chicago Tribune shows that the Will Rogers was still open in July of that year. It was plaing THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR. In the ads for December 23, 1986 the Will Rogers is not shown, so I’m assuming that it closed sometime between July and December, 1986. Apparantly, it was showing family fare until the end.

Also, the ads for July, 1986 show it as being “Plitt and Essaness”. By December, the ads show “Cineplex-Odeon and Plitt.” So

1) Did Plitt and Essaness merge prior to the takeover by C-O?
2) When did the takeover of Plitt/Essaness by C-O occur?
3) Did the Will Rogers actually make it into the C-O chain? Or was it closed prior to this?

What’s also interesting is that the above comments state that the Bricktown was the intended replacement for the Will Rogers and the Mercury. But the Bricktown didn’t come along until nearly three years after the Will Rogers closed (the Mercury was still operating on 12/23/86).

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on August 30, 2007 at 9:13 pm


Actually, the Bricktown, which was the replacement for the Will Rogers and the Mercury, was a Cineplex-Odeon. ABC had been taken over by Plitt circa 1974(?). Plitt had been taken over by C-O circa 1985-6.

The early multiplexes built by C-O circa 1986-1989 were an attempt by that company to modernize the movie-going experience in Chicagoland. But most of them didn’t last long. The only one left that I can think of is the Lincoln Village 1-6 and who knows how long that one’s gonna last.

RiisPark99 on August 30, 2007 at 3:01 pm

BJ & Dirty Dragon was one of the last live kids shows to air from Chicago. Now it’s all animated and syndicated.

I was by the spot last Sunday. The strip mall where the Will stood is still cheezy as ever but the old Goldblatts building across the street is now an interesting European fruit and deli market.

Melodance on August 30, 2007 at 2:16 pm

My brother and I would go here often as the theatre showed many of Walt Disney’s films or other movies of the gendre.

Too bad it couldn’t be re-used. Served ABC right that the new cineplex wasn’t a success!

CatherineDiMartino on August 30, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Riis Park and Paul F.

I’ll go one better. I once saw “BJ & Dirty Dragon” here. A special episode of the TV show was being filmed here.

Now I’ve REALLY dated myself!

RiisPark99 on August 29, 2007 at 6:52 pm

It was Rich Koz—and the place was packed.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on August 29, 2007 at 6:04 pm

Riis Park,

Did you see the original Svengoolie there, or did you see Rich Koz’s Son of Svengoolie (although he now uses simply Svengoolie)?

My girlfriend, now my fiancee, saw Koz/Svengoolie at the Portage in October, 2006.

kencmcintyre on August 29, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Nice ad. I like Balaban & Katz making their presence felt as part of the marquee.

ctd on April 16, 2007 at 7:28 am

The Will Rogers was where I cried when Old Yeller died. I also saw “The Black Hole” and “Fantasia” at that beautiful theatre. That whole retail district was really kitschy-cool back in the 70s and 80s.

RiisPark99 on March 25, 2007 at 1:32 pm

I was a Shamrock too, class of ‘66. A movie theatre is an anchor of a community and when the Will was shuttered and wrecked so went BC.

Another memory I have is taking my young daughter and nephew to the Will on a Saturday afternoon around 1980 to see Svengoolie live.

erincal on March 25, 2007 at 12:59 pm

I remember this theater from when I used to live in Chicago. I was sorry to see it gone upon returning there. I went to St. Patrick’s high school down Belmont Ave in 1967. I would ride the Central Ave bus north to go home. Depending on weather conditions I’d walk from school to Central always seeing what was playing there. Mostly I would go to the Gateway or Portage as they wee closer to home. However I remember seeing the St.Valentine’s Day Massacre and Divorce American Style ther in 1967.After that year I moved away never seeing the theater again.

lupechennel on March 4, 2007 at 3:23 pm

I remember eating ice cream during the shows in the 70’s. Also during the Plitt era they had little pull tabs on the popcorn and drinks to win prizes.

MKuecker on February 11, 2007 at 11:08 am

Grand Mogul,
Do you have a copy of this ad?

GrandMogul on February 9, 2007 at 11:39 am

CHICAGO TRIBUNE ad for Saturday, September 5, 1936, announced that the Will Rogers opened on that date. So sad they demolished it, so many treasures gone, and replaced by banality … oh, well …

MKuecker on January 9, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Yikes!! I remember Battlestar Gallactica and the attack of the falling celing plaster. Thanks G.Feret for the memories :)

GFeret on January 8, 2007 at 11:47 am

Warning! Warning! DOWNER ENTRY! When WILL ROGERS ran BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA in “SENSURROUND” they didn’t seem to me all that concerned if a few more plaster chips fell off the already (water?) damaged ceiling, due to the vibrations. Also, when they ran INVADERS FROM MARS (the ‘70s remake) they actually began a reel of it BACKWARDS and didn’t notice till I came out to complain (which I didn’t right away, shame on me).