LaGrange Theatre

80 S. La Grange Road,
La Grange, IL 60525

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CatherineDiMartino on November 27, 2007 at 12:13 pm

My good friend and fellow CT'er Paul F told me about this theatre and so I went with my husband to see it. We saw SHREK THE THIRD here. I like this place. No, it’s not the most modern, up-to-date place. But the employees are nice and the service is friendly. We “triple-dated” this past weekend: Me and my husband, Paul F. and his fiancee, and my husband’s sister and her boyfriend. We saw 3:10 TO YUMA. We had dinner down the street from there.

This place certainly is certainly popular with the locals. That is not the problem. It does need a lot of work. It is old. Yes, it is subdivided, but it still has a certain charm. I wouldn’t even mind if they kept it a four-screener. But, LaGrange has become “Yuppie.” And belive me, “Yuppies” are a race of people who have no care for esthetics and can’t see the intrisic value of having a nice, inexpensive theatre.

The value of the theatre is that it adds a touch of culture (something else Yuppies are antipathetic about) and individuality (ditto) to the area. Plus it can add $$ value to Downtown LaGrange. Hell, six of us made a trip from the City on the Metra, spent $$ in a local restaurant for dinner, and $$ in the theatre.

CatherineDiMartino on November 6, 2007 at 9:19 am

The status of this theatre should be changed to “Open/Renovating”.

BigTomEH on October 17, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I’ve been trying to make an appointment at the historical society, but it’s difficult to do around my work schedule. I’m trying to research some old newspaper articles I still have access to via UIC’s electronic resources, but haven’t had much luck. Thank you, though, to Matt Bischof. I still haven’t located the doors or handles—I’m wondering if I’m looking in the wrong place. Maybe I just overlooked them. Or they could be buried under piles upon piles of seats.

Is any building really safe even if it’s on the register? They tore down the DuPage Theatre in Lombard this year even though it had landmark status. I still don’t understand how that happened.

By the wayâ€"Stan Thomas, a local teacher and the director of the LaGrange Hometown Players, asked me to pose this question to y’all:

Does anyoneâ€"especially you, Mattâ€"have any old pictures of the theatre? We’d like to put a collage together that we hope will adorn the walls of the LaGrange after the remodel. So far, we’re pretty much limited to the postcard of the theatre and pharmacy from Digital Past, a few scans of the old marquee when it was still showing live theatre, and modern-day photos. Anything from the single-screen days or from the major renovations in the 1980s would be great.

By the way, before I forget—Stand

Bischof on October 6, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Tom –

Have you ID'ed the BK doors and/or BK door handles that used to be part of the front doors of the theater lobby? I believe they, like so many other “artifacts”, were stowed in the basement. Big, 1" thick glass doors… and if they didn’t keep the glass, I KNOW they kept the handles. Look in the corridors of the basement… that room before the entrance to the catacombs under the theaterswhere the letters, well, WERE kept (not sure if they’re still there). Something else that would look great in a case, or maybe even a shadow box in the lobby!

Oh, and you’re right… it’s part of the Tivoli/Chicago heritage! Rapp & Rapp built the LaGrange, as well as so many others. The York, however, was originally designed by Elmer Behrns. Elmer Behrns is also known for St. Charles Illinois' Arcada Theater. The York is really quite similar to LaGrange in a lot of ways, having also been updated in the late 1930s by Roy Blass.

Interesting thing about Sam Katz… he not only founded BK, but he was the head of production for MGM; double-dipped the chip, you might say. Meanwhile, Barney Balaban was the chairman of Paramount Corp., however, he died in 1917, at which time his younger brother Abraham took the primary ‘B’ role.

Here’s a good book (click link below) worth reading… great illustrations!

When are we going to see the theater listed here, Tom? –

View link

GaryRickert on October 5, 2007 at 3:53 pm

Tom, did you check the “Black loose-leaf binders” I told you about at the Theatre Historical Society. These are the B&K books – a wealth of information; I think there is one for each neighborhood.

BigTomEH on October 5, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Any one know who the original architect was? Roy Blass converted the theatre from live stage to cinema, but who actually built the building? It seems that with its proximity to Chicago and some of the other “cinema treasures,” I’d like to say that the same architects who built the Tivoli, York, or Chicago may be responsible, but I can’t say for sure. Many design similarities, though, to those theatres. I’m patiently waiting for the LaGrange Public Library to reopen so I can do some research!

CatherineDiMartino on September 27, 2007 at 12:02 pm

For awhile, this theatre will be closed on weekdays in order to do renovations.

This is per their website.

Bischof on September 15, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I would expect you’d receive more… although, my grandmother gets the bulk of it at their home still.

BigTomEH on September 14, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Matt—just the other day, I received some mail addressed to John Bischof. I think it was just a flyer from Paramount about an upcoming screening, but still…weird. Especially to have received that just a matter of days after reading your most recent posts!

GaryRickert on September 11, 2007 at 6:40 am

How can I contact BigTomEH?

BigTomEH on September 11, 2007 at 4:45 am

Well, I did some snooping around these past few weeks. Turns out the dome and the old murals are still intact, just hidden by the “new” drop-tile ceilings in each theater. Not as much damage as I would have thought to the dome. Mostly, it looks like the paint is peeling from all the heat (the air conditioner units and the lamphouse exhausts probably don’t help it much). The neon clock is still functioning (well, the clock is, not the neon) and hangs by the projectionists' work bench.

Interesting finds in the basements as well. Though largely used for storage by the LaGrange Hometown Players, there’s some vintage stuff here and there; remnants of old speakers, spotlights, an old ticketing machine, spare parts of all sorts, extra chairs…all in all, kinda nifty. It’s interesting how the cinema looks from a patron’s point of view vs. seeing it from these areas. It’s like a shell within a shell. It’s too bad no one ever utilized the full building; such a waste of space! With a little more careful planning, someone probably could have squeezed a few more auditoria in there.

drunewp on September 1, 2007 at 10:34 pm

I’ve been living 15 minutes away from Lagrange for years and was there for the first time tonight. Wow. I was blown away. As a film buff, I never knew such a cinematic treasure was minutes away. Even though they have second run flicks, I’d rather wait just to go back repeatedly. I’d love to start a documentary film on some old theater’s in the Chicagoland area. If anyone wants to collaborate, drop me a line at !

Bischof on August 29, 2007 at 8:16 pm

It was Roy Blass…

Certainly the suspension cables for the drop ceiling have caused insane amounts of damage to the dome, heck, I even still have a large portion of the ceiling on a shelf in my office.

Ultimately, the whole reason is was covered up originally was because the plaster in the dome was detaching and falling three to four stories onto the floors. That, matched with the insane heating bills associated with the rise, was the motivation.

As far as organ lofts, the theater to the far South, #4, once had the piano loft where the screen now resides; I remember watching while the massive 6-ton I-beam was cut out of the wall. Interestingly enough, there was a large neon clock mounted in the loft as well, which STILL WORKED, and was moved to the 2nd floor projector room. Moving right along here… the front wall over the emergency exit in theater #1 is the other loft.

Undoubtedly, the lobby has been in dire need of work for 15+ years. The “awesome” tile, matched the the really “clean” carpeting that has been duct taped over and over again throughout the years to keep the tearing localized just looks more and more black every time I see it. Lord knows the candy counter, perversely hacked again and again, desperately need upheaval as well. I am TRULY anticipating witnessing the change, just as much as I am anticipating the change to the storefronts below the offices next to the theater. I recall at one point in the mid-90s there was a plan to convert the storefronts into part of the front lobby of the theater, but my family’s pleading for the theater’s sale brought an end to that project.

The theater industry was my grandfather’s passion… it was his life, and sadly this only became truly evident to me once he passed away. Had it not been for his age, and my family’s lack of motivation, I’m sure it would be in much better condition now. One way or the other, it’s ABOUT TIME someone be in charge of that place who genuinely CARES about its history and maintenance.

Best of luck with the upgrades!

Matt Bischof
Hinsdale, IL

GaryRickert on August 29, 2007 at 7:01 am

To BigTomEH;

Thank you for the “good” news. I only hope that you see fit to retain the color and “flavor” of the lobby. I think it was “masterfully” done and very “period” whenever it was re-done. If there is ever any interest in re-installing an organ there, I may be easily persuaded to install the one I now have playing in my home as I may need to move to smaller quarters in the next few years.

Gary Rickert

BigTomEH on August 29, 2007 at 4:32 am

Hey all—

Some interesting notes to pass along as I learn about them. Roy Blase, a prominent local architect, was responsible for the stage-to-cinema conversion and theater chop job at both the LaGrange Theatre and the York Theater in Elmhurst. For those who have been to both, you will begin to notice many, many similarities between the LaGrange in its current state and the York Theatre before its major expansion/restoration. I’m a former employee of Classic Cinemas and now the current GM for the LaGrange; this upcoming winter, we’re kicking off a renovation project that will upgrade the main auditorium and lobby, probably similar to York’s. Long story short: yes, it was a terrible chop job, although thankfully many of the aspects of the original theater did survive, and we’re hoping to restore those elements (mostly the trim, possibly the dome). In the end, it’s all going to boil down to money, and what we can get away with while remaining within building/fire code. It’s as simple as that.

But the good news: LaGrange Theatre is open, and it’s here to stay!

GaryRickert on May 31, 2007 at 1:16 pm

There seems to be some confusion and I may add to it. To the best of my knowledge, La Grange had 3 theatres. The La Grange that we all know, the Park on the north side of the Burlington tracks and the west side of La Grange Road and then there was an Illinois Theatre which was on the east side of the street (long, long, long gone). The 39 address would have been about right if it was 39 south if it was at La Grange Road and Ogden on the Southeast corner it would have had to have been 39 North. I was told the Park was originally an auto dealership. The La Grange had a 4 manual 10 rank Barton Theatre organ, and the Illinois had at one time a 2 manual 3 rank Kilgen Theatre organ and a 2 manual 3 rank Moller Theatre organ. As far as I know, the Park never had an organ, but may have had a photoplayer or the like. I remember the La Grange had an unusual seating arrangement where, probably because the auditorium was very wide, the side seats curved very much toward the stage, rather than getting very narrow (one or 2 seats) near the front. The aisles second from the walls were then very curved near the front, making the aisles seem much longer than they were.

I would like to do anything I could to see the building restored. If the dome is intact, then the procenium soundboard murals may be too. B&K restored the interior paint, wallpaper etc. in ‘66 or 67’. The lobby still has the very well done look of the 40’s(?) rennovation.

Chrisk36 on April 30, 2007 at 7:20 am

Just visited there for the first time to see Zodiac. Love the atmosphere of the town and for 2 bucks total of 5 for pop corn, etc. you can’t beat the price. I don’t drive though, my daughter took me. The train ride would be worth it if I made a day of it looking around. Lots of places nearby for shopping and eating.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on January 6, 2007 at 3:24 am

I recently saw THE PRESTIGE here with a friend of mine who lives in the area.

Despite being awkwardly configured, this ain’t a bad place to see a show. And granted, it’s all 2nd run “right-before-the-movies-are-out-on-DVD-and-sometimes-even-after.” But the staff is friendly. The place seems to get good “walk-in” trade from the locals. And where else can you get a movie with popcorn and soda, all for $6.50?

(Okay, so I did spend over $6.00 round-trip on the nearby METRA train to get here).

Bischof on January 5, 2007 at 8:11 pm

On Dec 1, 2006 at 7:39pm, ken mcon wrote:

An ad in the 3/21/62 edition of the Austin News gives the address as 39 S. LaGrange Road.

Yes, there were actually TWO single-screen LaGrange Theatre’s at one point, with one on each side of the Burlington tracks- LaGrange Theatre North, and LaGrange Theatre South. The old building once stood on the southeast corner of LaGrange Rd. & Ogden. According to an old neighbor of mine, a guy used to be able to see movies all day long at LaGrange Theatre North, then go to LaGrange Theatre South at night to see them again. Seems to me like this would have been in the 1940s.

Bischof on January 5, 2007 at 8:03 pm

View link

In 1983, my grandfather, John Bischof, a Chicagoland motion-picture legend, and his partner Tracy Lamb, purchased the LaGrange Theatre and performed the original split of the original stage. I was rather young then, but I explicitly recall MANY of the initial renovations which brought about “#1” and “#2”.

In 1991, renovations were performed which in turn split theater #1 in two, which formed the yellow “#2” and the blue “#3”. I remember when the southwest wall was opened, and it was discovered that a 4-ton steel beam made up the corner wall. That beam was, in fact, the old piano loft. In that loft actually hung an original circa 1940s ~48" wall clock with a purple flourecent ring outside of it. That clock was refurbished, and runs to this day in one of my uncle’s homes.

Interestingly enough, the MOST UNCOMFORTABLE former seats (red steel frame, blue fabric) that resided in each theater prior to their recent, much needed, replacement in late 2006, were actually old seats removed from Chicago’s Bryn Mawr Theatre.

In ~1994, the south wall of theater #1 was moved in ~6' (which deleted the south aisle and south front entrance to #1) to accomodate a hallway which runs back to theater “#2”. Indeed, that theater is a poured slab right on top of the old stage.

I recall toward the end of my grandfather’s ownership, MANY aspects of the building were crumbling. Even at present, you could drop $1 million, and not easily determine where that money was spent. Having rercently been purchased by neighboring Horton’s in 2004, the building is now, however, finally getting the repair it so desperately needs, much of which is naked to the public’s eye. Such improvements include the roof, as well as the atiqued cloth-wrapped electrical system still in use today.

Some interesting facts about the building…

  • The original balcony is still accessible in theaters 1 and 4. They are not, however, zoned for public use due to their old age and assumed inability to support excess weight.

  • There is a third floor (painted all green, for some ungodly reason) above the balcony loft which houses all of the original film projectors. It is now obscured by the black drop-ceiling presently installed. Note, one of the old projectors is presently housed down in the lobby corridor in a display case.

  • Above that ugly black drop-ceiling, there is a GORGEOUS, ornate victorian-style plastered dome ceiling. It it absolutely magnificent, but is only visible today from the third floor projector (green) room.

  • The basement could NOT be any creepier. The original dressing rooms, now used to overstock concessions, still remain, as do their original doors still labelled accordingly. Lead paint is still present all over, however, it is now covered by MDF for the sake of safety. There are small block chevy engines, no longer in use, in the boiler rooms which were once used to circulate the old air conditioning system. The original coils for that a/c system are also still presentt, running nearly the entire width of the theater’s basement.

  • There are long tunnels running under the old theater floors. Imagine the concrete floor which makes up theaters 1, 3, & 4. Tunnels run under all three theaters, used for ventilation, as well as an access point through which the theater seating could be fastened. I recall being down there once during the big renovation in 1991 with my dad while seats were being welded in, and seeing a sewer rat the size of a small dog pulled out of one of the tunnels, taken out into LaGrange Rd., and bashed on the curb. Yes, LOL, I remember that quite vividly to this day.

My grandfather passed away on January 4th, 2007 at the age of 82. He leaves behind a long legacy, having been a major pioneer in the in-house, as well as drive-in, motion-picture movie theater industry, having owned LaGrange, Milford, Des Plaines, and Berwyn Theatres 1983-2000, residing as general manager of Kohlberg Theatres 1963-1983, as well as managing and supervising Schoenstadt Theatres 1946-1962. I loved him greatly, and will miss him dearly.

kencmcintyre on December 1, 2006 at 5:05 pm

I only know what I read in the papers. Obviously 40 year old back issues may have some inaccuracies, so you are in all probability correct.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 1, 2006 at 4:45 pm

Unless there was another LaGrange Theater located at 39 S. LaGrange Road, the ad is wrong. The correct address for this theater is 80 S. LaGrange Road.

kencmcintyre on December 1, 2006 at 4:39 pm

An ad in the 3/21/62 edition of the Austin News gives the address as 39 S. LaGrange Road.

FredEinsle on October 14, 2006 at 12:18 pm

The current upgrade puts used seats from closed theaters in screens one and two so far. Seats are wider and have cup-holders. # 1. theme is patriotic. Screen # 2. theme is Rock and Roll. Looks like paintings done by a local high school, odd lighting scheme seen no-where else. the remaining 3 and 4 are stated to be completed by 2007 on the theater’s website.

FredEinsle on October 14, 2006 at 12:16 pm

By looks of the theaters, LaGrange was divided in to two screens. Later the South Screen was divided in two – current theaters 1 and 2. The second screen was cut for a long hallway to a theater built on the stage and backstage area of the building. This is theater 3, and looks like a 1970’s vintage multiplex screen. Remaining number 4 screen has the most seats, but is odd in that hallway part having cut the original split smaller. Theaters 1,2, and 4 all have screens that are now not wide enough for current movies. I often notice that titles and credits go off the edge of the screens, number 3 I don’t think is any better.