Will Rogers Theater

5641 W. Belmont Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60634

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Showing 51 - 75 of 79 comments

rael9 on January 1, 2007 at 4:32 am

The Will Rogers was up and running by Cineplex-Odeon for while into the mid 80s and Ghost Busters was showing there, I worked there until it closed!

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on December 31, 2006 at 4:49 am

The Russell Phillips photos show that GHOSTBUSTERS was playing here, which would date the photo to 1984. That this place made it into the Cineplex-Odeon chain means that it would have had to exist into 1985-1986. Even if the photo seems re-touched, it is still a great shot!

rael9 on November 30, 2006 at 1:12 am

Hi Steve, yes, Lenny was the manger, ( I belive he passed away many years ago), Connie manged the Gateway for a while, I worked w/ her at the Will (and I still keep in touch w/ her). Pat Burns was the District manager. My name is Marge F, we may have not worked togethier if you worked on his or our days off but it is very possible we know each other!

Nortown on November 29, 2006 at 4:27 pm

Imrael9, I also was a relief manager for Plitt Theatres in the late 70’s up until 1985. And I also worked at the Will, Gateway, Nortown, and Varsity Theatres. I probably know you! As I recall, Lenny Cohen was the manager of the Will when I used to give him his day off. I am Steve.

rael9 on November 29, 2006 at 2:24 pm

wow, these comments and pics bring back memories, I was a candy girl,and cashier in the late 70s, and later was assisant manager in the 80s until it closed. Very busy weekends with Disney movies were our specialty back then. Also had lots of fun working the midnight movies, (that was the in thing to do back then if you were under 21-does anyone remember laughter).Plitt sold the theatre to cineplex odeon, when it eventually closed, big theatres werent making the money anymore. Also worked at the Gateway, nortown, and Mcclurg court. Have some pics of the Will with ushers, candy girls and ticket takers I have to dig up! Thanks for the memories.

RiisPark99 on November 5, 2006 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for the post of the Will pictures. These must have been taken right before they shut down the theatre for good. Perhaps Russell was tipped off as to the Will’s demise.

Broan on November 5, 2006 at 4:29 pm

They photographed about 40 theaters, which were parts of exhibits titled “Theater interiors: Houses of Fantasy” and “Moving Picture Palaces: Color Photographs of Theater Interiors”. Some photos were by Don DuBroff as well. The exhibits were at the Cultural Center, Chicago Historical Society, and the U of I Medical Center. There was also a 2000 exhibit at the College of DuPage. A Fall 1985 “Chicago History” magazine features some of DuBroff’s pictures, like a wonderful wide shot of the Pickwick auditorium, more ofthe Nortown lobby, the Egyptian in DeKalb, the organ screen dome at the Oriental, the Esquire Balcony landing, lobby and auditorium of the Art theater in Hobart, and the lobby ceiling of the Paramount.

Nortown on November 5, 2006 at 4:14 pm

I have never been to Russell Phillps web site. His photos of the Nortown and Varsity Theatres are fantastic. I wonder if he has more of them available. I was actually working at both theatres as a relief manager when he took these pictures!

Broan on August 24, 2006 at 7:11 pm

THis ebay stores item features a fantastic photo of the Will Rogers on opening day, complete with movie camera and a ladder to the marquee.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 2, 2006 at 5:55 pm

Yes, it was a C-O theatre for a while (like the Mercury).

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on August 2, 2006 at 11:34 am

When exactly did the Will Rogers close? I recall that in the ‘70s and early '80s, it was operated by Plitt. Did the Will Rogers make into the Cineplex-Odeon chain?

Per the comment by Riis Park above, it was Cineplex-Odeon which opened up the Bricktown Theatre. To some extent, the Bricktown was intended to be the replacement for the Will Rogers and the Mercury (and to a lesser extent the Montclare, but that theatre was never owned by C-O/Plitt). As other people have said, the Bricktown was nice when it opened up, but quickly fell into decline. It lasted only 11 years.

RiisPark99 on July 13, 2006 at 8:24 am

The irony of this theatre is that ABC owned it in the end and closed it because they were opening a multi-complex at the Brickyard Shopping Center. When they put the Will on the sale block ABC stipulated that it could not be used to show movies! They didn’t want any competition for the new screens. So, the Will gets demolished and the multi-plex goes belly up and is now a fitness center.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 13, 2006 at 5:09 am

The Will Rogers at the end, though stately, did not offer nearly as exciting a presentation to passersby as on opening day. It originally sported an elaborate electrical display on the front of the builiding over the marquee and an art deco vertical sign on the Belmont Avenue side.

I also suspect that it stood a few more years past 1987…but not too many more. It did seem to be in a good state of repair in later years. I have heard that the last operators (either Plitt or CO) had some sort of legal means for keeping the building from being operated by a competitor after they closed it. That may have contributed to the building’s ultimate destruction.

Senorsock on June 17, 2006 at 8:27 pm

Wow! Thanks for finding that picture of the Will Rogers, Brian! I had not been able to find one anywhere. It looks kind of dingy in this picture, but when I went there to see movies in the mid-60’s it felt as if it was one of the most magical places on earth. Thanks for the memory!

Broan on June 17, 2006 at 9:12 am

Here is a profile from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s HAARGIS system. It includes a small picture.

RiisPark99 on May 31, 2006 at 5:22 am

It’s just another useless strip mall standing now where the theatre and ajoining shops used to stand.

MKuecker on May 30, 2006 at 9:35 pm

The Will Rogers Theatre used to stand on the corner near Belmont & Central – Friends of mine in the Dr. Who set owned a little store called “The New Fantasy Shop” famous for Dr. Who, and Sci-Fi related items. I do believe I saw a film there before the almighty wrecking ball made way for a new strip mall, or condos or whatever took it’s place. :( I haven’t been up that way in a while.

dteilers on January 29, 2006 at 1:46 pm

I would take the bus from Lake Street to see some of the best Disney / G-rated films (Streisand’s What’s Up Doc?) when I was a kid.

Nortown on April 25, 2005 at 1:00 am

I used to be a relief manager for Plitt Theatres in the late ‘70s and early '80s. For a short time, I covered the Will Rogers Theater. Considering the size of the theater, it had a rather large manager’s office. In addition, it was somewhat unusual in that the box office was physically outside of the theater building. I also worked at the Gateway, Varsity (in Evanston), and Nortown Theaters. The Nortown was my favorite…see my comments under that theater.

bellita on March 31, 2005 at 4:59 pm

My father lived around the corner from the Will Rogers in the 50s. He told me he and his sister spent many a hot summer day there as it was one of the few spots in the neighborhood with air conditioning. He said there was a 5-cent pony ride out front.

Jayne2 on March 3, 2005 at 10:52 am

I hate to be cliche, but it’s a shame that the only memories kids of today will have are seeing the Disney movies at the Multi-plexes or on VHS/DVD and not knowing the joy of taking the bus to the movie theater on Saturday morning with your mom to see “The Aristocats”, “Peter Pan”, etc. It was a big deal for us.

fab4fan on February 9, 2005 at 9:09 pm

I remember seeing many of my favorite Disney movies there in the 1980s (Snow White, Cinderella, etc.) As the previous poster pointed out, the theater probably would have gotten a lot of business nowadays, considering it’s in a well-traveled area.

Jayne2 on November 24, 2004 at 11:13 am

I used to pass by this theater on the bus to work every day in the late 80’s while it was still open and then when it closed and was demolished. It seems when it was open, they didn’t do much to try to increase business or interest in the theater. I always thought it would be a great place to restore, it wasn’t in bad shape or anything, just needed some TLC and someone to take interest. It’s in a very busy area with lots of foot traffic. Today, I think it would do very well. It’s unfortunate that the owners sold out for a strip mall.