Biograph Theater

2433 N. Lincoln Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60657

Unfavorite 31 people favorited this theater

Showing 76 - 100 of 123 comments

Broan on April 28, 2006 at 3:21 pm

This has nothing to do with the Biograph, but since we’re discussing chicago landmarks, I think it’s appropriate. I think I found the house you were talking about. The first designated landmark demolished, the 1851 Rincker house, which stood opposite of Superdawg – now a parking lot for a dunkin donuts, I think – was demolished in 1980 following a suspicious, probably-arson fire (which only destroyed the interior of the salvageable building). It was the second-oldest in the city, and the only remaining example of German Gothic Revival architecture in Chicago, built of thick mud brick faced in timber. Interestingly, the demo permit for that was only issued as a result of an address mix-up, the same thing that happened with the Hayes-Healy gym on depaul last year (although that was not a landmark). 25 years, and they still haven’t figured out to list every concievable address of landmarks. As a footnote, prior to the present landmarks commission, an earlier 1957 organization with no enforcement power had designated 38 landmarks, 7 of which were later destroyed (Sullivan’s Garrick, Sullivan house, Meyer, and Stock Exchange; the Edison shop; the Cable building; and the Leiter I.)

Broan on April 27, 2006 at 8:24 am

Oh, they will. They’ve always used the marquee in their campaigns, etc, and continue to. And that is also protected under the landmarking. I’ll look into the farm house thing, that sounds totally unfamiliar to me. And I suppose i’ll drop my objection to the remodeling of the entrance, because poking my head inside I now see an ornate metal ceiling (or maybe just part of the original marquee) is visible where that had been.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on April 26, 2006 at 4:57 pm

Brian W, I am sure that more than one Chicago Landmark has bitten the dust. One was a farm house that was on the NW side near Devon and Milwaukee. It was about as old as the Clarke House on Indiana Ave. It actually had an “Indian Escape” room. In the late 1970s, it was bulldozed in the middle of the night so that the property owners could build a Dominick’s Foods.

But I digress. On another note, do you know if Victory Gardens is going to keep the Biograph name and the marquee? I think we can agree that at least THAT should be retained.

Broan on April 26, 2006 at 10:24 am

As far as I know, the only declared Chicago Landmark that has been demolished was the McCarthy building on Block 37. The Chicago landmarking should prevent issuance of permit without review to certify that it would not destroy the character of a landmark (which I would argue has happened here, which i’ll explain shortly). The interior of the Biograph, for whatever reason, is NOT among the protected interiors list [url=]here[/url}. Notice the Chicago, Uptown, and New Regal are. National Register protections prevent federal or state encroachment on historic properties, I believe. But in any case, the exterior should be protected. One of the things removed when the lobby was gutted inculded a deco “BIOGRAPH” sign above the doorway, which had been enclosed in the 80s when the doorway was moved forward to include the box office. It was an exterior component, though, and I think that may constitute an exterior alteration.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on April 26, 2006 at 9:09 am

Brian Wolf,

I see your point, and yes there is a lot of history attached to the Biograph. And I’ll not dispute you that Soldier Field looks terrible (it looks like somebody plopped one stadium down into another).

But as your message states, there probably was a lot of political wheeling and dealing going on. This same sort of wheeling and dealing has done in other supposedly landmark buildings too and my point was that I’d rather see the place used as a performing arts facility of some sort rather than be demolished or turned into condos.

Also a lot of former cinemas have enjoyed successful second lives as live theatres.

In an earlier message by you, you state that the ownership shuffle didn’t help either. As you know, the place went from Cineplex Odeon to Loews-Cineplex to Meridien to Village.

Broan on April 25, 2006 at 4:46 am

Here is the article from when it was recieving city landmark status.

Broan on April 25, 2006 at 4:43 am

No, it is not. It is on both the National Register of Historic Places (since 1984) and is a designated Chicago Landmark, giving it two layers of protection for the exterior, so it could not have been torn down easily at all, and earlier plans for its city landmarking would have landmarked the lobby as well. Who knows what political deals led to that part being dropped. Who cares if it’s used for theatrical purposes? The Biograph was always first and foremost a movie house. Biograph, after all, was one of the top silent film studios. If it’s gutted either way, with nothing left of the old interior, what’s the difference? Look again at The Chicago Landmark page. It says that in addition to the Dillinger connection (though the building he was actually shot at was torn down in the last 5 years; there’s a Qdoba there now) it was chosen as typical of early theater construction. For the Natipnal Register, it was named as significant in the areas of Performing Arts (as an early movie house) and Social History (Dillinger). The Biograph has lost what made it historically interesting as a movie house and now Zacek wants to ignore anything that made it historic in the gangster era. So I ask again, why move into a historic landmark if you’re only interest is in destroying that history? It’s almost the same thing as what happened at Soldier Field.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on April 25, 2006 at 4:08 am

Because if Victory Gardens didn’t move in, it would be likely that the former Biograph would be torn down or gutted for retail use (i.e. not used for theatrical purposes).

Broan on February 20, 2006 at 1:00 pm

The Depaulia newspaper printed an article on the Biograph project this week; it is not online yet, but it included several photos showing the project. The theatre is indeed 100% gutted. Quote VG’s head, Dennis Zacek, “We are doing our best to move forward past this particular period in Chicago history.” Which begs the question, Why move into a historic landmark?

Broan on February 14, 2006 at 11:44 am

The poster cases, concession stand, and marble tile are also very CO.

CinemarkFan on February 14, 2006 at 9:34 am

Yeah, I remember that carpet at Burnham Plaza and McClurg Court. I was going to go to the Biograph a few years ago, but it never happened.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on February 14, 2006 at 9:13 am

And here’s a 2003 photo from the Cinematour website. The carpet definitely says “1980s Cineplex-Odeon.”

View link

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on February 14, 2006 at 9:04 am

Other than to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’d been to the Biograph only once. It was in 1984 and it was to see the full-length version of “Once Upon A Time In America.” The Biograph was the only theatre in the Chicagoland Area to show this version—the other cinemas showed the chopped-up 2 hour version. Right before the show, the usher walked up on stage to warn people that this was a 3 ½ hour movie and that there would be an intermission.

The Biograph was, for a time, the Near North’s “Art” house. As time went on and as Cineplex-Odeon gained control, the Biograph showed more and more general fare and abandoning all “Art” films all together. “Rocky Horror” eventually ceased playing there as well. And if memory serves me correctly, towards the end of Cineplex/Loews-Cineplex ownership, the Biograph was actually showing lousy fare.

Englewood on February 13, 2006 at 5:33 am

Another update … from yesterday’s Daily Southtown:

View link

Broan on January 18, 2006 at 5:40 am

Well, the Roxy and Ritz were not balcony theaters at all- they were in adjacent former loft/ballroom/billiards/meeting space above the storefronts, added in mid-1983. The main auditorium, as illustrated by your picture, is clearly too low to have had a balcony. I’m surprised to see that picture; it looks like the acoustics must have been horrible when talkies hit. Gene Siskel seems to have loved the theaters; in a 1984 article comparing multiplexes, he said “these three lovingly-designed theaters are among my favorites anywhere in the metropolitan area,” and “the two upstairs mini-theaters are without qualification the prettiest mini-theaters in town; in fact, to call them mini-theaters is to do them a disservice.” Of course, the comparison was to Chestnut Station, Water Tower Place, and the Fine Arts 4. He was a bit wary of the takeover from Larry Edwards to Plitt.

Broan on January 17, 2006 at 6:55 pm

There’s not really anywhere I can post them, and it would be copyright infringement to post them elsewhere. However, if you’d like to look up the microfilm at your library, or if you have access to the tribune archives by having a Chicago Public Library card, you can look for April 16, 1914, p17 and a correction in April 19, p11. There is little information in it- only a couple of paragraphs, without any new info, essentailly just sketching the basics – but it is of historical interest. I do encourage people with CPL cards to go on the CPL website and poke around until you find the Chicago Tribune historical archive database, there is an enormous wealth of information out there, and you can really hone your searching skills.

Bryan, that is a great view. Never having actually been in the Biograph myself, can anyone say what, if anything was/is left of this?

Broan on January 17, 2006 at 6:36 pm

Sure, just send me an email with your address and i’ll send my materials right over – or I can put them on a CD and drop them by VG since i’m by there all the time. My address is in my profile. I do seem to recall reading that it was a ballroom, billiards, dance studio, and storage at times, but I don’t have time to look up all the articles I had seen at the moment to confirm.

motogal on January 17, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Brian, could you post a link to access the pdfs of the 1914 Tribune article for the rest of us? Thanks!

TracyN on January 17, 2006 at 4:39 pm

I would love to see the photos! Early photos of the Biograph are very hard to come by and they would be most useful. As to your earlier questions about the second level – that space is in a separate building, and the two theories I have heard are that there was a ballroom or a pool hall up there. There will be a rehearsal room now and there is a studio theater to be built in a future project. Glad to see you’re being careful. Unfortunately this is a union project, so we cannot use volunteer labor. Please shoot me an email with the pics when you get a chance. Thanks!

Broan on January 17, 2006 at 3:18 pm

Yes, that’s the lettering I refer to. I had assumed it was an 80s renovation too initially because the deco style didn’t seem to ring true, but it’s present in 1939 photos I saw on ebay (I have these saved to disk, in case you’d like me to email them). I’ve seen similar signage above doors in other deco remodels. It is strange that the lettering there didn’t originally match the marquee. In these photos, the colors were reverse of the more recent style and the marquee was painted awkwardly, as well. The underside of the marquee was also white in these. The poster cases were also somewhat larger. Don’t get me wrong, i’m very excited to see the Biograph put to a greater use, and I think it’s an excellent project – i’m just a bit concerned about what might be lost. Plaster can always be re-cast! And don’t worry, I wouldn’t be so foolish as to climb in a dumpster, it was right on top. I go to Depaul, so I will be watching this project intently. If any volunteer labor is desired, don’t hestiate to contact me. I also have pdfs of the 1914 Tribune articles announcing the theater.

TracyN on January 17, 2006 at 2:56 pm

The plaster pieces you refer to were from the auditorium, not the lobby and I was responding to your comment about the lobby. Much of the plaster like what you pulled from the dumpster had water damage, and more of it was damaged in earlier renovations. They did try to salvage it by prying it off the wall, but the pieces literally pulverized in the effort. (Please note – the debris in a dumpster is very unstable and it can be quite dangerous to dig around in one). I don’t know about the Biograph over the door – are you referring to the faux deco lettering that was added in the 80s? The renderings that you mention are conceptual sketches only and do not represent a completed design. Hope this helps!

Broan on January 16, 2006 at 9:19 am

I personally grabbed a couple chunks of ornamental, albeit relatively simple, plaster from the dumpster last week. Certainly it’s been remodeled a number of times in its history, and this was probably covered over, but it did exist. Are either of those wood sections to be maintained? And what about the main theater, or the upstairs? And yes, I agree it will probably be an improvement over the most recent appearance, and it will look nice, but it’s not really restoration. Brick does fit with the Victory Gardens aesthetic from the current location, which I do like. Why was the ‘Biograph’ over the doors removed? And why is the white pediment over the entrance missing in the renderings? Is the marquee going to be repainted correctly, with the proper typeface and striping missing in the present paint scheme?

TracyN on January 16, 2006 at 8:53 am

There was very little in the lobby to preserve. That area of the theater had no detailed plaster work of any kind. There was one small wood section that had some painted detail, and a short run of carved wood that appears to have had lights in it at one time, but other than that, it was pretty much concrete and ductwork. The original bricks on the walls will be exposed and cleaned, it should be a nice restoration from the current drywall.

Broan on January 6, 2006 at 12:45 am

Interior demolition recently began. The lobby is now essentially gutted. Sad, I had thought they would try to restore it.

shoeshoe14 on October 18, 2005 at 3:05 pm

The 2000 film, High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, filmed in front of the Biograph. John does monologue about Dillinger being shot by the FBI because of his (expletive) girlfriend tipping them off (going along with the theme of the movie).