Nortown Theater

6320 N. Western Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60659

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Showing 201 - 225 of 227 comments

stacyD
stacyD on March 7, 2006 at 11:57 am

How sad that this beautiful old theater has fallen into disuse as a movie house. I grew up blocks away and spent every Saturday afternoon with my friends enjoying movies for 25 cents. We enjoyed playing in the huge lobby and on the grand staircase pretending it was our castle. Ah, those were the days. The interior was spectacular and will be forever remembered for the great times we had there in the early 60’s. The times and neighborhood have changed since those days, so it was inevitable the theater would go. A movie at the glorious Nortown and barbecue from Sally’s across the street was the best way to spend leisure time.

Batwoman
Batwoman on March 6, 2006 at 4:13 pm

That’s a very interesting article. Thanks for the cool find. :)

Broan
Broan on March 4, 2006 at 12:20 pm

It was actually opened on April 4, 1931. An interesting fact about the ceiling:
“The star studded sky that will compose the auditorium ceiling og the new Publix-Balaban & Katz theater, the Nortown, which is to be opened at Devon and Western avenues on April 4, is to be an exact duplication of an April constellation, according to J. E. O. Pridmore, supervising architect. J. C. Penn, astronomy professor at Armour institute, was commissioned to put the stars in their proper places to insure that the layout would be authentic.” -Chicago Tribune, pG5, March 22, 1931.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 14, 2005 at 3:41 am

They’ve torn a temporary door in the building’s side. Anybody know what is happening?

dyban
dyban on December 13, 2005 at 11:50 pm

Photos I took on November 2, 2005, while driving through the city. Click on “all sizes” right above the photos for original size

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Batwoman
Batwoman on July 17, 2005 at 10:39 am

Well I’d like to see where they plan on putting that mall. I lived directly across from there on Claremont, well more like the building next to Sally’s Stage. Anyway, directly across from there’s the city parking lot. Unless they demolish Sally’s Stage, that place next to it and the Chinese restaraunt as well, this will be an interesting mall. Especially since that parking lot is small and well, not enough spaces for a mall, much less what they plan on doing with the place in general.

BUT (and I haven’t read the article yet) at least it sounds like there’s some hope for the old place. Here’s hoping the guy stays true to what it actually looked like, and doesn’t change things.

Broan
Broan on July 16, 2005 at 7:19 am

Like I said, I have seen very recent photos of the building, I think that the auditorium is, sadly, too damaged to come back. This is a shame, because it looks like this would otherwise be one of the most unique neighborhood theaters. Also, usually plaster that has been heavily water damaged (as often happens in theatres) literally disintegrates. Even in some of the pre-triplexing photos I posted earlier some water damage is evident, and judging from reports that the basement was flooded, I can’t say chances for survival look good. It’s a crying shame, certainly, but at least some of it lives on.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 16, 2005 at 6:01 am

Well, it certainly is too bad that the building ended up this way. But Brian has a point. Better to remove some detail than lose it all when the building is demolished, as I imagine the Nortown eventually will be.

AFranzen
AFranzen on July 16, 2005 at 5:20 am

Even water-damaged plaster dust can be repaired…… once something has been destroyed at the level the Nortown has (according to “Larserik”) it is gone forever. Too bad there are so many merceniary-hearted people in this world.

Batwoman
Batwoman on July 15, 2005 at 6:44 pm

that’s so wrong

Broan
Broan on July 15, 2005 at 7:38 am

Better that than a pile of water-damaged plaster dust.

Larserik
Larserik on July 15, 2005 at 3:09 am

Sorry to disappoint anyone who loved the incredible interior of this classic movie palace (myself included)… but about ten or eleven years ago I walked into an architectural salvage place and instantly recognized dozens of pieces taken from the movie house. The unique nautical theme of the theatre made it impossible not to know exactly where they had come from. It looked as though they had taken out every single piece of ornamental plaster, and every light fixture and had them for sale for many hundreds of dollars each (little metal lanterns with sculpted frogs were going for $900 each; I think the mermaids/mermen who flanked the doors up front by the stage were going for $1500-$2000).

The story I got from one of the store employees was that the church that was occupying the space called up the salvage place to sell whatever they could from inside to raise some money for their organization. “We’ve been trying to get the Nortown for YEARS” was the quote that really turned my stomach and nearly brought tears to my eyes.

I went into the building soon afterwards one day when it was opening for church services to have a peek and everything remaining in the lobby has been painted white, the horoscope murals were gone (the salvage employee said only one had survived… they ripped all of the rest attempting to remove them) and pretty much all ornament was gone from the auditorium. The wall which divided the main auditorium into two smaller spaces had been removed to make it one big room again (the balcony was still closed off and they made it clear that it was off-limits to any looky-loos). A big dumpster was out front, and the grand marquee was down on the sidewalk waiting to be relegated to a scrap heap. The church vacated maybe a year or two later, leaving the once-glorious Nortown a sad shell of its former self.

After some soul-searching, I reluctantly decided to go back to the salvage place to see if there was a memento I could get, realizing I would never again have the opportunity to see any of these incredible pieces which held so many childhood memories for me. Much as I disagree with supporting the greed that leads to the destruction of these places, in this case the damage was done and I’d imagine most of the pieces were probably going to people who had no sentimental attachment to them. I ended up buying one of the sea serpents which was high up over the doorway near the proscenium. He hung proudly in my home until I moved from Chicago… I’m trying to figure a place of honor in my new home befitting a special memory.

I have long since left the neighborhood and the city, but will always fondly remember this beautiful place from my childhood, as the glittering magical palace where the fantastic atmosphere and whimsical creatures drew my attention as much as what was playing on the big screen. The lighthouse, the twinkling stars, the clouds gently drifting across the ceiling… and the incredible neighborhood showplace it was and I’m afraid it will never be again.

Batwoman
Batwoman on June 19, 2005 at 6:18 pm

heh I can imagine. Actually when we went to see it, my older brother stayed for the next show, while my sister and I went home. It was a few hours later that everyone noticed he hadn’t been around the house. Turned out he stayed for the remainder of the day. LOL

It’s funny, I was talking to my sister (Belle) about this Friday night and she was trying to see if she recognized anyone on here. ;P

Nortown
Nortown on June 19, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Interesting to read these latest messages. I lived a block away from the Nortown on Rosemont. I used to walk home for dinner when I was working there. I may have even been working while some of you were watching a movie. By the way, to the person who saw Star Wars in 1977, we had that movie for over 6 months. I was working as an usher at that time and had every line memorized. As I recall, for the first few weeks of the Star Wars run (it started in the summer of 1977), the daily matinee started at 12:00 noon with weekend midnight showings. It was one long day!

Batwoman
Batwoman on June 16, 2005 at 6:35 pm

Yeah and I remember you taking us to see those movies, as well as many others through the years. I just thought of when you, me and mom saw Temple of Doom there. lol

I have to say, in all honesty. In all the years we lived there, I don’t think I ever called the place to check show times. I can’t even tell you what the phone number was.

man I miss that place.

I do have a great idea though. They need to restore that to it’s former glory, and then to kick off the reopening, show New Hope. THAT’D be awesome! I’d drive back there for that.

AFranzen
AFranzen on June 16, 2005 at 2:53 am

I truly believe my great passion for movies and cinema started in the halls of this beautiful theatre…. I also lived across the street(On Claremont). I have fond memories of running up to the third floor porch of our building Friday mornings to see what new movie was playing. After which I’d run to the phone and start planning a Saturday Matinee outing with my friends. It was at the Nortown that I, my kid brother and sister (along with just about every other kid in the neighborhood) saw the first, second and third (now fourth, fifth and sixth respectively) Star Wars. I remember looking up at the starlit ceiling and pretending that I too was in space….. It was hearbreaking when they destroyed it (multiplex) and it is even more heartwrenching to hear the condition that it is in now.

As a child I would fantasize that I was a princess and the beautiful Nortown was my palace ….. although I did wonder if a phantom lived in the basement……… Many, many happy memories linger in that old building, especially for the overactive imagination of one particular little girl. To me the Nortown will always conjure images of old movies, musicals, and a much quainter time. Things that should not be forgotten.

Batwoman
Batwoman on June 15, 2005 at 7:12 pm

It’s heart breaking to hear how Nortown’s just fallen apart like it has. I lived across the street on Claremont from 73-97 and remember seeing Star Wars there in 77! Some of my most vivid memories of that expereince are of everyone cheering every single time Vader came on screen.

I remember what it was like when they split it into a triplex, that was such a shame. It was a waste because they split the main floor in 2 and the rooms were tiny. Shoot, I remember when they did that to the Skokie theater and that was smaller than this!

I’ll always remmeber Nortown the way it looks in those pictures that you posted Brian. I’d love to see more! In fact, had it not been for a post by an online buddy of mine on live journal aobut the new themed multiplexes (which in reality are corporate america’s attempt to recreate the movie palace, something we HAD but is long gone), I would have never gone looking into this, or found this site.

Does anyone know of a pettion to save this? This has to be conisdered a historical landmark if for no other reason than the fact that it’s an old palace. There has to be something done to preserve this. It can’t die!

dyban
dyban on June 11, 2005 at 12:06 pm

I remember seeing a double-feature of Trading Places and 48 Hrs. when we lived just a few blocks in the early 1980s. Even then, the theatre was being rented for community events – remember attending a Soviet-era film or concert, as the surrounding area was heavily made up of Russian immigrants (myself included). Have an exterior photo or two taken during a 1999 trip back that I will post a link to as soon as I locate it.

Nortown
Nortown on June 9, 2005 at 12:02 pm

Great pictures! I have some photos that I took in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I will have to dig out. Looking at these brought back many memories, including the summer that I spent painting the lobby walls when I was an usher. See the “Auditorium Entrance” image for the tan colored walls.

Broan
Broan on June 9, 2005 at 9:01 am

From Russell Phillips' Galleries:

Nortown Candy Counter, 1982
Nortown Upper Lobby, 1984
Nortown Auditorium Entrance, 1984
Nortown Auditorium From Balcony, 1983

Such a pity, the shape it’s in now. Life’s too short, if you e-mail me (see profile) I may be able to show you more recent photos.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 18, 2005 at 11:11 am

Another great picture.

As I was driving up Western Ave recently, I noticed a protective walkway in front of the Nortown. Don’t know if they are getting ready to tear it down, getting ready to maintain it, or just protecting people from falling building fragments. Don’t know how much it matters at this point, as the building sounds thoroughly neglected.

Broan
Broan on May 11, 2005 at 7:47 am

View link Here is another 1960 view of the interior.

Broan
Broan on April 1, 2005 at 9:53 pm

Both. The division seems to have caused a lot of undue damage and the fact that it’s been sitting for some 15 years hasn’t helped. I’m told the basement is flooded quite badly. And it is apparently poorly secured enough that people can get in. It’s really unfortunate.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on April 1, 2005 at 7:20 pm

Bryan…is the bad condition due to unfortunate building renovations, deferred repairs, both?

Nortown
Nortown on March 31, 2005 at 9:37 pm

I started as an usher at the Nortown Theater in 1977. Eventually, I became a relief manager for Plitt Theatres. In addition to the Nortown, I also worked at the Gateway Theater in Chicago and the Varsity Theater in Evanston. But the Nortown was my favorite. It had suffered from water damage to the ceiling and walls but was still beautiful. Many times, especially on weeknights, the attendance was low. But we would still pack the theater with the right movie. We had to open the balcony during the early part of a half year run with the movie Star Wars. The last movie the theater showed as with a single screen was Footloose in 1984. After that, Plitt tripled the theater and added two screens that were placed in the balcony. The atmosphere of the theater was never the same after it was tripled. I still have fond memories of working there.