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In reply to Bert Kimball and Tom Scott’s query about O.J. Roath, here is part of an article I wrote as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the DuPage Theatre. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of Mr. Roath’s grandsons for the article.
One Mans Dream:
The Theatre Review / Summer 2003 edition
Seventy-five years ago the dream of OJ Roath was fulfilled with the opening of a Paramount Deluxe Movie Palace on Main Street in downtown Lombard. In 1926 his Realty Company purchased the Elkins property on Main at Parkside, which had been zoned for commercial use after a fire destroyed the landmark home. Mrs. Ekins was the noted film critic for the Chicago Tribune whose pen name was Mae Tinee (get itâ€"matinee?). Roath moved a bronze deer from the property to Lilacia Park so everyone could enjoy the deer now known as Rastus. He expanded his concept of a theater by adding shops and apartment space, thus creating a commercial focal point for the village.
The shops filled rapidly. The Ida Lee Sweet shop opened March of 1928.
Mrs. J F Crintenden and Mrs. Ann Lee McCorkel made their own candies on the premises. Butlerâ€™s Delicatessen opened in June of â€™28 and Roath Realty moved to the corner store. By July of 1929 an ad in the local paper for â€œLombardâ€™s Bright Spotâ€ advertised The Nora Hat Shoppe, Lombard Shoe Store, Theatre Service Station, Ray C Allen Linoleum-Tapestries, Glenbard Radio Sales, in addition to the deli, sweet shop and of course, O J Roath Realty. The anchor of the commercial corner would be the Fisher Paramount Deluxe Theatre, since it was a Paramount affiliate. As the concept progressed it became known as the Lombard Theater. Ultimately, as it took on more the form of a deluxe movie palace, Roath changed the property name to the DuPage Theatre and Shoppes, because its appeal reached beyond the Lombard village limits. The $300,000 theater opened on July 26, 1928 with a showing The Yellow Lily, a silent film accompanied by Travis (Tommy) Nesbit on the Barton organ. As part of the festivities, Mr. Nesbit led a community sing. There were vaudeville acts and a live orchestra.
The burgeoning popularity of movies during the 20â€™s stimulated the construction of palatial cinemas in cities and towns throughout North America. By the end of the decade Paramount Pictures controlled 1,600 movie theaters. There were four other industry leaders who owned and operated theaters. They then contracted with independently owned theaters, such as the DuPage and by 1930 there were 20,000 movie theaters in the U.S.
In the spirit of â€˜excessâ€™ two other movie complexes were also proposed for the Lombard area. J A Cruger, the published of the Lombard Spectator, laid the foundation for a theater on St Charles across from the old downtown hotel. Roath moved so quickly, that Cruger did not complete the project. In August of 1928 the Chicago Tribune announced that an third, even larger theater complex was proposed for the Westmore area. It would consist of a 1000 seat theater, 8 stores, 64 offices and 124 apartments. Although the developer had obtained $900,000 in loans the project never broke ground. This is all in addition to a small theater that had opened before any of the others were considered.
The Depression Hits Hard
The euphoria of the business boom came to a sudden halt when events on â€˜Black Thursdayâ€™ October 24, 1929, signaled the start of the Great Depression. It took more than a year for movie theaters to feel the impact. In 1930 national attendance of theaters hit a peak of 80 million a week. However, by 1931 with 28% of the population unemployed and 85,000 businesses failed, movie attendance fell rapidly. Ticket prices dropped from $.30 to $.20, and attendance continued to decline. Movie houses were rapidly closing. Paramount Corporation struggled financially. It closed one of its major studios, laid off workers and cut salaries. The film distribution and operating company servicing the DuPage went bankrupt. Roath kept the theater going by mortgaging real estate holdings, so determined was he to keep the theater open. However, on July 4, 1931 Roath finally closed his theater and it went into foreclosure.
The DuPage Theatre was reopened four months later by A. C. Hoy who purchased the Theatre and Shoppes. Roathâ€™s real estate business remained in the building as a renter. Hoy was among those who were able to take advantage of the times, and bought several other properties in foreclosure, including two other theaters in the area. Hoy upgraded the facility by installing the â€œGrandeur screenâ€ claimed to be the worldâ€™s largest and finest talking screen. At the time the DuPage was the only theater in the country to have this feature. He did what many other theater operators did to keep their theaters open. He offered incentives such as â€˜dish nightâ€™, double features, vaudeville acts. Some theaters even gave away cars. In 1935 Gene Autry and his Round Up gang appeared on the stage. The movie industry as a whole began recovery in 1934, when 1000 theaters reopened. Box office receipts rose steadily from then on. However, OJ Roath did not return to the theater business. He, in fact did not recover from the loss. Upon his death in the late 30â€™s, his son Leroy assumed considerable debt. Although he ran a real estate business, he was unable to purchase a home until 1945.