Biltmore Theatre

2046 W. Division Street,
Chicago, IL 60622

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Biltmore Theater, aka Teatro San Juan & Alameda, August 1989

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Biltmore Theatre was designed in 1919 by Alexander L. Levy, who also was the architect of such Chicago theaters as the original Regal, the Brighton Park and the Marshall Square (now the Apollo’s 2000).

The theater was designed in Spanish Baroque style, and its facade was covered in ornate terra-cotta. It also housed a Smith theater organ.

The Biltmore was part of the Balaban & Katz circuit for much of its time in operation, from the 30s into the 60s.

Later renamed the San Juan, as its name might suggest, it featured Spanish-language films.

In its last years, the theater had one final name change, as the Alameda, and presented both Spanish-language films, as well as live stage entertainment.

Unfortunately, in 1991, one of the West Town neighborhood’s most beloved old and longest-surviving movie houses was torn down.

Contributed by Ray Martinez, Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 22 comments)

henryb on November 22, 2007 at 4:17 pm

I remember being at the Biltmore Theater the day Carpenter shot Patrolman Kerr. I was seated next to Patrolman Kerr and his wife. The Patrolman excused himself and I got up to let him pass. He returned a few minutes later and I remember hearing him whisper something to his wife. Again he got up, but this time he seated himself directly behind me. I heard him and another man talking behind me—which annoyed me because I was trying to pay attention to the movie. Both men got up. A shot “RANG OUT” behind my head. I dropped to the floor, waited a moment and then crawled up the aisle. Looking back, I saw Carpenter kneeling with his gun drawn. He fired 2-3 more shots into the dark theater. I left the Biltmore with “bells ringing in my head.” Five minuted later I returned to the theater and saw a crowd of people at the foot of the balcony stairs. Patrolman Kerr was lying on his back in a blood stained shirt. I am now 77 years old and I can remember this experience as vividly as if it had occurred yesterday. Henry B.

efive on July 15, 2008 at 8:43 am

I remember this theater in a crumbling state in the fall of 1989, a few years before Wicker Park began its resurgence. I was barely able to determine that it had most recently been known as the Alameda Theater. I believe the theater may be visible in a couple of scenes from the 1983/84 movie “Bad Boys,” with Sean Penn. If it had been maintained better for only 10 more years or so, perhaps it could have evolved into a hip Wicker Park entertainment venue.

DavidZornig on November 7, 2008 at 7:12 pm

I too remember the state of disrepair the Alameda was in maybe late 1990 or `91. There were actually some crudely made 2x4 supports underneath the marquee to hold it up. Something so iffy that you’d think even the 70 Bus would shake it loose.

I didn’t realize it was incorporated into such a wide building. That truly could have been a flagship renovation for that neighborhood back then.
It could have been like the Oak Theatre which was renovated, then oddly torn down anyway.
That section of Wicker Park could still be a bit dicey at night then.

On the N/W corner of Division & Damen, was a Duks hotdog/burger stand that oddly also sold beer. Under the window counters it had tall stools that were chained to the floor. The chains were just long enough for the stool to not be swung around, or through the windows.
The chains were just long enough to not reach the windows.

I believe there is a mini mall there now with condos above. The parking lot for the mall is where the Alameda lobby was.

DavidZornig on November 26, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I just remembered why I was over by The Alameda for extended periods of time `91. I helped a friend rebuild some of the neon at the Rainbo Room.
Added some vandal proofing as well.
We parked the van by the Alameda often.
Those multiple 2x4 props under the marquee were scar-y.

kencmcintyre on April 11, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Here is a 1982 photo when the theater was showing Spanish language films:

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Thanks Ken Mc, that’s how I remember it. But much worse for wear by 1991.
That marquee was by then supported by multiple 2x4’s. They were bowing under the weight. And surprisingly no fence up.

roadside57 on June 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Division Street was an exciting place to be in the 1950’s when I was a kid growing up nearby and, for a nine-year-old, there was no more exciting spot on Division than the Biltmore. This was especially true during the brutally-hot summer of 1955, in the aftermath of the Richard Carpenter-Patrolman Clarence Kerr shootout in the theater.

I can remember my mother coming home late one night from Wednesday evening church services in the Loop, explaining that the Division-Van Buren bus she was on had been re-routed at Damen, and that an enormous crowd and many police cars had blocked Division Street between Damen and Hoyne in front of the Biltmore.

As we sat on our front porch a block away from the theater, we could hear the crowd noise and occasional sirens, until two cops in a patrol car stopped in front and asked my parents if they had seen anyone running through the neighborhood, before suggesting that we go back inside for our own safety.

The next day seemed quiet except for the sound of a police helicopter overhead. That evening, as I watched CBS news on Channel 2 with my mother, I felt proud to see Douglas Edwards lead off with a story on the shootout and manhunt.

At some point in his report, Edwards intoned the words “…in a run-down movie theater, in the slums just west of Chicago’s Loop.” Although I knew this wasn’t exactly a compliment, I was too young to take offense to the casual insult. Instead, it was a thrill for me to see the Biltmore on national TV.

That night, Carpenter was found hiding-out with hostages in a flat on Crystal Street, and I can remember the sound of tear gas rounds being fired to force him out, along with the noise of a crowd ready to tear the cop-killer apart as he was hustled to a waiting police van.

A couple of weeks later, Jack Webb in “Pete Kelly’s Blues” was the appropriate first-run feature at the Biltmore. As we entered the lobby, I was looking for stray bullet holes until I glanced down at the carpet just outside the show, and saw what appeared to be bloodstains.

Fortunately, Patrolman Kerr recovered from his wounds. Carpenter, of course, paid with his life several years laterr executed for the murder of a Chicago detective that took place earlier in that unforgettable summer of 1955.

earlier in that unforgettable summer of ‘55.

lincman on December 21, 2011 at 3:21 am

i was the headusher partime after HS…GOING TO AUSTIN..xhanged that marquee many time…when b & k ran the biltmore….this was 1954 just after cineMascope became part of movies…we were 3rd run house after big movies played downtown and then 1 week in our theatre…i had to make lobby boards…and 1 aheets for displays..james salice was our manager. Niles and ivar and me were the typical uniformed ushers in those days…it was easy and pleasant work…i remember the other shops in retail part of bldg….doctor…jewelry store are remember and little dorothy in box office who knew everyone who passed…this was 1954 after all….

Cinemaven on April 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Another theatre that should have been saved, Instead of demolished for “progress”.

DavidZornig on March 8, 2015 at 8:19 pm

1955 Sun-Times auditorium photo added courtesy of Gregory Russell.

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