Central Park Theatre

3535 W. Roosevelt Road,
Chicago, IL 60624

Unfavorite 5 people favorited this theater

Showing 24 comments

Broan on February 1, 2015 at 10:12 am

Probably was remodeled early on to provide a larger stage and screen.

baraboowolter on January 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Upon comparing the historic interior photo with photos and videos of the church that is currently in the building, I have noticed that they don’t match. Clearly the historic photo has a “CP” on the valance of the proscenium opening so I take it that is for Central Park. Photos of the proscenium in the church don’t match nor does the ceiling. Can anyone help?

Broan on April 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm

On the West Side, maybe. There are some nice ones on the South Side.

GFeret on April 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm

i’ve just noticed a major exterior brick tuckpointing job underway here. of all the large old inner city former theatre buildings i believe the central park continues to be in the best shape

RickB on January 17, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Shots of five endangered Chicago palaces—including this one—and a Roger Ebert essay. Chicago Magazine

rivest266 on June 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

October 10th, 1917 grand opening ad uploaded here.

Broan on November 17, 2011 at 1:06 am

The marquee can be seen in this clip, at :55 and a wide view of the building can be glimpsed later, as well as views of the neighborhood in 1966.

GFeret on December 3, 2010 at 12:30 pm

to me it’s particularly satisfying the see the central park theatre from outside on the west face which is open to view

why, it’s just common brick? the black fire escapes, leading off several emergency exits at various levels, all stand in fine shape and each and every incandescent bulb at the door bays remain constantly illumnated. a typical but very good urban vista in my opinion you might agree if you saw it in person. gives one some impression the building remains open for business as usual, movie theatre that is

spectrum on November 13, 2010 at 1:08 am

This is now the church for the House of Prayer, Church of God in Christ.

TLSLOEWS on August 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Another Rapp and Rapp design,very nice.

KenC on June 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm

In the book “IMAGES of AMERICA- CHICAGO’S JEWISH WEST SIDE” by Irving Cutler, there are two nice pics of the Central Park on page 87. A great shot of the outside; on the marquee: FOOTBALLS JIM BROWN “RIO CONCHOS” plus BORIS KARLOFF “BLACK SABBATH”. A smaller picture of the interior is also featured.

jwballer on January 28, 2010 at 8:05 pm

A 3/9 Barton was installed in the theatre in 1917

GrandMogul on February 7, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Chicago Evening Post item for Saturday, October 27, 1917:


The Central Park Theater is one of the latest additions to the group of amusement centers in Chicago and one of the finest picture theaters in the country, if we are to believe all reports. So many unusual features have been incorporated into it by the builders that it would be impossible for one person to catalog them all, but one of the most important is a new development of the projection machine which makes it practically impossible for the operator to give anything but perfect projection. The Central Park theater is located at Central Park avenue and West Twelfth street, in the heart of a unified “home” neighborhood, and expects to draw its capacity of 2,600 persons from the immediate district.

NOTE: This theatre opened the same day as the Peerless theatre, at Grand and Oakwood Boulevards, this being an Ascher Bros. house.

GrandMogul on February 1, 2007 at 11:25 am

Chicago Evening Post ad indicates that the Central Park theatre opened on Saturday, October 27, 1917. It was a B&K theatre.

uptownadviser on September 6, 2006 at 12:51 pm

Budget and resources certainly play a part. The cost of heating and maintaining space that is not currently needed at this time is also a factor. Fortunately, very little additional damage has been allowed in recent years. Repairs and preventative maintenance are a part of the program. The majority of damage, to my understanding, happened during an extended time of roof repair in which the deck was left exposed in some places. And, one should recall, that the building was in less than perfect condition when it was received from B&K’s successors. Considering it has made it this far from 1917, it is remarkable. Rev. Scott has used and treated the building well during his long and continuing tenure of community building.

Broan on June 18, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Here’s what the background documentation section had to say:
“The balcony dramatically reveals not only the theater’s elaborate stage area but its original plaster sidewalls and their decorative molding, which have remained uncovered at this level but exist in a deteriorated condition. When the balcony was closed off by the suspended acoustical tile ceiling in the 1970s, it was left unheated and susceptible to water infiltration. As a result, large areas of the plaster walls are disintegrating at this level and some of the plaster has fallen, revealing the masonry wall behind. However, the balcony level retains many original features, including the projection room, many of the original red velour seats, wood double-doors on the sidewalls that lead to fire escapes, and paired metal floor vents for the air cooling system. Two original wall sconces are also extant at the balcony level, as are several original chandeliers that hang precariously from the ceiling.”

My guess is that House of Prayer just didn’t have the money for the roof repairs and the drop ceiling let them defer it…

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 18, 2006 at 12:27 pm


Was the theatre abandoned for a period of time before the House of Prayer moved in and is that how the upper auditorium decayed?

Broan on June 18, 2006 at 7:36 am

Here is a profile from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s HAARGIS system. It includes some nice small pictures. Note that the National Register of Historic Places form identifies it as Spanish Revival. The National Register nomination form is VERY good reading; click on the Background Documentation link to see it.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 12, 2006 at 11:14 pm

See great photographs of the Central Park here:


Cinematour kicks your ass up and down the street when it comes to photos fellas. Get that add photo deal back together.

davidcharvet on August 2, 2004 at 12:59 am

Did anyone mention that the Central Park is recognized as the first theater in the U.S. to be air conditioned.

uptownadviser on February 10, 2004 at 9:44 pm

Unique Feb. 15 event begins renovation effort

CHICAGO — “It may not get any better than this for history buffs in Chicago,” is the theme organizers are singing in promotion of a special event this weekend.

>>$7 to $10 tickets. Call (773) 205-7372<<

In fact, there’s no underestimating the uniqueness of a cinema opportunity this Sunday, Feb. 15, at the historic Central Park Theatre/House of Prayer building in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, event organizers said today.

The event is a singular showcase and celebration of African-American and Chicago-theatre history that is planned for one show only — 3 p.m. The Central Park Theatre building is located at 3535 W. Roosevelt Road (at Central Park), with free adjacent, supervised parking.

Organizers are touting the event as a kick-off for a renovation effort. The church and volunteers are pursuing repair funds, city landmark status and National Register listing.

Now the House of Prayer, Church of God in Christ, the venue will screen “Within Our Gates,” a controversial 1919 silent film by prolific African-American director Oscar Micheaux. The program features theatre organ photoplay accompaniment by Jay Warren and an introduction to the theatre’s history by Joseph R. DuciBella, both of Chicago.

“It is a special event because it tells what Mr. Micheaux did back in his day. He was a great mind. He produced magnificent work, garnering the attention of the professional and cinematic world,” Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott, pastor of the House of Prayer and 33-year owner and caretaker of the building, said in an interview. “I am inspired by Mr. Micheaux. He didn’t back down because of opposition. He told the truth and it lives today. He had conviction.”

Dr. Scott also said that the Central Park Theatre building has inspired him and his congregation through the years to build a ministry, transitional housing, foodservice and other provisions for the North Lawndale community.

“My environment inspired me to do what I wanted to do,” Dr. Scott said. “I wanted the theatre to be an extension of my vision. I asked myself (in 1971) ‘What am I going to do with a place with all of these seats that was once the highlight of the city but is now in disrepair?” It wanted to shine again. I put myself in that place — that feeling of looking used and tired and kicked around. What I saw was the artistic and magnificent craftwork that was still a part of the building. It gave me hope and purpose.

“The beauty of that craftsmanship is what stimulates people,” Scott added. “The builders worked with their hands in such a way that the architect’s vision was made plain to the craftsmen, and they brought it into the world. That was giving life to something for the first time. The facelift we want to give the theatre today is ‘life’ in the minds of the people. It’s a great inspiration.”

With just three days left until the historic movie event at the Central Park Theatre, Dr. Scott and his volunteers local have issued a final appeal to those who are interested in vintage venues and silent films. Seating is limited for the event, which will be the first film to be exhibited in the theatre since ABC Great States closed it in the 1960s.

ABC was the successor to Balaban & Katz, which opened the Central Park in 1917 as its first cinema presentation house. Its success gave rise to the Riviera, Tivoli, Chicago, Uptown and Oriental theatres. The success of Balaban & Katz culminated in market domination, multiple movie palaces and the successor corporations of Paramount and Publix.

Dr. Scott and his congregation and staff have operated the venue since 1971. They recall the last cinema feature there was a double-bill of “James Brown, Live at the Appollo" and “Children of the Damned.” Later, during the riots that followed the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the theatre was used as a local headquarters by the Illinois National Guard (subsequent to its 1968 closing and prior to it becoming the House of Prayer in 1971).

The event is partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

For more about the event, please view the following Web sites:

The Silent Film Society of Chicago

Central Park Theatre, Chicago

See a photo of the Central Park Theatre

uptownadviser on February 1, 2004 at 3:30 pm

Please post this updated and expanded info as forwarded to you via text document attachment. Photo was also included. Thank you.

Central Park Theatre
3535 W. Roosevelt Road
Chicago, IL 60624

Status: House of Prayer, Church of God in Christ
Function: Church
Architect: N/A
Screens: Single Screen (removed)
Seats: 1746 (now 700)
Firm: C.W. and Geo. L. Rapp
Style: Italian and French Renaissance
Chain: Balaban & Katz

“One of the most important extant theaters in Chicago,” according to Theatre Historical Society of America (Marquee magazine, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2003), the 1917 CENTRAL PARK is the first cinema presentation house of the wildly successful and popular Balaban and Katz entertainment corporation. It is also the first collaboration of Chicago showmen A.J. Balaban & Sam Katz and the Chicago architects C.W. and George L. Rapp.“ In this theater, Balaban & Katz first defined their style of presentation,” Marquee magazine states. “Its success gave rise to the beginnings of an entertainment empire which culminated in multiple movie palaces, market domination, and the successor organizations of Publix and Paramount.” Following the tremendous success of the CENTRAL PARK, Balaban & Katz built the RIVIERA, TIVOLI, CHICAGO, UPTOWN and other theaters to house their style of cinema presentation (— all with architects Rapp and Rapp). After being a popular and profitable West Side cinema for decades, the CENTRAL PARK was fortunate to receive the congregation of the HOUSE PRAYER, CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST in 1971 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott. The congregation has grown to include adjacent buildings to accommodate foodservice, counseling and transitional housing facilities, and to allow for the future growth of the church.

Dr. Scott, his congregation and other community leaders are beginning a campaign to renovate the CENTRAL PARK and the adjacent contemporary buildings, the combination of which will serve a variety of community social, spiritual and entertainment needs (2004). It is anticipated that the entire auditorium will be renovated, including the disused balcony, which is presently separated from the floor and mezzanine by a drop ceiling. “The proscenium (replete with annunciator boxes), balcony and some original lighting fixtures survive behind the sanctuary walls,” according to Marquee magazine.

It is interesting to note that two prominent books on American movie palaces, both by David Naylor, list the CENTRAL PARK as demolished! At the same time, the building is absent from the “AIA Guide to Chicago.” However, native Chicagoan David Lowe (author of “Lost Chicago” and now of New York), in “Chicago Interiors, Views of a Splendid World” calls attention to the CENTRAL PARK’s place in history.

“The inauguration of the era of the movie palace may be marked by the opening in 1917 of Balaban and Katz’s 2,400 (sic) seat CENTRAL PARK …The CENTRAL PARK began the long, rewarding collaboration between Balaban and Katz and the architect brothers, Cornelius W. and George Rapp, who were eventually to design the Balaban mausoleum. The CENTRAL PARK’s scenery, side stages, and curtain were created by Frank Cambria, a master of stage show design.”

What made the CENTRAL PARK and its owners/operators/showmen so successful was the Balaban and Katz concept (initiated here by design) of presenting films (the same product its competitors had). However, they created a unique venue and style.

“The CENTRAL PARK was designed to house by "Presentation Shows,” A.J. Balaban wrote via his wife in “Continuous Performance.” “It was to seat about 2,00. There was a moderate sized main floor and a good balcony. These were separated by a mezzanine floor of boxes. This horseshoe of boxes was the spectacular feature of the building. It was intended to give the audience the feeling of being part of a stage set. Added to the usual center one, there were two side stages, decorated like tiny gardens with greens and marble statuary. Here, singers (singly or in groups) could appear while the "Silent” was being shown on the center stage. Our colored stage lighting was extended to take in the whole house. The gently changing colors traveled from wall to ceiling, melting from soft rose to blue, lavender and yellow as they touched the velour of the seats, crystal of chandeliers, and the beautifully painted murals."

An interesting “Jazz Age” note is that Benny Goodman made his first professional debut playing the clarinet during of the CENTRAL PARK’s jazz nights in 1921, according to Ross Firestone in “Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman.”

House of Prayer, C.O.G.I.C.
Office (773) 277-1130
Volunteers (773) 250-7665
Web site http://www.centralparktheatre.com

uptownadviser on January 27, 2004 at 4:32 pm

(Copied from “Events”)

Home » Events » See Where It All Began â€" in Chicago!

See Where It All Began â€" in Chicago!

CHICAGO, IL â€" Silent Film Returns to the Historic Central Park Theatre!

“Within Our Gates,” the famous 1919 silent film by Oscar Micheaux, will be screened at the historic Central Park Theatre in Chicago on Sunday, February 15, 2004. This will be the first film shown in the theater since 1971. The event begins at 3 p.m. at 3535 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago’s West Side, Lawndale neighborhood.

Jay Warren will provide live musical photoplay accompaniment for the event. Theatre Historian Joseph R. DuciBella, ASID, will introduce the venue’s history. Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott, pastor of the House of Prayer, will speak to his 33-year history with the building and the launch of a renovation effort.

The presentation is hosted by the House of Prayer and the Silent Film Society of Chicago. Proceeds will benefit the House of Prayer/Central Park Theatre building. For ticket information, call The Silent Film Society of Chicago at (773) 205-7372.

View http://www.silentfilmchicago.com

OSCAR MICHEAUX is considered of the most influential African-American filmmakers. He was born in 1884 near Metropolis, Ill., one of 11 children. In his early life, he worked as a Pullman porter, and as a homesteader and farmer in South Dakota and northern Nebraska. He began to write novels at his home on the prairie, eventually forming his own publishing company. His novel, The Homesteader, was such a success that the Lincoln Film Company offered to make the story into a motion picture. When Micheaux refused to compromise his artistic standards in the film’s production, he formed the Micheaux Film and Book Company, which produced and distributed what was the first full-length feature film written and directed by an African-American. Micheaux went on to produce 27 silent and 16 talking films between 1919 and 1948, making him the most prolific African-American filmmaker of all time. Sadly, only three of his full-length films survive.

“WITHIN OUR GATES” (1919) was Micheaux’s response to Birth of a Nation (1915), D.W. Griffith’s controversial film on race relations. In Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism portrayed in Griffith’s film and reversed many of the scenes, using the same style of lighting, blocking, and settings. In a case of unfortunate timing, Within Our Gates was released right after the race riots, which plagued America during the summer of 1919. Theatre circuits feared further violence if the film was shown without editing the controversial scenes, and threatened not to run it in their theatres. However, Micheaux sidestepped the film industry bosses by renting theatres on his own and screening the full-length, unedited version to even bigger audiences.

THE Central Park Theatre “One of the most important extant theatres in Chicago,” according to Theatre Historical Society of America (Marquee magazine, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2003), the 1917 CENTRAL PARK is the first cinema presentation house of the wildly successful and popular Balaban and Katz entertainment corporation. It is also the first collaboration of Chicago showmen A.J. Balaban & Sam Katz and the Chicago architects C.W. and George L. Rapp. “In this theatre, Balaban & Katz first defined their style of presentation,” Marquee magazine states. “Its success gave rise to the beginnings of an entertainment empire which culminated in multiple movie palaces, market domination, and the successor organizations of Publix and Paramount.” Following the tremendous success of the CENTRAL PARK, Balaban & Katz built the RIVIERA, TIVOLI, CHICAGO, UPTOWN and other theatres to house their style of cinema presentation. After being a popular and profitable West Side cinema for decades, the CENTRAL PARK was fortunate to receive the congregation of the HOUSE PRAYER, CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST in 1971 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott.

THE HOUSE OF PRAYER is a Church of God in Christ sanctuary, which serves a variety of religious, and community needs for Chicago and its Lawndale neighborhood. Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott and his congregation have owned and operated the venue since 1971 and have grown to include adjacent buildings to accommodate foodservice, counseling and transitional housing facilities, and to allow for the future growth of the church.

Rev. Dr. Lincoln Scott has been a pastor in Chicago since March 1959. A native of Arkansas City, Ark., Dr. Scott began the House of Prayer in two earlier West Side Chicago locations before giving a new life and name to the Balaban & Katz Central Park Theatre building in 1971. In addition to overseeing the activities of his Chicago ministry, Dr. Scott also travels widely to give motivational speeches and to participate in religious revivals and crusades. Recent venues included engagements in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Also, the City Council of Chicago recently authorized its Commissioner of Transportation to designate West Roosevelt Road, from South Homan Avenue to South Central Park Avenue as “Reverend Dr. Lincoln Scott Road,” in recognition of Dr. Scott’s continued devotion to the work of improving people’s lives. Dr. Scott welcomes public interest in the history of the theatre/church building and is actively pursuing the resources needed to renovate it and adjacent properties. He has stated that he hopes the buildings can be improved so that they continue to serve the religious and community needs of Lawndale and Chicago for generations to come. Dr. Scott said his inspiration in life has been his wife, Clarola L. Scott, who married him in 1955 and who serves as director of Hope House. The couple has five children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Joseph R. DuciBella, ASID, will introduce the venue’s history. A noted theatre historian, writer and founding member of Theatre Historical Society of America, Mr. DuciBella is a Chicago designer whose commercial clients include Classic Cinemas, a Chicago-area family operator of 12 theatres and 78 screens in 11 communities. One of Chicago’s best architecture and history tour guides, Mr. DuciBella is the featured host of the “Chicago Theatres” tour offered by Chicago Neighborhood Tours through the City of Chicago Office of Tourism. (View the Web site http://www.chgocitytours.com for more information.) He was most recently published in a chapter on Wicker Park (Chicago) nickelodeons and theatres in the book “Wicker Park: From 1673 thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide” by Elaine A. Coorens.

Jay Warren – Chicago’s foremost silent photoplay organist, brings all the color, excitement, and glamour of the silent film era back to life with his original scores for the silver screen. As a regularly featured photoplay accompanist for the Silent Film Society of Chicago, he has accompanied most of the great silent films in his famous rousing style. He is featured annually for the SFSC’s highly regarded SILENT SUMMER Film Festival each summer at the Copernicus Center’s Gateway Theatre in Chicago. He is one of only a select few organists to accompany silent films at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel. In 2002, Jay was chosen as the only theatre organist by the University of Chicago’s DOC Films to accompany a series of silent-era race films by African-American filmmakers.

THE SILENT FILM SOCIETY OF CHICAGO is dedicated to the preservation and proper presentation of silent films. With some 80 percent of all silent film prints gone forever, the Society’s goal is to heighten public awareness to expedite silent film preservation â€" by bringing the art form of the silent cinema into the forefront with the proper presentation â€" historically, technically, and artistically. In addition to this special screening at the former Central Park Theatre, now the House of Prayer, the Society’s ongoing projects include a field-trip program for grades 5 to 12 called Discovering the Silent Cinema in addition to its renowned SILENT SUMMER Film Festival. View http://www.silentfilmchicago.com for more.