Cinestage Theatre

180-190 N. Dearborn Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Cinestage Theater

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The Selwyn Theatre was designed in 1922 by C. Howard Crane (who also designed the adjacent Harris Theatre) for theatrical producers Sam Harris and Edgar Selwyn. It was done in English Georgian style, whereas Crane designed the Harris in Italian Renaissance style. Among those to appear on stage at the Selwyn and Harris Theatres included Ethel Barrymore, Charles Laughton, Helen Hayes, and Mae West.

Mike Todd, of Todd-AO sound system fame, purchased the former Selwyn Theatre, after it closed as a legitimate playhouse, and converted it into the first permanent Todd-AO showplace in Chicago, known as the Cinestage (Todd also acquired the Harris, which was renamed for Todd himself). In fact, the entire stage was removed for the transformation to Todd-AO.

The theater was also known unofficially as owner Mike Todd’s laboratory, where he experimented with many different aspects of Todd-AO. The theater also used the legendary Smell-O-Vision process and the Smell-O-Vision machine was still in the basement when the building was demolished.

After the road show days, Great States (later Plitt) ran the Cinestage as an adult theater and a flat screen was installed in front of the original Todd-AO strip screen for this purpose. Pornographic films were shown at the Cinestage for about ten years.

Following this, M&R Theaters tried unsuccessfully to revive the Cinestage, but this attempt was short-lived and the buildings were ultimately abandoned. Interestingly, the building was owned by Todd’s widow, Liz Taylor at the time. The city finally bought it from the actress, with plans to build a performing arts center on the same location.

Just before its demise, Cinema Treasures contributor Mark Gulbrandsen snuck into the theater and he reports it was in pretty poor shape overall. The strip screen was still in place, as was the flat screen that was installed to cover it. The projection booth was empty and only slight remnants of the Norelco projectors were to be found.

Thankfully, at least the elegant facade of the building and its next door neighbor, the Michael Todd, were salvaged and restored and now compose the majority of the Dearborn Street facade of the new Goodman Theatre complex, which built its new home on the site of the old Cinestage and Michael Todd Theatres, as well as the demolished Woods Theatre.

Contributed by Mark Gulbrandsen, Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 35 comments)

figaro14 on October 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

I saw the original 70mm Cinerama showing of 2001 A Space Odyssey at the Cinestage in 1968. It was a reserved seat showing and souvenier program books were sold. I still have my program book along with several Chicago Tribune Cinestage ad clippings. Does anyone have any interior photos of the Cinestage? I remember the design being very clean and simple, and not an extremely large looking space, compared to the sister Michael Todd next door.

JudithK on November 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm

The Art Institute of Chicago is featuring “Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention”. It will be in place until January 15, 2012. The Cinestage is mentioned in it; evidently Michael Todd and Bertrand Goldberg were friends and collaborators. Goldberg had a hand in the redesign of the interior of the theatre when it re-opened in the 1950s. Todd and Goldberg were working on establishing a chain of motion picture theatres called Cinestage; this endeavor never occurred due to the death of Michael Todd. Along with figaro14, I am interested in photographs of the interior of the Cinestage along with anyone’s memories of the theatre building.

CSWalczak on November 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Ken McIntyre posted an interior picture of the Cinestage on May 13, 2009 at 12:30 am (see earlier comments). My recollection is that it little changed during its days as a Cinerama house, except for the installation of an orchestra level projection booth. Except for a screen with a shallower curve compared to the original Cinerama installations at the Palace and McVickers theaters in Chicago, I thought was a terrific Cinerama house

This is an updated link to a picture of the shredded Cinerama strip screen at the Cinestage:

mondojustin on November 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Hello I’m currently working on a book about the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and am looking for photos and programs/newspaper clippings etc from each city in which the film premiered in originally in 1968. If you saw the film in it’s initial run in the theater have a good memory of your experience, I’d love to interview you about seeing it. To date I have interviewed over 20 people that have worked on the film, and several close members in the Kubrick camp as well. If you can help please email me at

Broan on December 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm

jbg1633 on February 27, 2012 at 5:55 am

Did “Lawrence of Arabia” debut in 1962 at The Cinestage.
If not, what was the first theatre it was shown at in Chicago?

RobertEndres on February 27, 2012 at 7:50 am

“Lawrence of Arabia” played the Michael Todd theatre next door. Both houses were equipped for 70mm projection. The Todd had a flat rather than a curved screen. I had just gotten a degree from the U. of I. in Champaign, and stayed over the summer to work at the University radio and TV stations. I remember getting up early on a Sunday morning to catch the train into Chicago specifically to see the “Lawrence” matinee at the Todd. The presentation was great with one curious exception. Four-track 35mm magnetic prints put the surround information on a narrower mag stripe on the film than was used for the stage channels. To minimize track hiss when there was no surround information the channel was muted. When the track was used a 12Khz “trigger tone” unmuted the channel. Four track systems filtered the tone out so the audience wouldn’t hear it. The “Lawrence” 70mm screening at the Todd apparently took its surround information from the four track version, and since 70mm systems didn’t need the tone it wasn’t filtered out. At that age I could still hear 12 Khz, and the arrival of any surround information was forecast by the annoying whine of the tone which could be plainly heard in the Todd surround speakers.

jkrukones on July 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

“Lawrence of Arabia” opened and played at the Cinestage Theatre. At the same time the Michael Todd was playing the Brando/Howard “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which opened there late in 1962.

Redwards1 on February 22, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I saw Around the World in 80 Days at the Cinestage, which had a floor to ceiling concave curtain in front of a deeply curved screen. The interior of the auditorium had dark wood paneling. The projection booth was built in the center of the balcony with seating on top. Capacity was 1,100 seats. This was not the first Todd-AO installation in Chicago. That was a year earlier at McVickers for Oklahoma.

elkayo56 on March 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

I saw “Lawrence” there in 1962 with my mother. I remember I was dying of thirst at the intermission and they were selling little cartons lemonade for $1.50 in the lobby. What a magnificent film. I saw “2001” in 1968 with my girlfriend after dinner at Plato’s Place on the corner. She thought “2001” was “nice”.

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