180-190 N. Dearborn Street,
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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.
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