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, opening on April 4, 1957 as Todd’s Cinestage with “Around the World in 80 Days”. (Todd also acquired the Harris Theatre, which was renamed for Todd himself). In fact, the entire stage was removed for the transformation to Todd-AO.

The theatre was also known unofficially as owner Mike Todd’s laboratory, where he experimented with many different aspects of Todd-AO. The theatre 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 Theatres(later Plitt Theatres) 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 10 years.

Following this, M & R Theatres tried unsuccessfully to revive the Cinestage and ity was renamed Dearborn Cinemas from December 20, 1985, 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 theatre 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 Theatre, 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 Theatre’s, as well as the demolished Woods Theatre.

Contributed by Mark Gulbrandsen, Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 44 comments)

JudithK on August 10, 2015 at 4:11 am

I was in the Goodman Theatre yesterday, seeing a production in the Owen Theatre, which was formerly the Michael Todd Theatre. Very impressed with the Owen, and looking forward to seeing the mainstage, which was formerly the Cinestage Theatre.

DavidZornig on August 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

1998 photo added of the demolition and shoring up of the Selwyn facade. Photo credit John P Keating Jr.

moax429 on August 31, 2015 at 4:48 pm

I remember when we lived in Glenwood, Illinois from 1978 to 1983, I happened upon those “telenovelas” airing on WCIU-TV, Channel 26 weeknights from 10:30 to 11:30 P.M. (one I remember was called “Accompaname,” and had a catchy theme song; I could understand a little Spanish).

But what was especially funny about that was on Thursday and Friday nights, when Channel 26 aired commercials for the Cinestage in Spanish! I just howled with laughter when I heard the announcer say the names of the films in English with a Spanish accent; the first – and funniest – of these I remember was for a double bill of “Teeny Buns” and “Sweet Cookies.” Then the announcer said the Spanish equivalent of, “All entertainment is rated X – for adults 18 and over only. Cinestage! Dearborn near Lake.”

Those commercials are what made me think of this theater. However, it is good to see it has long since closed after that incarnation and is now being used for legitimate, non-“adult” purposes.

Khnemu on August 31, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Judith and Moax, the Cinestage isn’t being used for anything, it was completely torn down except for the façade. The Goodman Theater built on the site is new construction.

DavidZornig on August 31, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Khnemu is correct. See the photo I posted on 08/25/15. Only the facade of the old Cinestage remains, with a new theater built behind it.

Broan on January 17, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Here is a THSA photo of the Selwyn’s terrible projection booth. More photos available there through search.

rivest266 on November 12, 2016 at 7:35 am

April 4th, 1957 grand opening ad as Cinestage as well as the December 20th, 1985 grand opening ad as Dearborn Cinemas can be both found in the photo section for this theatre.

DavidZornig on May 22, 2017 at 9:04 am

Blurry Cinestage in the background.
October 1966.

Coate on May 22, 2017 at 9:48 am

New Showcase Presentations in Chicago article includes mention of the numerous 70mm (and roadshow) engagements here at the Cinestage (along with other Chicagoland cinemas).

DavidZornig on September 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

1987 photo added, as the Dearborn part of M&R Dearborn Cinemas, via The Man On Five website.

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