Follies Theater

450 S. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60605

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1941 photo courtesy of Darla Zailskas.

Formerly the London Dime Museum, which was in operation from at least the early-1890’s, managed by ‘Captain’ John White, and featured a vaudeville house on the main floor and an ‘oddities’ museum on the upper floor. The building became the Gem Theater in 1908. It was renamed Gem Theater from 1908 through to 1949. In 1929, the Gem Theatre began to feature burlesque in addition to movies. It stood directly across the street from the landmark Second Leiter Building, later the first Loop home of the flagship Sears, Roebuck, & Co. department store (now located at Madison Street and State Street).

By early-1950, the name of the theater was changed to the Follies Theater, also known as the Follies Burlesque. It lasted until 1972, when the management started showing hard-core pornography in order to keep in operation. It reopened in 1974 for legitimate theatrical use, but after one performance, the theater was closed again. “Deep Throat” was showing here in 1977. The Follies Theater was destroyed in a fire in 1978.

Today, the enormous Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago’s main library building, is located on the site of the theater.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, BWChicago

Recent comments (view all 21 comments)

brendag on July 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

mikebaggi, I danced at the follies. at 13 or 14 anybody looks old! not to say there were not a couple up in age.i lived the life of a dancer back in the 70s it was real was the old bump and grind.hard looking ladies? that is uncalled for. I will say the movies were a little rough. what did you expect mickey mouse? we worked hard for our money. and most were skilled dancers. you can see more on the beaches now days. unless you have lived it don’t be so critical. what were you doing in a place for adults anyway? guess it was not so bad you went back for more.

DavidZornig on October 20, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Just added a 1941 image as the Gem.

Sherlock1234 on February 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Does anyone know if a woman named Leona worked in wardrobe around 1970-1972?

DavidZornig on March 25, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Just added a mid 70's photo, with "Deep Throat" on the marquee. So the Overview is incorrect that management refused to play hard-core pornography. Squad car behind the cab puts it around74, but I’m getting confirmation on the year they changed to all white squads.

DavidZornig on March 25, 2015 at 11:02 pm

Just got confirmation the squad car is 1975. The white squads first appeared April of 75. So the Follies was open after74, contrary to the Overview.

DavidZornig on March 28, 2015 at 9:34 pm

Circa 1940 photo courtesy of Darla Zailskas.

RickB on March 29, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Link to the Tribune’s story on the Follies fire.

On November 14, 1974, the Follies was one of four Chicago adult theaters targeted by a bomber or bombers.

DavidZornig on January 23, 2016 at 11:45 pm

1970 photo added courtesy of Jack McCabe.

DavidZornig on April 10, 2017 at 9:57 am

9/16/77 Sun-Times movie section added with the Follies ad in the lower left hand corner. Note they used “D-T' for "Deep Throat”. This also helps date the previously posted photo with “Deep Throat” on the marquee. So the Overview can be changed from 1975 to 1977 as far as the showing of that film at the Follies.

Image courtesy of Tim O'Neill.

DavidZornig on March 28, 2019 at 2:33 pm

Post fire 5/19/1978 photo added credit Karl H. Lemke.

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