Rockne Theatre

5825 W. Division Street,
Chicago, IL 60651

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Ambassador Theater

The Ambassador Theatre was built for the M & H Theaters Corporation in 1924 by architect Harold E. Gallup serving the far western Chicago neighborhood of Austin. By 1926 it had been taken over by the Ascher Brothers Inc. chain.

It could seat 2,500 in its auditorium and originally hosted stage shows in addition to motion pictures. It was built in the Neo-Classical style and featured a domed lobby which was topped by a cupola.

Its marquee was V-shaped, and had signage on both Division and Monitor Avenue. Over the marquee were four large arched windows. Terra-cotta decoration covered much of the facade, which was of pale colored brick.

After the death of Knute Rockne in a plane crash in 1931, the Ambassador Theatre was renamed the Rockne Theatre in his honor (similar to Chicago’s Will Rogers Theater at Belmont and Central being named for the cowboy star after his own death in a plane crash).

The Rockne Theatre was showing adult films by the 1970’s. After its days as a movie house ended in the very early-1980’s, the Rockne Theatre began a new life as a church, which it still serves as today.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 38 comments)

Tomkonsoer on November 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I lived at 1050 N Monitor all during the 60’s and started ushering at the Rockne when I was 12. They still had lots of costumes left over from when they did live shows. Don’t remember Sonny and Cher, but it seems like the Dave Clark Five were there. Austin was a great neighborhood to grow up in, mostly hung around Chicago Ave. St. Angela’s, Key School, Austin Town Hall. Took drivers ed at Austin High. Remember the “Mudhole”?

ktmcging on November 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Tomkonsoer, my brothers and I were at the Rockne practically every weekend during the 60’s. As we got older, we would venture down to the State, the Lake, or even the Mercury, but the Rockne remained our favorite. I remember the Sonny and Cher event, but don’t remember the DC5 show.

Cindycrawford on September 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I lived just down the street from the Rockne at 1242 N. Waller avenue from 1963-1967. I was 6 when we moved there from Wash.D.C. but back in those days mothers kicked the kids out and said,“ come back before the street lights come on”. I spent many a weekend waiting to get in this grand old theater.With the balcony and velvet curtains. there were these little romeo balconies along the walls that had big urns in them, which were lit up. Very awesome to a small child. I saw the Dave Clark 5, live as they premiered their movie.The line went around the building. Eventually I got in but had to crawl on the floor and under seats in order to get to the front so I could see the stage.All the teenagers were standing and yelling. I also saw some other actress Connie Stevens? premiering a horror movie. I believe Vincent Price was in it. Those were the good old days when you got cartoons before the movie. Heck I think there may have even been news reels! there wasn’t a whole lot on T.V. back then. Most times you’d see a movie once and never see it again.Reruns? Not a chance! no such thing. Me and Patty Olson would pull our wagon around the neighborhood collecting bottles. Then hit the candy store on the corner of Wheeler road. OMG! an honest to god candy store where you could get 3 pieces of candy for a penny!Everything laid out on parchment paper or in glass jars!does anyone remember the name of the store? But the Rockne was one of my favorite memories of Chicago. I remember everything about my time there. The Royal Airs drum and bugle corps who my father taught when he wasn’t running Sounds and Songs further up Division st. The great Blizzard that buried cars. Saint Angela’s Young elementary school which catered to children with special needs. Being able to go into a strangers homes during Halloween, for the little parties they held. OMG! How about the candy factory up the road that always smelled like Bazooka bubble gum? Those were the days my friend.

Cindycrawford on September 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

The candy store I spoke of was on Division near Waller road not Wheeler

warnergrand on January 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

Cindy – does this theatre have a balcony? How large is the lobby – how ornate is the auditorium?

Griffey30 on March 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Does anyone who worked there remember the manager? Think his name was Jim Masino

Remo on March 30, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Remember the “Mudhole”? – I Certainly Do, Spent A Lots Of Time In That Water. It Was Actually A Cool Public Pool, Come To Think About It.… LOL

My Cousin And I Went To Byford Then St. Angela’s…!

Also A Little Ma & Pa Store On The Way To School Mary & Joe’s..!

Joe Fry’s “Standard Gas Station” Corner of Iowa & Agusta..!

Went To The Rockne On Saturdays Mostly..! (House On Haunted Hill)..!

  • Many Many Others..!

WOW What Memories, I Was A Fucking Kid..!

AndrewBarrett on June 20, 2014 at 10:05 pm

What a cool-looking building, I’m glad it’s still standing and being used for something!

According to David Junchen’s “Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ”, pg. 144, the Ambassador (Rockne) Theatre in Chicago originally had a 4 manual, 14 rank Geneva theatre pipe organ installed in 1925. The serial # of the organ’s blower was 17083. According to the Geneva chapter of the aforementioned book, this was one of the firm’s “show” organs and had what may have been the only 4-manual console built by the firm.

According to pg. 142 of the same book, the four-manual console from this organ was in daily use at the Elm Skating Club “as of 1983”. It turns out that through a few unfortunate events, the rink closed in the late 1980s and was torn down shortly thereafter. I do hope the console (and/or the rest of the organ, or parts of it) still exist somewhere today.

Does anybody know any more about this organ? I’m researching it for the Geneva Organs history page on my upcoming website.


Nykaza on November 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

The Connie Stevens performance was “Two on a Giuatine” probably spelled wrong, and I was there too, she sang a song that the Beach Boys taught her before the movie. Also saw Sonny & Cher, still remember her Bell Bottoms but can’t remember the movie that they were introducing, The Beatles were even there for a quick intro to Hard Days night (but the line was all around the corner/block) and I missed that one sadly. Eileen Nykaza – John Hay

DavidZornig on April 4, 2015 at 8:12 am

1941 photo added courtesy of Jack Spatafora.

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