Covent Theater

2653 N. Clark Street,
Chicago, IL 60614

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1948 photo of the Covent Theater entrance. Original photo source unknown.

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The Covent Garden Theater, opened in 1916 for the Lubliner & Trinz circuit, could originally seat 2,684, and was one of the largest theaters in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago. It featured vaudeville and stage shows as well as motion pictures. The theater was remodeled in 1934 by the firm of Pereira & Pereira. Around the 1950’s, the “Garden” portion of the theater’s name was dropped.

The theater was later operated by the Balaban & Katz chain.

The theater was part of a complex which also included the Hotel Covent, or Covent Hotel. When the theater was demolished, only the auditorium was razed, replaced by a parking lot. The hotel remains today.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 14 comments)

Broan on March 6, 2006 at 10:55 pm

F.E. Davidson was indeed the architect. The ‘Royal Hipidrome’ name originally proposed alluded to New York’s largest theater, as the Covent was truly massive for its time and especially its location. It must have had an exceedingly small lobby for such a large capacity. Interestingly, the area one block south of the Covent Garden, the southeast corner of Clark and Wrightwood, had an entertainment history: After the Columbian Exposition, the Ferris Wheel was moved there from 1895-1903, operating at a loss (presumably it couldn’t attract nearly enough people to operate at capacity without the surrounding Midway), and in 1904 it was shipped to St. Louis. As for the Covent Garden itself, touted as the $500,000 theater, a Chicago Tribune article chronicles the opening on June 13, 1916, after a cancelled grand opening due to a water tank malfunction on June 8 which caused a full house to be turned away:
“A huge throng of kindly neighborhood folk-between 4,000 and 5,000 perhaps-lent the benision of their prescence last night to the opening performances at Covent Garden, the levithian among uptown playhouses which some hopeful entrepeneur has erected at North Clark street south of Diversey parkway.
They found a theater remarkable for sheer size, considering its uptown location—an incredibly deep affair with one enormous balcony which alone seats more than the ordinary playhouse; a thunderous organ that imitates an orchestra and effects a cheery saving in musicians' wages, and a substage tank into which chorus girls, in perilous deshabille, disappear miraculously, as they do in those New York Hippodrome entertainments which the provincials always see when they visit the more effete metropolis.
This much the kindly neighborhood folk liked. Toward the efforts of the players in "The Land of Evermore,” the initial musical diversion, they exhibited a coolness concerning which silence is the kindest comment. Undoubtedly there will be better shows at Covent Garden later on. Meanwhile, you may find diversion in occupying a loge named for your favorite state, observing the movies of Turkish soldiers at war, and riding in the free bus which the thoughtful management provides for “L” patrons [from Fullerton]."

A special 4-Manual Hope-Jones Wurlitzer, Opus 87 was installed in April, 1916, touted as costing $75,000 and the “World’s Greatest Organ”, it probably was among the greatest organs in Chicago at the time, and if the figures are right, perhaps the greatest Wurlitzer to that time. The water tank barely saw any use, and the theater was inexplicably announced to open for Lubliner & Trinz on August 5, 1916, perhaps their lease didn’t start until then.

Broan on January 24, 2007 at 7:51 pm

A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map says the Covent had 2684 seats and 3 balconies and a 20,000 gallon water tank (described above)

GrandMogul on March 29, 2007 at 1:36 pm

Chicago Tribune, Friday, April 11, 1958, s. 2, p. 2, c. 4:

“… When B & K closed the Covent the other day the chain dropped to 34 theaters from a one time high of 50. There are only 169 flickeries left in town. But, on the other hand, movie biz is suddenly a-fizz … .”

Broan on September 30, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Photos of this theater are HERE

Broan on June 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm

The 1934 remodeling was by Pereira & Pereira

kencmcintyre on November 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Listed at 2651 N. Clark in the 1953 yellow pages. Phone number was DIvrsy 8-5567.

DavidZornig on April 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

CT wonders never cease. I had no idea that this hotel was ever part of a theater. I was at a giant garage sale in this very rear parking lot in the early `80’s.
You entered through the tunnel/Clark St. entrance under the hotel. You could tell by the design that something odd had been done. Dumpsters lined the tunnel.
There was a guard rail across the back of the lot, that people from the alley and the then Post Office next door stepped over to access the sale. The alley behind was almost like a street. And about as wide as the side street were around there.

I also moved someone into that hotel about 5-6 years ago. The interior was like something out of “Paper Moon” or “The Sting”. There was a stairwell office with a glass partition that the on-duty hotel staff sat in/behind.
The tall hallways were old hardwood with carpet runners up the centers. The rooms all had operational transom windows above each door. The rooms however were all of about 8 feet wide by 10 feet deep, if that. An old metal frame bed & waterfall dresser were included. The window overlooked the rear lot.

The Post Office next door has since closed to the public, but is maintained as a sorting station. Next to that going South is a twice built McDonald’s with drive thru. Next to that is a condo building that replaced the Playdium Bowling Alley. Where my grandfather sanded the lanes in the 60's. It was open into the70’s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2012 at 8:31 am

The principals of Pereira & Pereira, the firm that did the 1934 remodeling of the Covent Theatre, were William Pereira and Hal Pereira. Percival Pereira was an older architect who was never a member of this firm.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 9, 2014 at 3:06 pm

These old Chicago hotels have been rapidly going away over the last fifteen years. My guess is the Covent building will soon either be renovated or demolished.

Broan on October 13, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Other articles describe the technical achievements of the Covent Garden. The balcony was noted as requiring no sight-obstructing pillars, making it one of the earlier cantilevered balconies. The capacity was 2,684, making it one of the earliest huge theaters outside the Loop. The stage was designed to hydraulically “split and raise like a jack-knife bridge revealing a broad and deep pool for the water acts. The mechanics of this arrangement, said to be more complete than that of the New York Hippodrome, was the cause of the delayed opening.” The screen drop was painted to imitate a gigantic lady’s handkerchief.

“The stage is of proportions adequate for circus performances, winter carnivals and the largest of grand opera and musical comedy spectacles. A huge water stage, patterned on the lines of the one installed at the New York Hippodrome, is included in the stage equipment for spectacular water effects. A Wurlitzer Hope-Jones orchestral organ, installed at a cost of nearly $75,000, and said to be the largest of its kind in the world with more than 2000 pipes and attachments, will be used exclusively for the interpretation of scores for the musical plays as well as for solo purposes.”

However, the programming was a bust and within two months, after experimenting with combined revues and vaudeville, it was leased to Lubliner & Trinz, becoming the largest film theater in the city despite its tiny, high-perched projection booth.

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