Congress Theater

2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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Congress Theater

Viewing: Photo | Street View

A mix of architectural styles (including Adam and Italian Baroque), this theater has an elaborate large domed auditorium and is covered with decorations in stone, terra-cotta, and plaster. It remains remarkably intact, down to the original light fixtures and marble wainscoting.

The Congress was built for the Lubliner & Trinz chain. On its opening day, September 5, 1926, there were parades, band concerts, and a bathing beauty contest. The first movie shown at the Congress Theater was “Rolling Home”, a Reginald Denny comedy, as well as five vaudeville acts. In November 1929, the Congress Theater was taken over by the Balaban & Katz chain.

In the 1970’s, the Congress Theater was renamed Teatro Azteca, and screened Spanish-language films. Movies continued to be shown through the 1980’s. By the 1990’s, the theater hosted live Latin acts, boxing matches, and an occasional film.

In 2000, the theater was threatened by demolition (for proposed condominiums), but the neighborhood rallied to the its defense. On July 10, 2002, the Congress Theater was declared a Chicago City Landmark.

This splendid survivor of the movie palace era functioned as one of Chicago’s grandest concert venues, and was closed for refurbishment in 2013.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 66 comments)

RickB on January 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm

A sale of the Congress is announced, but there are complications—two other entities say they have right of first refusal. WBEZ story here.

spectrum on December 18, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Is the Congress Theatre close?? Their website is down.

LouRugani on January 14, 2015 at 4:01 pm

The Congress Theatre for the last year has been caught up in a legal battle between developer Michael Moyer and event promoters who claimed to have the right of first refusal to purchase the property after its previous owner Eddie Carranza finally gave up his fight with the city and Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno and decided to sell the historic building. However WBEZ reports that Moyer is set to close on the Congress Theater sometime in the next 60 to 90 days. In a press release, Alderman Moreno revealed that the redevelopment of the theater will also include a small inn and affordable housing units. According to previous estimates, repairs to the Congress Theater could cost up to $20 million and take years to restore. Moyer, who previously redeveloped the downtown Cadillac Palace, will work with Woodhouse Tinucci Architects and W.E. O'Neil Construction on the Congress Theater project. To kick off the beginning of the Congress' new life, Alderman Moreno and New Congress, LLC will hold an open house at the theater on Saturday, January 24 from 1-4pm.

BobbyS on January 15, 2015 at 11:11 pm

I wonder how this will affect the Uptown theater project with the Congress, Portage & Patio doing live shows also.

Senorsock on January 27, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Some great photos in this story about the Congress renovation.

DavidZornig on January 6, 2016 at 7:54 am

1929 photo added courtesy of the Logan Square Preservation Facebook page.

BobbyS on January 6, 2016 at 9:40 am

I wonder where Balaban & Katz got the money to buy out two major chains in Chicago in the late 20’s. Lubliner & Trinz and the Marks Bros. Where they both ripe for take over? Or did they have too much debt?

spectrum on June 8, 2016 at 8:16 am

According to the article here, the renovations have begun! Currently they are working on the front facade repairing the brickwork (approx. $550,000). No timetable yet for when the interior work will begin. It will be a $55,000,000 project including the entire building which was landmarked by the city in 2002.

DavidZornig on March 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

This article about vintage candy wrappers found in the Congress Theater popped up today.

DavidZornig on March 21, 2017 at 5:05 pm

More Congress finds…

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