Congress Theater

2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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Congress Theater

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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 was “Rolling Home”, a Reginald Denny comedy, as well as five vaudeville acts. In November 1929, the Congress was taken over by the Balaban & Katz chain.

In the 1970’s, the Congress was renamed Teatro Azteca, and screened Spanish-language films. Movies continued to be shown at the Congress 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.

Today, this splendid survivor of the movie palace era functions as one of Chicago’s grandest concert venues.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 58 comments)

SilentScreens
SilentScreens on July 29, 2011 at 12:09 am

David: I curated an exhibit for the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival this year on historic cinematic architecture. I would love to be put in touch with the projectionist’s daughter if possible or, at least, hear some of those stories – maybe snag a picture or two!

JudithK
JudithK on January 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

The Congress Theater made the Chicago news today after a young woman, unable to enter the theatre for a concert on New Years' Eve due to lack of proper ID, was the victim of a violent crime. The crime may or may not result in investigations concerning security issues for the venue.

Broan
Broan on March 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

Some great photos from 2000 are here

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on July 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm

I would only be against them taking over the Portage, if they insist on removing the seats. The neighborhood is still a movie going clientele. One of the main reasons there was such opposition to the church. If they remove the seats to make it a concert venue only, it will be the same as if the church had taken it over anyway. There will be no way to run classic films or staged events without seats.

matthew1964
matthew1964 on August 1, 2012 at 11:55 am

I REMEMBER GOING TO TO CONGRESS JUST 1 TIME IN 1968 MY DAD TOOK ME TO SEE A CHRISTMAS MOVIE ,,I REMEMBER SANTA CLAUSE IN IT ,,THATS IT,, MY DAD USE TO GO SEE THE OLD SPAGHETTE WESTERS THERE ,,SOMETIME AFTER THAT IT TURNED INTO TO THE MEXICO THEATER,,

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 7, 2012 at 8:08 am

It’s nice to see the building is going to be renovated. Regarding the Portage: I seriously doubt the seats would be kept. Every converted old theater in the city that I am aware of removed them from the main floor.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on December 21, 2012 at 5:23 am

Good article, sums up the whole rotten mess really good, I would'nt want that guy living next door to me!

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 27, 2013 at 11:02 am

New charges. Liquor license in jeopardy:

http://chicagoist.com/2013/01/21/bad_behavior_of_congress_theater_se.php

One of these days Carranza is going to run out of luck.

RickB
RickB on May 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm

City’s Liquor Control Commission moves to revoke liquor license. Carranza says he’ll appeal, but he is also mulling a sale of the theater. DNAInfo story here.

RickB
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.

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