4746 N. Racine Avenue,
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The Riviera Theatre was the largest and most ornate of the movie theatres of the Uptown neighborhood until the opening of the Uptown Theatre almost a decade later. Opened October 2, 1918 with Lina Cavalieri in “A Woman of Impulse”. Built at a cost of well over half a million dollars (delayed by almost two years due to World War I), this Rapp & Rapp-designed house located on N. Racine Avenue between Broadway and W. Lawrence Avenue, originally seated 2,600 and its building also featured eight storefronts and over 30 apartments.
Initially the Riviera Theatre was to have been operated by the Jones, Linick & Schaefer chain, which operated several Loop movie houses in the 1910’s and 1920’s such as the Orpheum Theatre, the Rialto Theatre, and the McVickers Theatre. However, the Riviera Theatre ended up becoming the second major theatre of the Balaban & Katz circuit, which at the time also included the Central Park Theatre, now regarded as Chicago’s first true ‘movie palace’.
Featuring movies accompanied by the orchestra of S. Leopold Kohl, the Riviera Theatre also featured “high class” musical acts on stage. It was initially equipped with a Barton theatre organ which was later replaced by a Wurlitzer organ. The theatre mainly catered to the upper-middle class residents of the Uptown area, especially women. The Riviera Theatre continued to remain one of the neighborhood’s most popular movie houses for decades, even once the almost 4,500-seat Uptown Theatre opened just down the street.
By 1977 it was in its final days as a full-time movie theatre as occasional live concerts were beginning to be staged. It became first a nightclub in 1986, and a few years later, after the nightclub closed, one of Chicago’s most popular concert venues, as it remains today.
It still has a feel of faded elegance to it, and in 2000 the concert hall was named one of the historically important structures making up the Uptown Square National Historic District.
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