Liberty 1 & 2 Theatres

708 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Libertyville, IL 60048

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

LIBERTY Theatre; Libertyville, Illinois.

Opened on August 27, 1937 with Warner Baxter in “Slave Ship”. The Liberty Theatre was designed by architects Edward P. Rupert and William L. Pereira in the Art Moderne style including a stunning tall vertical sign. The facade was of cream-colored terra-cotta, trimmed in dark blue. It either replaced or was a total remodeling of an earlier Liberty Theatre, dating from before the 1920’s.

At some point, the Liberty Theatre lost its Moderne facade, including the vertical sign, and compared to the original, the current one is rather plain.

The Liberty Theatre was converted at some point into a twin. It was until June 2006 part of the RMC chain, and then operated by “C” You at the Movies, Inc, along with the Antioch in Antioch, the Dunes in Zion, and the McHenry Indoor and Outdoor Theatres in McHenry.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 31 comments)

TLSLOEWS on August 9, 2010 at 11:39 am

Sure has changed over the years the marquee looks good though.

figaro14 on September 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm

At one time very representative of a neighborhood cinema, the theatre is now damaged now beyond repair because of the desire to “modernize.” While still operating as of 2011, virtually all of the architectural deco character of the original theatre has been stripped away. The exterior art deco facade and sign are gone, and the stucco facade is now faced with paneling. The exterior box office is long gone. Virtually all the 1930’s décor has been stripped away, leaving a big ugly black box interior. To make matters worse, a long center wall was installed, splitting the auditorium into two halves, creating a long, cavernous feeling with tiny movie screens at the far end. There’s nothing left to save here. What remains might as well have been the interior of a warehouse with theatre seats.

Trolleyguy on July 11, 2014 at 7:37 am

Now operated by Golden Age Cinemas. This is the website:

goodhumor on May 11, 2015 at 5:40 am

Historians report that the late Marlon Brando, once worked at this theater when his family lived in Libertyville in his teen years, before moving to Evanston, IL.

jonrev on June 22, 2017 at 9:56 pm

Now on the market and in danger of being redeveloped:

goodhumor on July 30, 2017 at 8:32 am

If they tear this theater down, my Marlon Brando comment posted above will become a distant memory.

LouRugani on February 25, 2019 at 9:53 pm

Several theatres at one time or another served Libertyville: the Lyric Theatre, an earlier version of the Liberty Theatre, and the Auditorium Theatre. The immediate predecessor of the current Liberty Theatre, the LaVilla Theatre, was located on the second floor of the First National Bank building. However, the LaVilla had only hardwood seating and a screen which would roll up when not in use. One can imagine this did not meet the standards that the movie-going public of Libertyville was coming to expect.

Into this picture stepped Frederick William Dobe. Born in Germany in 1873, Dobe had emigrated to the United States at age 19 in 1892, eventually settling down in Libertyville. Noticing that while the small theatre on Milwaukee Avenue served its purpose and sensing a potential business opportunity, Dobe polled the community to see if they were happy with the existing theatre. Finding that the people of Libertyville were indeed looking for a more luxurious movie going experience, Dobe contracted Chicago-based architects Edward P. Rupert and William L. Pereira to design a theatre befitting a town of Libertyville’s stature.

The design that was eventually settled upon was the art moderne style with a cream terra-cotta exterior, dark blue trim, and a stunning vertical art deco sign. Able to seat 706 customers (44 fewer than promised), the theatre boasted the most up-to-date amenities. Construction on the theater began on Friday April 9, 1937 with the work contracted to the Kaiser-Ducett Company o Chicago.

In the weeks leading up to the Liberty’s opening, stores decorated their windows and had “Theatre opening sales”, light posts in the business district bore red, white and blue bunting, and almost the entire issue of the August 26 Independent Register dedicated to the theatre’s opening. On Friday August 27, 1937 the theatre opened to a capacity crowd with a large number of would-be customers being turned away, Frederick Dobe was at the front of the line, buying the first ticket. As the audience filled in they were met by Mark Fisher, a popular Chicago band leader who acted as the master of ceremonies that evening. After Fisher came a short speech by A.E. Suter, President of the Village Board, to an audience that, as one can imagine, was probably impatient for the movie, The Slave Ship staring Warner Baxter and Elizabeth Allen.

The theatre quickly became the go-to place for kids to hang out on weekends. According to Marylyn Alkire of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, in the 1940s kids would go to the penny candy store just south of the Liberty, buy a pocketful of candy and then hurry back to buy a movie ticket for 20¢. Once in the theatre they might have been escorted to their seats by a young Marlon Brando, who worked as an usher during the short time he and his family lived in Libertyville (Summer of 1938 – spring of 1941). The films they would have watched ranged from western to on-location newsreels produced by Time Inc. The theatre would have regular blackouts in the middle of movies, leaving the children in the audience to wait impatiently until the movie started up again.

The manager during the 1940s was Robert L. Collier. Born in Peoria, he was a well-known business man, avid bowler, and during the blackouts was known to send uniformed ushers to keep the kids in line.

On September 3, 1942, James Cagney visited Libertyville as part of the effort to sell war bonds. Drawing a crowd of some 4,000 at Cook Park (according to the 1940 census the population of Libertyville was 3,930), Cagney spoke on the steps of the Cook Memorial Library then located in Cook House, and the town had pledged nearly $111,000. As a reward for the town’s patriotism, Liberty Theatre was chosen to be the location of the world premiere of “Desperate Journey”, a film about a group of downed Allied airmen making their way out of Nazi Germany, and starring Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan. As part of the ceremonies, then-Illinois Governor Dwight H. Green drove a horse-drawn carriage loaned to him by publishing magnate John F. Cuneo on Milwaukee Avenue.

In 1948 Frederick Dobe followed with the construction of the Grayslake Outdoor Theatre along Highway 120 East at Route 83. At some point after 1955 the art deco vertical sign that had for so long beckoned moviegoers of all ages was taken down. In 1960 on Saturday, June 18 at the age of 87, Frederick Dobe passed away at St. Therese’s Hospital in Waukegan. He was interred at the Ridgewood Cemetery in Des Plaines. In 2012 the theatre was bought by Scott Dehn, who purchased two digital projectors totaling about $130,000 and the theatre had a grand re-opening early that same year. The theatre then came under the ownership of Golden Age Cinemas, which also owns the McHenry Outdoor Theatre.

Brando, Marlon, and Robert Lindsey. Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me. New York, NY: Random House Inc., 1994.

Builder of Theatre. 1937. Libertyville Independent Register Dec 3, 1936 thru Dec 29, 1938, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

Cizek, Carl. Liberty Theatre. 1955. Libertyville History, Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, Libertyville. Accessed January 11, 2017.

Friddy, Gladys. “New Theatre is modern in every detail.” Independent Register(Libertyville), August 26, 1937. Microform.

“F.W. Dobe believes in work, hobbies, and perseverance .” Independent Register(Libertyville), August 26, 1937. Microform.

Grogan Photo Company. Milwaukee Avenue looking south from School Street. Libertyville History, Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, Libertyville. Accessed January 16, 2017.

Head Contracting Firm. 1937. Libertyville Independent Register Dec 3, 1936 thru Dec 29, 1938, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

Here for bond premiere. 1942. Libertyville Independent Register April 10, 1941 thru July 29, 1943, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

Kanfer, Stefan. Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando. New York, NY: Random House Inc., 2008.

“Man who built Liberty Theater dies at age 87.” Independent Register(Libertyville), June 23, 1960. Microform

Lane, Arlene, and Schoenfield, Sonia. “Going to the Movies.” Libertyville Review, 200

Takeguchi. “Portrait of a hustling, live town promoter: R.L. Collier.” Independent Register (Libertyville), May 27, 1941. Microform.

“Theatre opens August 27; Village plans celebration in honor of event.” Independent Register (Libertyville), August 19, 1937. Microform.

United States of America. United States Census Bureau. Suitland, Maryland. Census of Population and Housing. By Leon E. Truesdell. Accessed January 23, 2017.

Vogel, Paul R. Liberty Theatre, Libertyville, Ill. 1938. Libertyville History, Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, Libertyville. In Illinois Digital Archive. Accessed January 11, 2017.

Waukegan City and Lake County Directory Including Rural Route 1916-1917. p.

“Work gets under way.” Independent Register (Libertyville), August 26, 1937. Microform

Zawislak, Mick. “Libertyville’s Liberty theater to join digital age .” Daily Herald, January 5, 2014. Accessed January 9, 2017.

LouRugani on August 13, 2019 at 11:51 am

The owners of the LIBERTY Theatre in downtown Libertyville are requesting it be demolished, the Daily Herald is reporting. The building has been owned by the Rhyan family for more than 50 years and operated by Scott Dehn in recent years.

The theater first opened as Liberty Theatre in 1937 and in recent years has gone by the name of Liberty 1 & 2 Theatres, according to the article. The current tenant has not been able to make enough revenue to pay for rent — even after rent had been reduced three times — and ongoing repairs are needed on the aging building. The demolition request is the first being considered by the village since a moratorium on the razing of downtown buildings was lifted in April 2018.

The historic preservation commission will be the first to hear the matter and can recommend approval of the demolition, approve it with conditions, deny it or continue the matter to a future hearing, according to the Daily Herald. The village board would have the final say.

Countryarbor on August 28, 2019 at 8:16 pm

Liberty 1&2 708 N Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville, IL 60048

Then Clark 54 Drive-In 19312 US Highway 54, Rockport, IL 62370

This week my friends, Country Arbor Independent Cinema Theater’s will be taking over this business. I will have new menu and the employees will be train to serve the customers and to say Yes, Sir or ma'am, how can I help you with.

LouRugani on September 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm

A group of about 40 Libertyville residents attended a Historic Preservation Commission meeting Monday to voice their dismay over a proposal to demolish the Liberty Theatre. Three spoke in favor of keeping the building, either as a theatre or a different type of entertainment venue. The commission decided to table a vote on whether to approve a demolition request made by the owners of the theatre, the Libertyville Review reports. The public hearing came a month after the Rhyan family announced its plans to demolish the theatre. The Rhyan family has owned the downtown Libertyville building for more than 50 years. In recent years the theater has been operated by Scott Dehn, who hasn’t been able to earn enough revenue to pay for rent — even after rent had been reduced three times — and ongoing repairs are needed on the building. The demolition request is the first being considered by the village since a moratorium on the razing of downtown buildings was lifted in April 2018. The owners of the theatre said they are looking for interested buyers while pursuing its demolition request. Village officials have said they would like to see the building preserved — even if the building is used for something other than a theatre. The Historic Preservation Commission plans to meet again on Oct. 28 to discuss the demolition request. The village board will have the final say on whether to demolish the theatre.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater