Oakland Square Theater

3947 S. Drexel Boulevard,
Chicago, IL 60653

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1989 Press Photo (Source Unknown) of Chicago Police & Federal Agents Raid On The El Rukn Headquarters.

The Oakland Square was opened on March 4, 1916, designed by Henry L. Newhouse for the Ascher Brothers circuit. By 1929 it had been taken over by Fox Theatres. In 1931 this theater was one of several in Chicago taken over by Warner Brothers Circuit Management Inc., later Stanley-Warner. In the mid-1960’s, the theater became part of the new Brotman & Sherman chain, initially mostly made up of former Warner theaters.

By the early-1970’s, both the surrounding neighborhood and the theater itself fell into serious decline, and the Oakland Square Theatre closed not long afterwards. It became a hangout for gangs and illegal activities, and neighborhood leaders demanded the city of Chicago condemn the long-vacant building and have it razed, which finally occurred in 1990.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

RickB on October 22, 2009 at 6:43 am

According to this blog post a spacious private residence has been built on the Oakland Square site.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 31, 2011 at 8:32 am

Inside the auditorum while it was under gang control:

View link

rivest266 on June 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm

March 4, 1916 grand opening ad posted here.

oakenwald on May 11, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I remember going to this elegant little theater when I was a child, back in the early ‘40s. We lived at 3702 Lake Park Avenue, and my parents would give my older brother (11 years old) money for our tickets, and he would run ahead to buy them before the prices changed. Oakland Square itself was a fascinating place to me then.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 24, 2015 at 11:40 am

After closing as the Oakland Square, the theater was known for a while as the Afro-Arts.

Photo of it as the Afro-Arts in this article:


The opening description for this theater also needs to be amended. This was far more than a hangout for gang members. As the “El Rukn Fort” it was on the evening news frequently in the 1980’s. Documentary here:


The El Rukn leader attempted to make a terrorism deal with Libya and ended up locked in Supermax somewhere.

As negative as it all is, this is a large chapter in Chicago’s history.

Broan on November 13, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Uploaded a photo of the auditorium. Looks like this was one of Ascher’s oddball “cornerwise” theaters, with the screen off in a corner.

RickB on January 21, 2018 at 4:43 am

The theater must have gone back to screening movies as the Oakland Square after its days as the Affro-Arts (with a double f, circa 1968-69), as a February 28, 1971 story in the Tribune notes the arrest of two gang members for trying to shake down the theater manager. They allegedly wanted $75 a week not to stage demonstrations in front of the theater. The theater does not appear to have advertised in the Tribune at this time.

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