Varsity Theater

1710 Sherman Avenue,
Evanston, IL 60201

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The remains of the Varsity Theatre

The Varsity Theater opened December 24, 1926 with George J. Lewis in “The Collegians” and Jack Holt in “Man of the Forest”. With its 2,500-seats, it was one of the largest suburban Chicago movie palaces ever built and was also one of the most spectacular. It was designed as a French royal chateau of the era of Francois I, and no expense was spared on luxury by its original owner, Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood for many years. From marble imported from Italy to antique tapestries, the Varsity Theater rivalled many of neighboring Chicago’s finest theaters. It was equipped with a Geneva-Smith Unit Organ, with an ‘Atmospheric’ style console which was opened by organist Leo Terry.

The theater was absorbed into the ever-expanding Balaban & Katz chain’s empire in the early-1930’s, and remained a popular fixture of downtown Evanston until competition from multiplexes caused its demise in the 1980’s. It closed in 1988 and the interior at orchestra level was gutted to be converted into mixed-used retail use. Original decorative features, proscenium and ceiling still remain, but are hidden from view. By May 2020 the retail units at orchestra level had departed from the building and it sits vacant.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 91 comments)

DavidZornig on October 19, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Here’s an opportunity to tell Evanston’s new mayor to save the Varsity and renovate it for Northlight, instead of tearing it down as part of the proposed tower. Ironically held in a new 1920s style speakeasy, owned by Ron Onesti. Who could tell them of his successes at the vintage Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.

DavidZornig on February 28, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Original link to the 1976 UIC Library photo, which can be enlarged.

Broan on March 2, 2018 at 1:58 pm

The redevelopment proposal is dead.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 9, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Evanston Round Table, Volume XXI Number 5, March 8, 2018:

Northlight and Developers Withdraw Performing Arts Center Proposal

By Matt Simonette

DavidZornig on April 12, 2018 at 1:52 pm

1945 photo added via Jeff Warmington. Original wider marquee.

DavidZornig on April 26, 2018 at 4:59 pm

Evanston Patch article about the same.

GregoryBear on June 15, 2018 at 2:53 pm

Greetings! I just joined. I lived in the Varsity during my college years of 1974-78. Two different legendary movies every night, a world film course! I’m wondering if anyone might have any of the oversize one page monthly schedules they printed during that period, or know who to contact? Thanks so much!!

GregoryBear on December 14, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Hello again. I’m still hunting for any old monthly schedules or other memorabilia from the Varsity. I’ll appreciate any leads. Thanks!

DavidZornig on May 23, 2020 at 6:59 am

5/23/20 photo added credit Joe Agnew. The retail tenants appear to have cleared out…

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