Varsity Theater

1710 Sherman Avenue,
Evanston, IL 60201

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Varsity Theater auditorium 1983

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Varsity Theater opened December 24, 1926 with “The Collegians” and “Man of the Forest”. It was one of the largest suburban Chicago movie palaces ever built, 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 rivaled many of neighboring Chicago’s finest theaters.

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.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 78 comments)

davidplomin on July 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I drove by yesterday with a friend from Chicago. I wonder how much was left upstairs in the balcony? From the alley, you can see that all the fire escapes have been removed, and many of the exits are bricked up. You can still see a few metal doors just begging to be opened by us urban explorers. No way for the employees of that Gap store to explore. From what I recall, the stairs leading up to the balcony were just inside the front doors in the lobby. And those are gone as well. All retail space, except maybe far back, the stage area is still there. No need to dismantle it. Too expensive. Just wall it up. It was a grand place to see movies!

DavidZornig on July 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

This link was posted back in 2007. It has photo’s of the dormant balcony area.

davidplomin on July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Link won’t open on this site.

DavidZornig on July 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm

You would have to copy and paste it into your browser, starting from the end of the link so my sentence above it doesn’t highlight. Or just scroll back to 08/06/07 in the comments, and click on the link HowardBHass posted originally that says Behind The Gap.

Patsy on November 15, 2014 at 9:02 am

Just saw on FB an interior photo of this theatre under After the Final Curtain. Will this theatre be restored as it has an awesome exterior.

Patsy on November 15, 2014 at 9:04 am

After reading about this historical theatre it is a shame that the interior was gutted….Evanston’s loss!

DavidZornig on August 20, 2015 at 1:09 pm

1970 lobby photo added, photo credit and courtesy of Mary Gilbert Albrecht, pictured in her uniform

DavidZornig on October 20, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Oil on canvas Varsity painting added, copyright Don Elmi via the below website. Many other theatres featured in it as well. Copy & paste to view.

james44 on November 5, 2015 at 4:19 am

A long time ago, after the final showings on Friday and Saturday nights, many moviegoers would then head for either Cooley’s Cupboard or the Coffee Room.

DavidZornig on November 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm

The Varsity is seen at 12:40 in the below History of Evanston link on YouTube. (The Valencia at 10:37 & 11:09) Film by Ron & Sydney Crawford. Narrated by Byrne Piven of Evanston’s Piven Theatre.

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