Varsity Theater

1710 Sherman Avenue,
Evanston, IL 60201

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Varsity Theater in the early '70s

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 74 comments)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

It seems like there’s been consistent interest in restoring the Varsity over the last few years. Every time I think the subject has died down I hear from someone that it is being dicussed again by people who seem to matter. I’d love to see the project come to pass. But what would they do with it?

james44 on July 17, 2012 at 11:52 pm

The YouTube is now my second Varsity Theater. Because of the YouTube, there are now perhaps millions of younger people who are eagerly rediscovering the Golden Age. Thus, it would seem that the Varsity Theater could be reopened, showing only Golden Age motion pictures. Sample list:

Casablanca, Funny Face, You Were Never Lovelier, The Red Shoes.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on February 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Here is a report prepared for the city by some consulting firm in July, 2011. In it they discuss reactivating the balcony space for theater use while keeping stores in the ground floor:

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 10, 2014 at 8:59 am

Discussion continues. This has been tossed around for enough years now that I think they’ll eventually make something happen. As long as I’ve been alive Evanston has had a large arts contingent.

davidplomin on July 18, 2014 at 6:13 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 6:49 pm

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

davidplomin on July 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Link won’t open on this site.

DavidZornig on July 28, 2014 at 3:47 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 11:02 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 11:04 am

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

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