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 79 comments)

DavidZornig on July 19, 2014 at 2:49 am

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

davidplomin on July 28, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Link won’t open on this site.

DavidZornig on July 28, 2014 at 11:47 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 7:02 pm

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 7:04 pm

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

DavidZornig on August 21, 2015 at 12:09 am

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

DavidZornig on October 21, 2015 at 6:31 am

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 2:19 pm

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 10:46 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.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on December 24, 2015 at 6:53 pm

I photographed the remains of the Varsity Theatre late last year. Check out some of my pictures and a short write up of the theater at: After the Final Curtain

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