Varsity Theater

1710 Sherman Avenue,
Evanston, IL 60201

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The remains of the Varsity Theatre

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 85 comments)

DavidZornig on November 6, 2015 at 2:46 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 10:53 am

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

DavidZornig on September 6, 2017 at 6:57 am

Well this is disturbing. Drop the 37 stories idea, renovate the Varsity which is encapsulated behind the GAP, and they’d be heroes to the community. Don’t believe them when they say it is in “too poor shape to reuse”. From this rendering, it looks like they would annex the alley and tear down almost the whole block going North.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on September 6, 2017 at 7:25 pm

It’s not in too poor shape to reuse. I was in the theater a few years ago. They wouldn’t get the extra 35 stories of apartments if they restored the Varsity.

DavidZornig on September 6, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Exactly. Any hopes of renovation dashed in one dismissive sentence. New construction is all about egos. They can’t be the “visionaries” they think they are if they recycle something. I’m willing to bet they’ve already planned for a shorter tower. So it will look like a concession to the community when they complain about it’s size.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 6, 2017 at 9:03 pm

That’s terrible. Not only does the building destroy the Varsity, it looks like another oversized, cheap-looking development that has no respect for context. I also have to wonder how many more apartments the market can absorb before we get into bubble territory.

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

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