Zion Theater

Sheridan Road,
Zion, IL 60099

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LouRugani
LouRugani on May 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

On New Year’s Eve of 1947, the ZION Theatre opened following a move by the Zion, Illinois city council that rescinded old municipal laws that had prohibited the screening of motion pictures. The city’s first theatre had opened in 1913, but was raided by the police and ordered closed by the mayor.

The owners of the new ZION Theatre quickly ruffled feathers by announcing in April of 1948 that the theatre would open on Sundays in defiance of the city’s “blue laws” forbidding business on Sunday.

Zion’s blue laws had gone into effect with the founding of the city in 1901. Blue laws have been used since Colonial times and originally were directed at prohibiting such things as gambling and the consumption of alcohol. In the 19th century, various American state and local governments had begun passing blue laws based on Christian beliefs of honoring the Sabbath that forbade businesses from operating on Sunday.

In their defense, the ZION Theatre owners pointed out that the ordinance was already being compromised by restaurants and drug stores, and furthermore added that the annual Zion Passion Play, which charged admission, also conducted business on Sunday.

Three of the ZION Theatre’s owners were Lake County board supervisors Martin B. Ruesch, Edwin Gus Peterson, and Frank L. Davis.

On Sunday, April 11, 1948, the owners of the ZION Theatre and the neighboring bowling alley opened their businesses and were promptly arrested.

Zion’s Chief of Police Alven Ruesch, bearing a complaint issued by Zion Mayor Richard Hire, arrested Onnie Bridges (the police chief’s brother-in-law) at the ZION Theatre, and then went down the street to the bowling alley and arrested Otto Lawrence.

The ban on Sunday movies and other amusements was upheld by Judge Ralph Dady of the Circuit Court in Waukegan, the Lake County seat, in August of 1948. Following this ruling, the theatre owners circulated a petition requesting a special election to determine whether the ban on Sunday business should be repealed.

Despite a vigorous campaign by pro-theatre/pro-amusement forces, on December 21 of 1948 Zion residents voted to retain the blue laws by a vote of 1,756 to 1,564. The city council then voted to enforce the prohibition of Sunday trade, including even the sale and delivery of ice cream, milk, and newspapers. (A drug store across the street owned by a prominent citizen was permitted to remain open on Sundays to “sell only emergency drugs and ice cream consumed on the premises.”)

Business owners continued to work toward the repeal, and on April 5, 1949, another vote of Zion residents was taken. This time voters were in favor of the repeal … 1,746 to 966, which brought 48 years of blue laws in Zion to an end.

In both 1950 and 1951, diehard proponents of the blue laws brought the issue back to voters, who voted against their reinstatement.

In May of 1959, it was announced that the ZION Theatre would close. Hinting at the onslaught of free television, Onnie Bridges, president of the Zion Theater Corporation, stated that the closing was dictated by his desire to retire “rather than failing audiences.”

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on November 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm

City Gets Sunday Movies After Vote
ZION, Ill., April 11 1949 â€" (AP)â€" For the first time in 48 years, Zion’s citizens tomorrow will be able to see a Sunday movie in their home town.
Sabbath Blue Laws, in effect since the city was founded as a headquarters for the Christian Catholic Church 48 years ago, were wiped out in a Zion election last Tuesday.
The laws had prohibited operation of business establishments on Sunday.
Last year Onnie Bridges, operator of the community’s lone theater, staged a test of the laws by announcing he would open on Sunday â€" but before any tickets were sold, he was arrested and a Zion Court later upheld the city ordinance.

Tomorrow’s film will be “You Gotta Stay Happy.”

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on October 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Blue Laws of Zion Will Be Tested in Courts of Illinois -
Legality of Bans on Sunday Movies and Bowling Will Be Issue

Zion, Ill., April 12, 1948â€" (AP) â€" The manager of Zion’s only motion picture theater appears before the local justice of the peace today accused of attempting to show a movie on Sunday. Onnie Bridges, the manager, was arrested amicably yesterday in a test of the community’s ordinance banning Sunday movies. He had advertised that he would run the motion picture. “I Walk Alone”, yesterday afternoon to test the law. Bridges was arrested as the doors opened on a warrant issued on the complaint of Mayor Richard Hire.

Justice of the Peace Lester Koetz continued hearing of the charge until today and Bridges was released on $100 bond. Al Eric Carey, Zion city attorney, said he believed the case would eventually reach the state Supreme court. Carey said he believed both parties would only be satisfied with an interpretation by the high courts.

Motion pictures have been shown only weekdays in Zion since New Year’s day this year. At that time, the Zion theater opened. The theater, the first in the town, was opened after more than 2,000 of the community’s residents signed a petition asking the city council to permit the showing of movies.

The ordinance then passed by the council specificially banned Sunday movies and provided that all pictures shown should be subject to “proper censorship”.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on September 5, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Here is an April 1948 article from the Murphysboro (IL) Daily Independent:

ZION, ILL,, April 12â€"The manager of Zion’s only motion picture theater appears before the local justice of the peace today accused of attempting to show a movie on Sunday. Connie Bridges, the manager, was arrested amicably yesterday in a test of the community’s ordinance banning Sunday movies. He had advertised that he would run the motion picture, ‘I Walk Alone,’ yesterday afternoon to test the law.

Bridges was arrested as the doors opened on a warrant issued on the complaint of Mayor Richard. Justice of the Peace Lester Koelz continued hearing of the charge until today and Bridges was released on $100 bond. Al Eric Carey, Zion City Attorney, said he believed, the case would eventually reach the State Supreme Court. Carey said he believed both parties would only be satisfied with an interpretation by the high court.

Motion pictures have been shown only weekdays in Zion since New Years day this year. At that time, the Zion theater opened. The theater, the first in the town, was opened after more than 2,000 of the community’s 3,000 residents signed a petition asking the city council to permit the showing of movies. The ordinance then passed by the council specifically banned Sunday movies and provided that all pictures shown should be subject to “proper censorship.”

The Justice of Peace also will hear charges today against Otto Lawrence, owner of Zion’s only bowling alley. He was arrested for violating another ordinance which prohibits bowling on Sundays. Like Bridges he attempted to open his establishment esterday. “Apparently Lawrence and Bridges are collaborating to test both ordinances,” Carey said.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm

This was in the Chicago Tribune on 5/31/59:

Zion’s only movie theater, which opened in 1948 after a stiff fight against community blue laws, has closed its doors.

The city’s first theater opened in 1913 but was raided by police and ordered closed by the mayor. Most of the blue laws were repealed at a referendum in 1949.

Onnie Bridges, president of the Zion Theater corporation since it was formed, said the closing was dictated by his desire to retire rather than by failing audiences.