Oak Theatre

2000 N. Western Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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GRANDMASTERCHUCK
GRANDMASTERCHUCK on March 29, 2014 at 9:08 pm
   During the War Years 1941-1945 and before the Korean War, the Oak Theater not only showed movies of the day but had Stage Shows as well. 
                

This was during the time between the Vaudeville and Television eras, which was called the Golden Years of Movies, but the Oak Theater and a few others in Chicago, were still trying to cater to both the movie and live entertainment audiences. I can’t remember exactly how many nights a week there was live entertainment but it wasn’t every night like the Downtown venues, the Chicago, State and Lake and the Oriental Theaters. Their stage shows ran seven days a week, several times a day and night, and drew some of the top names in Radio and Movies of the day.

   My sister and I were on the circuit that included the Oak Theater with, what was called a Song and Dance Novelty Act, and we played it several times around the end of World War Two. We also played dates on just about every Saturday night at some Elks, Moose, Eagles, VFW or American Legion Hall somewhere in the city, or one of the nearby suburbs. We also entertained at the Naval Hospital at Great Lakes Navel Training Station for the wounded coming back from overseas.
                   Then came Television and that form of entertainment quickly went away. I left Chicago in 1952 at the request of my Uncle Sam and became a United States Marine, stationed in California, never to see my home town again, but I never forgot the Oak Theater and its dressing rooms back stage, and waiting in the wings to go on. We always got a warm welcome there. 
                   It was the best of times.
                
DavidZornig
DavidZornig on October 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm

The address needs to be changed to 2000 N. Western. Check the 1993 flier I posted in the Photos Section. Several Chicago Tribune articles from 1992 also confirm the address.

lovinemmie
lovinemmie on April 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Well I remember Oak theatre so so well !!! Many good times there as a little girl .Used to go with my Mom and Dad with all of us children , this was their night out , and guess what the movies were silent movies ,with Valentinoand many others,I was so young could.nt read the lines in the picture , but still seemed to understand the movie. Later in my life as we grew up ,that was where I watched the first talkie. As children we would save the “nickel to go to the Saturday special of 20 cartoons and some live entertainment, dancers , magicians, even the chiquita banana , lady Carmen Miranda ,I remember seeing Roy Rogers also , and especially Cisco kid , she Miranda , was very famous and well known especially as"the chiquita Banana lady” the song she sang then. We did'nt have a TV, not until 1952. Times were tough then.

Broan
Broan on February 27, 2013 at 6:50 am

Looking at the demolition photos, it looks like the Oak’s interior had already been gutted – bare brick walls and open ceiling beams. Is that right?

matthew1964
matthew1964 on July 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm

THe Oak,,OMG,, I REMEMBER IT WELL,,I FIRST WENT TO THE OAK,,IN FEB,1982 THATS WHEN I TURNED 18 ,ON THE MARQUIE IT SAID HAD TO BE 18 TO ENTER,,SO ME AND A FRIEND FROM HIGHSCHOOL ,, DECIDED WE WANTED TO SEE WHAT THE OAK WAS LIKE ,,WE,VE SEEN THE PLACE A MILLION TIMES ,, BUT NEVER TRIED TO GET IN,,SO ON THE MONTH OF MY BIRTHDAY ,,WITH ID,S IN POCKET WE CREPT UP TO THE INTRANCE BEING CARE NOT TO BE SPOTTED BY ANYONE WE KNEW,SPORTING DARK,SUNGLASES (AT NIGHT),AND OUR MEMBERS ONLY JACKETS ,WE BOUGHT TICKETS ,WE DIDDNT EVEN GET ASKED FOR OUR ID,S ,,I REMEMBER THE 2 MOVIES ( THE BANGKOK CONNECTION,,AND SCRUPLES ) WE SAT IN THE 1ST ROW DECKED OUT IN NEW LEE JEANS POLO SHIRTS AND OUR JACKETS AND SUNGLASSES STILL ON ,NERVEOUS AS HELL,,, SURROUNDED BY ALL OLDER MEN IN THERE LATE 40,S AND 50,S ,,THE DANCERS WERE FUNNY ALL OLDER WOMEN ,,OLDER THAN US ,WE ONLY REMOVED THE GLASSES TO GET A GOOD LOOK AT THERE BREASTS ,THEN WE PUT THEM BACK ON,,I DONT REMEMBER IF IT WAS AT THE END OR DURING INTERMISSION,, THEY HAD SOME YOUNG PORN ACTRESS ,,THERE FOR PHOTOS ,,A LITTLE GIRL,BUT CUTE ,,FOR $5.00 SHE WOULD SIT ON YOUR LAP,HER ARM AROUND YOUR NECK,AND YOUR HAND AROUND HER WAIST,,LATER IN THE YEAR OF 1992 ,I HAD A NEW GIRLFRIEND ( WIFE NOW) WHO LIKED BAD BOY BLUES THEY WERE THERE LIVE ,,WE DIDDNT GET A CHANCE TO GO REGRETABLE,,SHORTLY AFTER THAT CLOSED DOWN,,SOMETIMES WE STILL GO TO MARGIES CANDIES ,,I WILL LOOK AT THE SMALL DRIVE THRU BANK AND REMEMBER THE OAK,VERY COOL MEMMORIES THANKS,,MATT

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 29, 2012 at 4:22 am

I remember going by on the El and seeing XXX on the marquee. Later I remember going by on the El and seeing concerts on the marquee. Then once I went by on the El and it was gone. Maybe it’s too bad the Oak couldn’t have hung on a few more years. I’ve heard that smaller concert venues are making money these days.

walterbrzeski
walterbrzeski on July 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

@Oak Theater:

I’m putting a gift together for someone of ‘The Oak’ and I would love to use any photos you have..I posted a piece I had drawn of ‘The Oak’ to use as the centerpiece of the gift. And, I found some photos here and online. But, I would love to have more.

OakTheater
OakTheater on May 24, 2012 at 7:40 am

My parents reopened the Oak Theater in the 90’s. I have few memories of hanging out in the office during some of the shows. I will never forget running around that place in between shows and the way my voice echoed throughout the empty theater.

Most of you never noticed the floor when the theater was filled up to capacity but i remember the giant Oak Theater logo painted on the floor. My parents had a difficult time operating the Oak Theater and they had no choice but to close it.

It is a shame that it was replaced by a bank. A building with some much history and a theater that many hold dear to their heart to this day. If my parents still had it today, i would definitely be involved with operating it. I know there is a photo album somewhere. I will have to dig this up and share it.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on May 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hey everyone. I am working on a project to document the history of adult theatres in the US. If anyone has any memories of the Oak they would be willing to share, please contact me at

HughJazz – if you see this, I’d love to talk to you. I would love to talk with some people who worked at these places. I’ve read your posts and it sounds like you have lots of stories.

HughJazz
HughJazz on September 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

By the way, www.classmates.com may help you find others from Chase school.

HughJazz
HughJazz on September 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm

SusanLocke, I did not attend Chase school, but I am in your “age group”. You are so lucky to have seen some of our TV Western Heroes in person! Here is some additional info: Duncan Renaldo, who played Cisco, was born in Romania. he often played “Ethnic” characters in the movies, including a WW2 Japanese Diplomat in two “Three Stooges” shorts. Leo Carillo was over seventy years old when he played “Pancho. On the Island of Hawaii, many celebrities, including Leo Carillo, have had "Banyan Trees” planted in their name on “Banyan Drive” Each banyan has a sign in front, including one for Leo. I may still have the photos somewhere. I went to McPherson Elem (1956-1965)and Amundsen HS(1965 to 1969) and lived in the Lincoln Square neighborhood at the time.

SusanLocke
SusanLocke on September 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I went to the Oak Theatre in time span of the late Forties and early Fifties, saw Roy Roger and Dale evans there….saw Cisco and Pancho in person one Saturday on the way to the show. And Cisco’s horse Diaboblo..I am sure I spelled that wrong. I was really young, and in the seventies I tried to show my Children all the different shows I had gone to and unfortunately most were showing porn by then….Oak, Crystal, Tiffen, and the Rockne. In those days show admission was a whole quarter for many hours of movies and normally 2 cartoons too..when I was under five we lived on Stave Street, and then moved to the other house on the same lot Bingham Street…one block from the Ravenswood El.The producer from the Kuckla Fran and Ollie show lived in our neighborhood…I would love to hear from anyone who attened Chase Grade School, I went to kindergarten there. Or someone who lived in the neighbord…contact me at or Susan Besaw on Face Book…would love to make a neighbor hood connection.

sheree1979
sheree1979 on November 16, 2010 at 8:10 am

I was one of the adult entertainers in 1979 at the Oak Theater, I went by Sheree Fantasy, I worked with many of the headliners, I enjoyed my time at the Oak, It’s sad to find out that it’s gone with all it’s history. Does any one remember a club around the corner called the hideaway ran by 2 partners named Kurt and Darryl. I would appreciate any information regarding this club or its owners. Please feel free to e-mail me at

HughJazz
HughJazz on November 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I worked as an Andy Frain Usher in 1971 & 1972. I was regularly assigned to work at the Oak Theatre, along with Adult “Sister Theatres” Town(Armitage & Clark), Image(Clark near Chicago), and the Newberry (across from the Newberry Library) with its “All Male Cast” features. The owner at the time was Joel Ross, whose father ran similar theatres in Kansas City. Joel was rotund with black hair and black-framed glasses..He always treated us Andy Frains well, and I used to enjoy walking his German Shepard dog, “Major”. Half of the Shakespeare Avenue Police Station could be found in the theatre balcony watching the show. In addition to the 16mm movies, 3 dancers would do a live show, stripping down to pasties and g-string. Two ladies came on,first, then the “star”. I got Tempest Storms to autograph posters for my class at DeVry Tech. Mr Ross would take the strippers out betweeen shows in his green Cadillac.

Broan
Broan on March 21, 2009 at 3:31 am

http://tinyurl.com/cwk5fz – Photos of the Oak being demolished

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 6, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I just found my 07/28/93 handbill from the Oak Theatre.
Alas, I have no way to scan it.
It advertises the address in print as 2000 North Western Av. Phone 235-8502. Which still should have been a 312 area code back then I believe.
I recapped this particular July night in an earlier post.

One more little tidbit that only music fans may find of interest. The show that night was actually ELO Part II. A toring group comprised of some former ELO members from their heyday. But no Jeff Lynne, the creative force and founder.
On the handbill it clearly states “Electric Light Orchestra LIVE at Oak Theatre”. Similar versions of this type of advertising would years later rear their head as a legal issue facing ELO Part II.
Turns out some unscrupulous promoters would knowingly bill ELO Part II as ELO, in an effort to boost ticket sales. Then claimed a clerical errors when “brought” to their attention.
At the time original drummer & co-founder Bev Bevan retired and left ELO Part II in 1999, they were no longer legally allowed to use ELO in their name. They now tour as The Orchestra. After a very brief stint as, I kid you not: “Electric Light Orchestra Part II Former Members”. A mouthful indeed, that was apparently later also rejected by attorneys after Bevan’s departure. Still a dynamite show though with experienced, accomplished musicians.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 6, 2009 at 10:11 am

Great info. I wonder what was spent in comparison, on the 1992 conversion to a live venue. Surely the land value trumped whatever was thought could be earned in any amount of time, running concerts.
That and an offer to develop the entire parcel throughout the Milwaukee Ave. side. I thought the White Castle back then was a reasonably new structure itself. There’s a modern looking condo building across on the N/W corner of Milwaukee & Armitage now too. Where Boston Store used to be I think. S/W corner is still vacant with temp fencing.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

Ah, you are correct, a Drive-Thru of a bank. What a waste.
Why couldn’t the bank have been incorporated within the Walgreen’s lot? Or maybe built where that vacant Checker’s/Title Loan joint was?

The Oak Theatre had huge new potential, and the area surely would have supported it had it been given more time as a live venue. They even could have reinstalled a screen and ran some art-house type stuff in their down time.

For all the land that spanned the Oak, White Castle & subsequent parking lots along Milwaukee, they could have easily fit the Walgreen’s and bank/drive-thru on the Milwaukee side whilst keeping the Oak in place. It all just needed a better layout.
They should have built the Walgreens structure where it’s own parking is now, instead of having two walls face the Armitage/Milwaukee corner.
The entrance isn’t even ON the corner. So what was the geographic benefit? It’s silly.

Not sure who built 1st or wanted to one-up who, but CVS is notorious for building stores a block from existing Walgreen’s stores. (CVS is in a former grocery store just up Milwaukee).

Down on Division St., there are 2 CVS’s a block in each direction of an existing Walgreen’s. Which coincidentally replaced the Playboy/Sandburg Theatre.

GFeret
GFeret on September 30, 2008 at 8:06 am

No, not a bank (at the former OAK Theatre site),

but a DRIVE-THRU (for a bank)!

Talk about your ignoble afterlife.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 19, 2008 at 5:30 pm

I was only at The Oak Theatre once in my life. July 28th, 1993. A rare Chicago performance of ELO Part II.
A line up of some former Electric Light Orchestra members, without their former leader/founder Jeff Lynne.

I was amazed at the obvious transformation of what we had driven by hundreds of times as a porno theatre, into a classy, small concert venue.
You could tell by some of the interior workmanship, that some thought & money had been spent on the renovation.

The interior walls had been sand blasted & tuckpointed. Not much appeared original to the building except the exterior. And an inner set of door frames that separated the lobby from the auditorium. Great sound system, and alcohol sales to boot.

I really thought the place had huge potential, as like the next Park West. I think Johnny Cash was even advertised as being one of the upcoming artists to soon play there. So it definately could have positioned itself as a premiere, smaller venue for established acts that would sell out regularly.

I was absolutely stunned as to how quickly it closed and was torn down, in such a seemingly short amount of time. And to put up a bank!? What happened?
The ever growing, recently gentrified neighborhood, surely could have supported a venue of it’s size. It even had a parking lot behind it. And a bonus White Castle behind that.(Now gone too. In place of yet another Walgreens, 2 blocks from a yet another CVS.)

A truly sad, quick end to what could have been.

thekid1
thekid1 on November 27, 2007 at 10:53 pm

Ah, yes. The Oak was at its finest in the late 70s and early 80s. I knew the owner and as a young lad I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of the entertainers. Needless to say I had a smile on my face after each visit. They would get some pretty famous starlets at the time. One of them actually provided me with a first time experience. I’ll never forget her. : )
The Kid

Dallas
Dallas on September 15, 2007 at 12:28 pm

I worked there several times, I think it was sometime during 1977 to 1979. Beautiful Theater. I enjoyed working there as the Headliner.
Dallas Electra

mjthom
mjthom on September 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm

So is that entire block gone now? Back in the early 90s, I used to work in that area and shopped at a small mom & pop Ace Hardware store that occupied one of the storefront shops beside the theater. The shops all shared the theater’s terra cotta exterior. At the time the theater was being used for Latin music concerts, I think. They let me poke my head in one day when a band was setting up. Despite the fact that it looked so immense from the outside, it actually seemed quite intimate on the inside – and still in pretty good shape. What a shame that it was demolished. That area had really hit the skids by the time I was working there, so I’m sure it would have been difficult to find any use for it.