Des Plaines Theater

1476 Miner Street,
Des Plaines, IL 60016

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Des Plaines Theater

The Des Plaines Theater was opened as a vaudeville/movies house on August 9, 1925 with Adolphe Menjou in “Are Parents People” plus five acts of vaudeville on the stage. Built for the Polka Brothers circuit, the theater was designed by architect William B. Betts of neighboring Park Ridge, who also designed the Glen Theatre (now the Glen Art Theatre) in west suburban Glen Ellyn among other theaters. The Spanish Moorish style foyer led into a Spanish Renaissance style auditorium, which originally seated 1,018 patrons and had a large stage and orchestra pit. The theatre was equipped with a 3 manual Geneva theatre organ which was installed in December 1925, and removed from the theatre in August 1934. The theater’s exterior was in an Art Deco style, complete with bright, multi-colored terra cotta on the facade.

In 1935, members of the Balaban family (of the Balaban & Katz chain fame) purchased the Des Plaines Theater, and it became primarily a first-run movie house. That same year, the theater was remodeled by the firm of Pereira & Pereira, adding some Art Deco style touches, especially to the marquee. In 1982, a fire nearly destroyed the theater, but it was reopened a couple years later as a twin, with each auditorium seating about 275 patrons and screening second-run films.

The Des Plaines received a much-needed renovation in 1998, and showed primarily first-run East Indian films until closing in early-2003.

The Des Plaines Theater was again showing East Indian movies in 2006 and 2007, but was not been used since January 2008 when the theater was used to for a special showing of “High School Musical 2” hosted by Radio Disney. It then re-opened as a performing arts venue, which also shows movies.

In October 2010, work began converting the theater back to a single auditorium. Renovations were completed and the theater re-opened on November 11, 2011. Seating is now provided for 700, with hopes of adding a further 250 seats in the near future. Programming live theatre, Bollywood movies, independent movies, and hopes of including Hollywood movies and film festivals.

The Des Plaines Theatre was closed in January 2014.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 99 comments)

Khnemu on April 12, 2015 at 10:18 am

This theater has been closed since January 2014.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 14, 2015 at 2:45 pm

This article from the suburban Daily Herald, dated August 25, 2014, says that the Des Plaines Theatre was closed due to violations of the building code. The owner of the theater would like to reopen but is seeking funds from the city to make repairs. Two other potential operators are also interested in reopening the house, including the operator of the Arvada Theatre in St. Charles, but at the time of the article no deals had been made. I haven’t found any more recent articles.

(My apologies for the broken HTML in the version of this comment I posted yesterday, which turned the comment box into a link. I usually check after I’ve posted a comment, but that one I missed.)

tntim on September 20, 2015 at 7:25 pm

This link is to the May 12, 1928 issue of the “Exhibitors Herald and Picture World” that has pictures and an article about the Des Plaines Theater. View Link

JonasClark on February 9, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Does anyone have the list of pipe ranks which were in the Geneva organ originally installed at the Des Plaines?

Broan on February 9, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Not that I’ve ever seen. Very little is known about the organ.

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Flickr link with a 1951 photo.

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 1:57 pm

1966 image added courtesy of Jennifer Christiansen‎.

Khnemu on July 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Des Plaines mulls spending millions on downtown theater

Restoring the shuttered Des Plaines Theatre, a project that could cost taxpayers millions, might be the key to starting a string of suburban theaters showing live performances. The downtown Des Plaines Theatre has been shut down for the past three years, the owner unable, or unwilling, to spend the money to correct major building code violations to reopen the historic gem.

This has led to the mayor’s somewhat unconventional plan to partner with Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and spend $4 million to buy and renovate the theater. Each side would pitch in half the cost, and the city would then hire a manager to book shows and run day-to-day operations. This would put the city in the precarious industry of showbiz and theater ownership.

Across the suburbs, efforts to save historic theaters by converting them to live performance venues have seen successes and failures, with some projects landing somewhere in between.

Ron Onesti, operator of the successful Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, says now is the time for Des Plaines to reopen the theater. Onesti is opening a restaurant, bar and live music concept in downtown Evanston, and a third location in Des Plaines would fit into his business plan to book performers to appear at multiple suburban locations. He believes his approach could help a struggling Des Plaines downtown.

“If you bring in 100,000 visitors a year — which is very attainable — the restaurants won’t have enough seats, the bars won’t have enough beer and the hotels won’t have enough rooms,” Onesti said.

That’s if the plan works, of course.

The vacant Wheaton Grand Theater — built the same year as the theater in Des Plaines — has foundered for years as owners struggle to raise enough money to refurbish the building.

In 2004, Waukegan paid $23 million — far more than is being considered in Des Plaines — to buy and renovate the 2,400-seat Genesee Theatre without seeing much financial return. After eight years of losing money while a private company booked shows, Waukegan gave ownership to a nonprofit group largely supported by Uline Shipping Supply Specialists and other large benefactors. The theater remains in use, a jewel in a largely deserted downtown, but it doesn’t turn a profit, board Chairman Brian Shenker said.

“I don’t know a suburban theater that can make a profit, to be honest with you,” he said.

Between the competition with Chicago theaters and a saturation of live shows at casinos and other suburban theaters, the business is difficult, Shenker said.

Perhaps providing hope for eager Des Plaines residents is the success of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora. It has undergone a renaissance since it began producing Broadway-quality shows, and annual attendance has shot up sixfold since 2010.

While every theater project is different, they have one thing in common: the need for capital investment. Ticket sales alone usually aren’t enough.

Public funding for private theaters is becoming increasingly prevalent, Onesti said. Still, he added, “it’s not as prevalent as it needs to be.”

In Des Plaines, a city known for its squabbles among city council members, garnering approval for the funding will be a challenge. Aldermen have questioned whether the city should get involved and have expressed concern the city could be on the hook for an ever-increasing price tag.

Meanwhile, closing a deal could take time. Dhitu Bhagwakar, who has owned the theater since the early 2000s, says the building is worth more than an appraised value of $2.3 million. He’s frustrated, too, that the city and casino have left him out of talks, he said.

“It’s my property, and I’m in the dark basically,” he said.

There’s a reason for that, Bogusz said. The city years ago worked with Bhagwakar, providing some funding and deadline extensions, but as repair needs grew and targets weren’t met, officials took a tougher stance over code violations.

Bogusz said he fears “inaction in having the current owner continue to operate or continue to mismanage a very large important piece of our downtown. He’s really a bad actor at this point. It’s really disappointing.”

If the theater does one day open under the city’s ownership, “our true goal isn’t how much money we can make on a ticket, but how many people we can bring downtown,” city Manager Mike Bartholomew said. “That’s the payoff for the city.”

LouRugani on December 24, 2017 at 11:35 am

The Des Plaines City Council moved on Monday, December 18, 2017 to take over the DES PLAINES Theatre through eminent domain by voting 7-1 to begin condemnation proceedings on the 1925 Art Deco-style theatre. Dhitu Bhagwakar bought the theatre in 2003 and showed a mix of Bollywood and other movies before getting shut down due to code violations in 2014.

Only Alderman Dick Sayyad voted against the measure intended to revitalize the city’s downtown but taxpayers could be on the hook in the long term. The theatre acquisition project was a longtime goal of Mayor Matt Bogusz, who had pursued a public-private partnership with Rivers Casino to buy and maintain the theatre. Last August the council approved a non-binding agreement with the casino under which Rivers would kick in up to $2 million to buy and renovate the property plus annual payments of $50,000 to keep it running.

Alderman Malcolm Chester, 6th Ward, opposed Bogusz’s plan when he was running for mayor, but he said a majority of residents he spoke to during the campaign supported the idea. He also cited the partnership with the casino as the key factor in changing his decision. “They’re basically sharing our risk in this process, which makes it much more viable from my point of view,” Chester said. “This is a risk and I understand that, but Rivers participation reduces that risk enough for me to support it.”

Alderman Carla Brookman, 5th Ward, agreed that the partnership with the casino was a major factor. “We will have control of the property, and that’s most important,” she said. “It gives us the latitude to do a lot of things.”

Resident Ronald Moore said he believed the council had hidden the purchase on the consent agenda, mentioning it only by its street address in the notice of the meeting. He warned against what he suggested would be a costly venture over the long term and recommended a referendum. “Let the citizens decide whether the city should spend $2 million and who knows, after five years, how much more the city will spend in tax money to keep this thing running,” he said.

Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles had shown interest in operating the theatre if Des Plaines manages to acquire it. 

The move to begin eminent domain proceedings follow several months of negotiations between the city and owner of the theatre. Bogusz told the Des Plaines Journal the city’s appraised value of the property is between $400,000 and $500,000 but owner Bhagwakar, who purchased the building in 2003 for $920,000 from a bank that wanted to tear down the structure and build a drive-through, has said his appraised value is $2.3 million. He had said he was open to selling the property but described the city’s offer of $450,000 as “low ball,” saying there was “no way” he could accept such an offer, the Daily Herald reported.

Bogusz – who has previously described Bhagwaker as a “bad actor” – told the Journal the city’s appraisal takes into account the cost of bringing the theater back into code and is a more accurate market value. He said a lawsuit to take over the property would be filed as soon as possible, calling it “a long time coming.” According to Cook County Assessor records, Bhagwakar repeatedly appealed down the assessed value of the property from $381,251 in 2008 to about $80,000 in 2011 and every subsequent year. It was closed in January 2014 when he failed to meet the city’s deadline to fix various building code issues, including a sprinkler system near the stage, bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a fire-resistant curtain, the Daily Herald reported. Bhagwakar also reportedly turned down takeover offers from the theatre’s former general manager and a local trucking company owner who said he offered him a blank check to buy the theater.

DavidZornig on February 27, 2018 at 9:56 am

City of Des Plaines makes first council vote in buying the theater. Link below.

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