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. Renovations began in November 2019 and are due to be completed in October/November 2020.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 104 comments)

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 11:57 am

1966 image added courtesy of Jennifer Christiansen‎.

LouRugani on December 24, 2017 at 9:35 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 7:56 am

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

LouRugani on May 20, 2019 at 8:23 am

The Des Plaines city council is expected to lease the Des Plaines Theatre to Onesti Entertainment Corporation, which will book shows and operate a restaurant at the Des Plaines Theatre. Ron Onesti, the president of the company, said “I would consider it an honor and responsibility that I wouldn’t take lightly”. City officials began searching for a company to run the day-to-day operations of the theatre in July 2018 and interviewed three firms. The city council interviewed two of those companies and then authorized City Manager Mike Bartholomew to negotiate the lease agreement with Onesti, citing Onesti’s track record of success operating the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles as a reason for choosing his company as the finalist. Onesti also operates Rock ‘N Ravioli Restaurant and Music Hall and the Bourbon 'N Brass Speakeasy & Jazz Club in Evanston. “We were aligned on the vision of the theater,” Bartholomew said. “We want the theater to be an experience. We want people to go to the theater, no matter what the show is.”

Under the proposed five-year agreement, the city will lease the theatre to Onesti for free during its first six months of operations and $10,000 per month the next six months. Rent will increase to $12,000 per month the second year, $14,000 per month the third year, $16,000 per month the fourth year and $18,000 per month the fifth year. The city has the option to renew the lease. However, the city is less concerned about earning money and more focused on the number of people the theater can draw downtown. City leaders view the theater as the anchor of an entertainment and restaurant district and even has a grant program to give new restaurants up to $100,000 to locate there. “The payoff isn’t how much money we can make on rent,” Bartholomew said. “The payoff is people.”

Onesti will help the city decide the layout and design of the restaurant on second level, a bar concept on the first level and seating for anywhere between 600 to 900 people. The agreement stipulates the city will prepare the restaurant space to “vanilla box form” — meaning it will install electrical, drywall and a layer of paint. The cost of installing a kitchen, tables and chairs and all other aspects of the restaurant will be paid by Onesti. The city estimates construction could take between six and nine months.

Onesti pointed to the shows and the overall experience at the Arcada Theatre as a blueprint for what he envisions for Des Plaines. The Arcada books a wide variety of musical acts. “Everything is ambience-driven, themed and upscale,” Onesti said. “The experience is as important as the quality of food and the level of the cocktails.”

The city entered an agreement with Rivers Casino in May 2018 to buy the theatre, with the casino pledging up to $2 million to help purchase and renovate the building. The city completed the purchase of the building in June and has been completing improvements to the venue.

DavidZornig on July 28, 2019 at 4:24 am

Facebook page for the Des Plaines Theatre.

DavidZornig on November 7, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Four 2019 marquee removal photos and below description added credit Des Plaines Theatre Facebook page.

“The crew is hard at work this week removing the old marquee. We are looking forward to seeing the new signage shortly!”

DavidZornig on November 7, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Another photo here.

Khnemu on March 11, 2020 at 5:53 pm

The opening of the theater has been pushed back to October or later:

DavidZornig on October 1, 2020 at 4:12 pm

1967 photo via Flickr in below link.

DavidZornig on October 20, 2020 at 6:22 pm

October 19, 2020 behind the scenes video tour of Des Plaines Theater by Ron Onesti. It appears that the comments were turned off.

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