Des Plaines Theater

1476 Miner Street,
Des Plaines, IL 60016

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Khnemu on July 17, 2017 at 5:43 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.”

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 11:57 am

1966 image added courtesy of Jennifer Christiansen‎.

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

Flickr link with a 1951 photo.

Broan on February 9, 2017 at 2:07 pm

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

JonasClark on February 9, 2017 at 1:53 pm

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

tntim on September 20, 2015 at 5:25 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

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 14, 2015 at 12:45 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.)

Khnemu on April 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

This theater has been closed since January 2014.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2012 at 5:32 am

The principals of Pereira & Pereira, the firm that did the 1935 remodeling of the Des Plaines Theatre, were William Pereira and Hal Pereira. Percival Pereira was an older architect who was never a member of this firm.

DavidZornig on November 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm

A note to Cinema Treasures Admins. It has not been possible to access links that are embedded within posts, since the website makeover. Is there something that can be done to correct that?

samgreco on November 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm

New website is up at Photos from the grand opening will be up in a few days.

It was nice to see it “de-twinned” Friday night.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 12, 2011 at 7:14 am

Restoration in progress:

Account of the reopening:

As one who remembers the theatre as a dingy twin in the 80’s this is fantastic to see. I salute the effort and hope it serves the community for years to come.

Broan on November 9, 2011 at 6:19 am

There are some on the Revitalize Des Plaines facebook page. We’re working right down to the wire, but I’ll be sure to post some next week.

whtesoxfan56 on November 8, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I’m really looking forward to the fact this will be reopening on Friday. I’m very glad it’ll no longer be a twin theater, a la what occurred with the Portage.

Hopefully, pics of the renovated interior emerge somewhere online…

Broan on February 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm

That was nothing. It was totally contained within the furnace room; I stopped in later that day and it was already vacuumed up. I wouldn’t have known anything had happened unless someone told me. Literally just a dirty furnace.

TLSLOEWS on November 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Thanks Lifes too short.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 15, 2010 at 11:01 am

I remember going to the Des Plaines when I was a little kid. At the time it was a twin second run theatre. It was dark. It also had a strange shape (like all such conversions): graceful curve on one side, straight wall on the other. I remember a few plaster details covered with one color of paint. But that was the only vestige of the old days. If you can say anything about the 70’s & 80’s it is that twin conversions kept some of these places from being demolished long enough for alternative uses to arise.

I honestly didn’t think anything good was going to happen here, based on what I perceived to be the attitude of the owner. But it seems like better days may be ahead.

CSWalczak on October 30, 2010 at 7:07 pm

An article about the renovations: View link

Broan on October 27, 2010 at 7:35 am

View link This blog post of mine should have pretty much whatever you want.

ERD on October 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

While I know it may sometimes be difficult to get, I wish more photos of the interior of the theatres should be posted on Cinema Treasures.

Broan on October 25, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Work has begun to return the Des Plaines Theatre to a single screen.

Broan on October 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Certainly not – as a matter of fact, View link

0123456789 on October 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Is this theatre torn down?

WHALER66 on September 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I never understand it when someone takes ownership of a theater
and just lets it go totally into the toilet.

Broan on September 30, 2010 at 7:50 pm

It is used on a rental basis.