E.A.R. Theatre

6839 S. Wentworth Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60621

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E. A. R. Theatre; Chicago, Illinois promotional mirror.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The initials of the name E.A.R. stood for the owner/builder Eli Abraham Rysden of Chicago, who founded this theatre which opened on January 17, 1914 with 892 seats. It was one of the few “reverse” or ‘backwards’ theatres in the nation. It was in the neighborhood of Normal Park in Chicago, as told in a reminiscence story by the late John (B. Andrew Corsini) Fowler in MARQUEE magazine of 4th Qtr., 1992. The theatre did have a Wurlitzer pipe organ of five or six ranks (voices) at one time. The organ was played for many years by Eli’s daughter Martha Rysdon. The brick facade was Arts & Crafts style in feeling with a two-story recessed entry holding the island ticket booth below large casement windows at the rear of the recess that overlooked the lobby. The lobby was to one side of the two small storefronts that completed the rest of the facade which also had a dark tile coping to contrast with the light color brick.

In 1934, a new V-shaped marquee with small vertical sign projected from the building as shown in the facade photo in the article, and now it was not just the theatre’s name in an arc of bricks in relief that adorned the face of the theatre. The new marquee was in ‘negative’ with clear white, back-lit letters on a dark ground in three lines. The price of the day in large neon was “25 cents” as seen either side of the bottom of the vertical on the marquee’s end panel. Triple lines of neon adorned the borders of both the vertical sign as well as the marquee. The lobby ended in a curving wall from one side of the building to the other with doors at its sides leading into the auditorium on either side of the screen, and one proceeded up any of three aisles to turn around and be seated to face the screen. Thus, one entered at street level, walked down a ramp to the foyer area, and the up upon the aisles of the auditorium. Exitways on either side led up to the alley elevation at the rear. A simple, modest Art Deco motif characterized the theatre with its 720 seats after the 1934 remodeling, which was carried out by the firm of Pereira & Pereira. Abundant public transportation in the neighborhood made the E.A.R. Theatre successful up until around 1963 when it met its end as the land was cleared for other uses, ending one of the few “reverse” theatres in the nation if not the world.

Contributed by James H. (Jim) Rankin

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 8, 2004 at 6:29 am

REVERSE THEATRE
This is one of the few “Reverse” or ‘backwards’ theatres in the world, of which 9 were in the USA and 2 in England, of those that are known. This unusual format had the audience entering the front as usual, but the screen was at their backs as they entered, and the projection room/booth faced them! In some cases it was a construction demanded by the topography, as when the land at the rear sloped up sharply at the rear of the building (as with the DARRESS ( /theaters/1645/ ) and the little LINCOLN in Limon Colorado), but for others as with the WHITEHOUSE in Milwaukee ( /theaters/2642/ ), it was purely a gimmick to make the place memorable in competition with the dozens of other show houses in most communities in the ‘golden days!’ The known Reverse Theatres are:

Existing in the USA, if not also operating:
1) The SEBASTIAN, Ft. Smith, AR ( /theaters/257/ )
2) The DARRESS, Boonton, NJ ( /theaters/1645/ )
3) The LINCOLN, Limon, CO ( /theaters/7595/ )

No longer existing as a theatre, if still standing at all (USA):
4) The PHIEL, St. Petersburg, FL
5) The METROPOLITAN, 3308 W. Lawrence, Chicago, IL (later TERMINAL, METRO)
6) The E.A.R. (for Earl A. Reisden), Chicago, IL ( /theaters/7597/ )
7) The FAMILY, Quincy, IL
8) The HAPPY HOUR, New Orleans, LA
9) The WHITEHOUSE, Milwaukee, WI ( /theaters/2642/ )

These two are known of in England, but status unknown (courtesy of Louis Barfe):
10) The CINEMA ROYAL, Epsom, Surrey (1910—1938)
11) The CINEMA LUXE, Lake, Isle of Wight (1989—?)

And then there is the FOX Theatre, Taft, CA, ( /theaters/7564/ )where one “entered on the side, the back corner, actually,” to round out our little list of eccentric theatres.

Toby
Toby on July 11, 2004 at 7:07 am

Although not originally built as “reverse” theatres, remodels at two Cleveland, OH area theatres, the Shaker Square Cinema (formerly the Colony Theatre) has two screens that are “reverse” when you walk in, and the now-closed Centrum Theatre (formerly the Heights Art Theatre) had one “reverse” screen. In both cases, these were both old single screen theatres that were cut up…in Shaker Square’s case, six (the main floor became four screens and the balcony two screens), and the Centrum, three screens (two on the main floor and one in the balcony). I am guessing that “reverse” screens are common in older theatres that are megaplexed from their original auditoriums.

Broan
Broan on June 10, 2006 at 4:31 am

The architect appears to have been F.E. Higgins.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 14, 2007 at 1:34 pm

On the subject of ‘reverse’ theatres, there are several more which come to mind in England, United Kingdom:
Picture House, Granby Street, Leicester (1910-1973 demolished)
Cameo Moulin, Great Windmill Street, London (1910-1990 restaurant)
Cameo Royal, Charing Cross Road, London (1910-1984 demolished)
Eros Cinema, Piccadilly Circus, London, (1934-1985 retail)

Broan
Broan on June 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

Remodeling was in late 1934, by Pereira & Pereira.

“This $15,000 job was carried on without interfering with the regular daily programs. It was started two months ago and completed yesterday. Nine hundred new seats and a new screen have been installed. The interior has been redecorated in dark blue and French gray, with the new lobby done in light blue and tan.”

Englewood
Englewood on January 12, 2009 at 9:39 pm

According The Englewood Times, the E.A.R. Theatre opened on Saturday, January 17, 1914 with a 2 o'clock matinee, followed by their regular program at 7 p.m.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on May 15, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Here is a January 1915 ad from the Suburbanite Economist:
http://tinyurl.com/qj7rje

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2012 at 5:35 am

The principals of Pereira & Pereira, the firm that did the 1934 remodeling of the E.A.R. Theatre, were William Pereira and Hal Pereira. Percival Pereira was an older architect who was never a member of this firm.

SBGreig
SBGreig on May 21, 2013 at 10:06 am

Found a photo of the E.A.R. Theater just now while looking for something else. Apparently the building lasted well beyond 1952…this collection is from a photographer employed by the Chicago Department of Buildings to document structured officially condemned by the city.

http://collections.carli.illinois.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/uic_pic&CISOPTR=11733&CISOBOX=1&REC=19

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