Wilmette Theatre

1122 Central Avenue,
Wilmette, IL 60091

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LouRugani
LouRugani on October 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2015: “When Richard S. Stern talked about movies, it was clear to anyone who listened that he was in love with everything about them; their history, their stars, their distribution, and the art of knowing when a film would be a hit with moviegoers, son Mark Stern remembered Oct. 26. The passion Stern brought to his chosen profession extended to Academy Awards nights, when his family would sit in front of the television to see if the movies he predicted as winners would take home Oscars, said Mark Stern, himself a theater owner in Seattle. "We would watch the Oscar telecast, and when they would announce the winners and my dad’s predictions were right, we would jump up and high-five each other,” Mark Stern said. The elder Stern used that acumen for 40 years to make the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., in downtown Wilmette, a destination for both Wilmette residents who saw the venue as their neighborhood theater, and for lovers of art and foreign films, Mark Stern said.

Stern, 84, a 52-year resident of Niles, was killed Oct. 23 after being struck by an SUV while walking across West Golf Road in Niles shortly past 6 a.m. that day.

Without Richard Stern’s four-decade long stewardship of the theater – and his decision to sell it to four community activists instead of a furniture store owner who had put in an earlier offer – downtown Wilmette would be a less artistically rich place, said his son and two of the people who succeeded Stern as the theater’s owners. “My father had a great impact on Wilmette, by bringing really good quality cinema to a sleepy little downtown,” Stern said. “There were high times and low times, but when you would see the lines on many nights, one of the exciting things would be to say ‘Sold out!’ and to know your choice resonated with the theater goers.” “He really saved it,” Wilmette resident Carole Dibo said Oct. 26, as she remembered the man who bought the Wilmette Theatre in 1966 and sold it to her and three other community investors in 2006. “He was one of a kind. He believed with every cell in his body in what he was doing. Not many of us can say we love what we’re doing the way he did.”

Richard Stern, who grew up in Oak Park, was born into a family of movie theater owners, Mark Stern said. Richard’s father, Henry Stern, was credited with making the Cinema Theater, at Michigan and Chicago avenues, the first art film theater house in Chicago, he said. Richard Stern was already the owner and manager of other Chicago theaters when he starting eyeing the Wilmette market in the 1960s, Mark Stern said. When he learned that the shuttered Wilmette Theatre, then owned by Encyclopedia Britannica Films and used by that company for film shoots, was for sale, he made an offer and was told he had a week to come up with more than $100,000. He asked his father for a loan, and bought the property, Mark Stern said. Stern was as generous with others as Henry Stern had been with him, Mark Stern said: “He’s the type of guy that would literally get food sent to your door if he knew you were hungry. He’d give you money, not lend you money. He was big-hearted and generous.”

After renovating the theater and turning it into a two-screen operation, Stern decided to sell the business, Dibo said. He had a prospective buyer when she, her husband David Dibo, and two others, Sam and Judy Samuelson of Evanston, approached him, David Dibo said Oct. 26. Stern eventually sold to the foursome, who later turned the building’s operation into a nonprofit organization. “He was a very tenacious businessman and he wanted the highest price for sure,” David Dibo said. “On the other hand, he really loved the art of the film. …The appreciation of the artistic side really drove him, maybe almost against his basic business instincts.”

“When he wiggled out of that (furniture store) deal, he did it so he could sell it, and it would still would be an entertainment destination,” Carole Dibo said. She said Stern continued to visit the theater, talk about the film business, and even give advice, which she said often proved useful.

In addition to his son Mark, Stern is survived by a second son, Scott, of Evanston, and a brother, Laurence, of Glenview, as well as three grandchildren. His wife, Marlene C. Stern, died in 2011. His funeral service was set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 at Chicago Jewish Funerals Chapel, 8851 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie, with burial in Shalom Memorial Park. Memorial donations can be made to the Hadassah organization, 60 Revere Drive, Suite 800, in Northbrook and at www.hadassah.org/chicago-northshore, Mark Stern said."

Broan
Broan on April 12, 2015 at 8:32 am

I recently posted a still from an industrial film featuring the Wilmette.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on April 12, 2015 at 7:28 am

The following list is credited to and courtesy of Greg Wall. Via the “You Know You’re From East Wilmette When…” Facebook page.

Wilmette Theater Fun Facts

1) It went back into business after a period of being dark in 66. It was being used as offices for an industrial filmmaker for a time.

2) Many long in the tooth theater ideas were employed by the management to drum up business, including kiddie matinees which featured terrible films by K Gordon Murry made on the cheap in Florida.

3) There was a record store next store briefly that might have been run by the same guy who ran the theater.

4) They played the “czech new wave” film “Closely Watched Trains” forever. The local yokels were calling it the “Closely Watched Trains” Theater. Same with “Z”

5) Double Bill: “On Her Majesties' Secret Service” and “The Secret Of Santa Victoria.”

6) Terrible sight lines and bad sound.

7) The lowly “Chuck Wagon” next store has surprisingly been one of the districts most enduring businesses. Yet the Baskin Robins did close.

8) They did book a flat out porno at one point to some local consternation.

9) They had many great revivals: Including a Hitchcock Festival, King Kong, and The General.

10) It is over one hundred years old.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on April 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm

There currently are more live music events at the Wilmette. Various members of the Chicago Cabaret Professionals have had featured showcases there, as well as at the Skokie Theatre.

P.S. That Wilmette Chuck Wagon next door had great burgers also back in the day. I believe it may still be there.

CinemarkFan
CinemarkFan on November 27, 2008 at 11:46 am

Awesome find. Thanks for sharing.

ws2
ws2 on November 27, 2008 at 10:50 am

I was googling and came across this clip of the theater on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5GyyLUCiVY

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on November 20, 2008 at 6:42 pm

My father worked for John Colburn in the late 50's or early60’s. Before going down to Vougue Wright & Fred Niles Studios (Which Oprah eventually bought).

I was at the Wilmette a couple times in the 60's, then again in the70’s.
Thought I saw “Hot Rod” with Pernell Roberts & Robert Culp there.
But I can’t recall if that was originally a theatrical release or made for TV. Might have been a second run of “The Wanderers” with Ken Wahl.

There used to be a vintage ice cream/burger shop called Bob’s about a block away. It had dark wood walls and old style ice cream glasses. Many families would go there with kids in tow.

Cam
Cam on April 5, 2008 at 7:32 am

Some recent photos of the exterior are in set #23, here:
http://www.mekong.net/random/theatres.htm

RobinW
RobinW on February 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm

The new marquee on the theatre is indeed ugly! Or perhaps “minimalist” is the proper word here. I’ve been to this theatre a couple of times and it is a cramped, unpleasant place. Paul F, I saw “Life is Beautiful” here and I thought the movie was condescending, trivializing, and appalling.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on July 21, 2007 at 5:31 am

That marquee is u-g-l-y!

I saw two movies here, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. The latter was in 2000 or 2001. I recall the place being tiny and it reminded me of the 3Penny or the Village. Now it’s been renovated? How?

mp775
mp775 on July 25, 2006 at 1:29 am

Maybe the stage shows will keep it going, but I can'I don’t know how this is going to make it as a first-run, $8-a-pop movie house. The draw of the Wilmette was the price and the selection of independent releases that you wouldn’t even find at the Landmark or CineArts. Even with the “renovations,” which I think did more harm than good, it’s still the same cramped theater with uncomfortable seats and a third-rate sound system, with several modern megaplexes nearby. To make matters worse, when I got there at 7:02 for a 7:00 show and asked if there were any previews, one of the staff assured me there was, and he had “just started it.” So I paid and walked into the auditorium – several minutes into the movie.

How did the Village of Wilmette allow the marquee to be replaced?

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 12, 2006 at 8:58 am

I’m with you Brian…I like the old marquee better. The red and white color scheme fit better with the building, and that corny “W” on the front had been a staple of Downtown Wilmette my entire life.

All that being said, I am glad it is still with us. It’s pretty cool to think about how many generations of North Shore resident have gone to the movies there.

Broan
Broan on June 12, 2006 at 6:44 am

If you read the article I posted on May 28, you would see this:

“(Richard) Stern, who has operated the two-screen cinema for the last 40 years, has sold the building to Carole Dibo and Sam Samuelson, founders of He Mette She Productions. They plan on making minor renovations to the theater and will continue to show movies and also stage live events. The theater should open in its new incarnation by Memorial Day, Dibo said.

(…)

Plans are to keep one theater for movies, which will be managed by Nova Cinemas. Dibo and Samuelson will focus on programming the second theater, which will run the gamut from children’s shows and lectures to theater productions and anything else the team can come up with."

jimpiscitelli
jimpiscitelli on June 12, 2006 at 4:47 am

This theater is now owned by the Nova Cinemas chain in which they also own the Nova 8 Cinemas (formally Westridge Court) in Naperville.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on June 3, 2006 at 7:00 am

Per that Sun-Times article, it was to have become a furniture store.

Broan
Broan on June 3, 2006 at 6:53 am

Yes, it reopened last weekend. I don’t really care for the ‘modernized’ marquee.

Broan
Broan on May 28, 2006 at 10:12 am

Here is a sun-times story on the changes: View link

xanthmo
xanthmo on May 9, 2006 at 3:17 am

The theatre is closed only “temporally”. Will be re-opened by Memorial Day!

alex35mm
alex35mm on May 8, 2006 at 10:18 pm

As of May 9th the marquee is blank and there are several signs on the doors reading “Temporally closed for remodel”.

Amosduncan
Amosduncan on May 5, 2006 at 11:21 am

I moved as a kid to Wilmette around the spring, I believe, of 67. The Wilmette was just about ready to reopen.
As an indie, it aforded me a lot of good times and helped with my film education. They used to bring back Hollywood classics, and had kiddie shows on the weekends, sometimes those horrible K Gordon Murry things. I saw all four Beatles movies there once on the same bill.
I remember them having a bit of a dust up over showing x rated films in the 70s. I remember when they played “Mean Streets” they had little signs warning you about the bad language.
I have just heard they are possibly about to close again. Too bad.
I hope they make it to 100.

Broan
Broan on April 6, 2006 at 10:41 pm

It was originally the Central

Broan
Broan on April 6, 2006 at 10:35 pm

The Wilmette was used as the John Colburn Film Studio before reopening in 1966.

paulench
paulench on May 19, 2005 at 6:34 am

When we first moved to Wilmette in 1955 we lived near 4th & Linden. The streetcar you speak of had already stopped running by then but the tracks remained embedded in the brick streets for years. I don’t recall another theater being around the corner from the Wilmette, but I do recall the EBF offices on Wilmette Avenue. My first job was across the street from it at the now-defunct Smithfield’s Grocery, a tiny grocery store which provided home delivery of phoned-in grocery orders! (After all, it WAS the North Shore.)

My neighbor, the film director for Encyclopedia Britannica Films, was the late William Kay who worked out of the EBF offices in the former Wilmette Theater. I appeared in one classroom film he made called “The Digestive System” which was filmed on a Saturday morning in the teacher’s lounge of New Trier (east) High School in 1964. A one-second clip of me from that film appears in Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary “Crumb”. My earnings for the day – twenty bucks, and that was under the table!

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 18, 2005 at 8:55 pm

My mother and her brothers saw films at the Wilmette as children. My father was a project manager for EB during the time you speak of. He recalls working on film production in the Wilmette Theater when all the seats were removed. There were EB offices in a building around the corner on Wilmette Ave, which was also a theater at one time long ago (that building is also still there). You lived there in ‘55 Paul. You might even remember the electric train that used to run down Greenleaf Avenue a short distance away. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction at the Wilmette with a bunch of teenage friends after it had been twinned (in the 90’s). There was still some decoration at that time…it wasn’t quite down to concrete walls in the auditorium. Amazing how that building has spanned the generations.