Tivoli Theatre

6325 S. Cottage Grove Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60637

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Tivoli Theatre, Chicago - Floor Plan

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Tivoli Theatre opened its doors on February 16, 1921, the first of the Balaban & Katz chain’s movie palaces in the Woodlawn neighborhood, opening on the once-bustling S. Cottage Grove Avenue commercial corridor near 63rd Street. The theatre stood just south of the southeast corner of 63rd Street and S. Cottage Grove Avenue, between the still standing Strand Hotel and Cinderella Ballroom (today the Grand Ballroom).

Later that same year in October 1921, the chain had great success with its new Loop venue, the Chicago Theatre, and a few years earlier, opened two houses on the North Side, the Central Park Theatre and the Riviera Theatre.

The Tivoli Theatre, designed by Rapp & Rapp, was highly ornate, decorated in the French Baroque style, glittering with gold leaf and multicolored marble; its soaring two stories high lobby was supposedly based on the Sainte-Chapelle at Versailles. The Tivoli Theatre was stocked with antique sculptures and paintings, but on the other hand, the theatre was also equipped with the most up-to-date modern ammenities such as air conditioning, and then-state-of-the-art projection equipment.

By the 1940’s, however, the Tivoli Theatre was just another movie house and its earlier programs of live stage shows, vaudeville, and motion pictures were a thing of the past. By the 1950’s, the theatre was starting to show its age, and Woodlawn was a quickly changing neighborhood. Even a modernization during the late-1950’s by Balaban & Katz couldn’t save the huge palace and it closed September 19, 1963 and was razed later that same year, replaced by a parking lot.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 42 comments)

WayOutWardell on February 3, 2013 at 6:13 am

I’m still curious about the decision to close and demolish in so short a time; surely this is one of the first of the movie-palace era in the nation to be demolished.

Looking at periodicals of the day, it seemed to be doing good business up until the very end. A 1963 issue of Jet Magazine mentions a touring concert show and a conference having to scramble to find a new venue, as though the theater closed without much notice. A Moms Mabley LP released in 1964 was recorded at the theater in March of ‘63.

Scott on February 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm

The closing and demolition of American movie palaces was well under way by 1963. Prior to this, the Chicago Paradise razing began in 1956, the Philadelphia Mastbaum was razed in 1958, and the NYC Roxy was destroyed in 1961, among others. Those 3 would have to be on anyone’s top 10 list of all-time greatest movie palaces. There were hundreds of closings precipitated by the introduction of TV, and most of those theatres were eventually demolished. Also in 1963, Chicago’s Marbro closed (razed 1964) and the San Francisco Fox was demolished. And there were others. So I guess you could say the Tivoli went down in the early stage of the decline, but it was by no means one of the first. The Tivoli was dealing with dwindling numbers due to TV and a rapidly changing neighborhood. Which was the case for most of Chicago’s large neighborhood theatres.

jwhuebner on March 19, 2013 at 3:46 am

Hi Folks. Does anyone recall a pizzeria near the Tivoli, in the 1950s, perhaps across the street, called Enrico’s—or something like that? I’m writing a book on a Chicago artist who did a youthful mural there—an Italian scene—c. 1952-53. He said that pizzerias were a novelty at that time. I zoomed in on that 1955 photo someone mentioned, but didn’t see anything that looked like a restaurant. Thanks.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on October 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

In response to WayOutWardell:

It costs truckloads of money to maintain one of these big places: heating, cooling, electrical bill, cleaning, taxes, building maintenance, staffing, etc. The Tivoli might not have been completely dead in the water business-wise. But Balaban & Katz was a well-run company. For what they saw coming back it might not have been worth further investment. They put considerable money into the building in the 50’s and were apparently not satisfied with the return on investment.

If the decision to close and demolish was sudden it may be because a big repair came up, like maybe a problem with the boilers, and they opted to get out instead. The building was about forty years old at the time.

I’ll give you a modern-day example. John Barleycorn, a bar which has been on Lincoln Avenue for many years, just closed. When Crain’s talked to the owner he blamed it on nearby Children’s Memorial Hospital moving downtown. He said business wasn’t in the tank. But it wasn’t nearly as lucrative as it had been with so many employees working right next door. He said it would take a few years for them to re-purpose the property and he didn’t want to wait around. He has other business ventures and decided this one wasn’t the best use of his capital.

BobbyS on October 19, 2014 at 6:10 am

After touring the Regal today, I drove down Cottage Grove to 63rd st. to see what was left of the Tivoli’s next door neighbors. Looked like a hotel or apartment building just north of the Tivoil about 20 stories high that was burned right through. Windows gone and in a very sad state. Reminded me of Detroit.

WayOutWardell on October 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm

@LTS – Good points all. I came across an article in the Defender which talks about the closing and how the manager, Ken Blewitt, would be transferred to the Maryland around the corner. The B&K business manager interviewed for the article said something to the effect of, ‘we’ve tried to give the public what they want, but they don’t want the Tivoli’.

@BobbyS – That’s the Strand Hotel, and it’s actually in the early stages of being rehabbed into residences. The windows were recently removed for the work which is why it looks the way it does.

The plan for the hotel (Zachary Taylor Davis, arch.)actually included a theater next door, tentatively called the Calumet, but after the hotel was completed in 1919, the funding dried up and the site was then sold to B&K.

On the other side of the Tivoli, the Cinderella Tea Room (the other marquee in the early theater photos) has been rehabbed and is now known as the Grand Ballroom. The exterior stud lighting is now functional and is quite something to see.

DavidZornig on August 11, 2015 at 3:50 am

1927 photo added courtesy of the John Chuckman Collection.

Tower2 on December 21, 2015 at 11:38 pm

The address of the Tivoli was 6325 S. Cottage Grove Ave., not 6328 as currently listed for this entry. 6328 would be on the west side of the street; the Tivoli was on the east side of the street. Photo added (page from 1928 street guide).

RickB on December 22, 2015 at 2:46 am

Last day of operation: September 19, 1963. Last features were “The Great Escape” and “Never Let Go.”

Broan on January 9, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Here is a lavish article on the Tivoli’s opening.

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