Tivoli Theatre

6328 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 Cottage Grove Avenue commercial corridor near 63rd Street. The theatre stood just south of the southeast corner of 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, between the still standing Strand Hotel and Cinderella 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 theater 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 theater 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 in the summer of 1963 and was razed later that same year, replaced by a parking lot.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 39 comments)

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on December 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Fifty years ago tomorrow, on 12/30/60, the B&K Tivoli started a one-week engagement of the stage revue “Smart Affairs of 1961,” with a cast of 50 topped by jazz-blues singer Nancy Wilson, the instrumental group The Three Sounds, comedian Slappy White, and limbo dancer Roz Croney. On screen was the sub-run John Wayne epic, “North to Alaska.” Doors opened daily at 1:00pm, with last stage show starting at 10:30pm.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on April 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

Thanks, Bryan! Good to see that the original vertical sign was still in place, though now supplemented at bottom by a modern attraction board that didn’t match the vertical or the marquee below it.

WayOutWardell
WayOutWardell on April 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm

In the paperwork submitted to the Landmarks Commission regarding the Portage Theater, it’s mentioned that the marquee from the Tivoli was refashioned and installed on the Portage, and that doors from the Marbro were reused there as well – I assume since they were fairly new at the time.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on May 4, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Click here for an exterior view of the Tivoli Theatre in 1930.

rivest266
rivest266 on June 27, 2012 at 7:56 pm

February 16th, 1921 grand opening ad has been posted in the photo section for this theatre.

WayOutWardell
WayOutWardell on February 3, 2013 at 1:13 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
Scott on February 6, 2013 at 6:05 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
jwhuebner on March 18, 2013 at 11:46 pm

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 7:26 am

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
BobbyS on October 19, 2014 at 1:10 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.

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