Will Rogers Theater

5641 W. Belmont Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60634

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Boarded up, ready to die

The Will Rogers Theater, opened in 1936, was named in tribute to Will Rogers, who had died in a plane crash the year before. The Rapp & Rapp designed movie house was located on W. Belmont Avenue at N. Parkside Avenue in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood of Chicago.

The theater’s Art Deco style design was influenced by ideas featured in the architecture of Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933.

Closed in 1986, the Will Rogers Theater was demolished in 1990 to make way for the strip mall which sits on the site today.

Contributed by Ray Martinez, Chris Siuty

Recent comments (view all 79 comments)

Kent on August 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Oddly enough my grandmother took me to see Funny Girl for my first movie there, in 1968 (I was 7). And the last time I went to this theater, ahortly after she passed away in 1979, and I saw the Muppet Movie. Yes, me at 18 sitting in the middle of the Will Rogers Theater, by myself, simultaneously smiling and crying, surrounded by children, as Kermit sang “The Rainbow Connextion”.

Broan on January 17, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Here is a photo of the Will Rogers auditorium from THSA. Several others can be found through search.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 18, 2016 at 12:24 am

Linkrot repair: The brief article about the Will Rogers Theatre in the October 17, 1936, issue of Boxoffice can now be found here.

Charles_Williams on July 2, 2016 at 11:23 am

I manage a resale and just got in an old reel that was mailed to The Will Rogers Theater. It’s from Columbia pictures. It’s titled “Banapple Gas” which was a Cat Stevens song. Anyone know anything about this? Just reaching out. Kinda new to all this.

Charles_Williams on July 3, 2016 at 8:57 am

Thanks, for the reply. It actually came in as a donation from someone that has had it in their possession. It was not mailed here. I looked at the way I worded it. I’m just curious if it has value?

Roustabout on July 4, 2016 at 11:48 am

Charles, check out YouTube. Search under “Cat Stevens Banapple Gas 1976 Promo” and read the comments.
A few people did mention seeing it in the theaters.
It was not uncommon for vacant or abandoned theaters to leave some projection equipment and old film behind.
I am speculating that before the wrecking ball arrived at the Will Rogers, this short film left the building and eventually made its way to you. Is it worth anything ? I am guessing you have a 35 mm print. In my opinion, that would limit its potential value.
That being said, I see a lot of unique items on eBay, Amazon and some other venues that do sell. Hope this helps. Good luck.

Charles_Williams on July 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Roustabout, thank you for the info. Very helpful! I have someone interested but wasn’t sure of a price. It is actual theater film stock(bigger than 35mm). My understanding flammable. It’s in a tin box.

DavidZornig on May 8, 2017 at 12:33 pm

1984 photo added credit David M. Feller.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on May 9, 2017 at 9:15 am

The Will Rogers was demolished in 1990 after being closed for four years. I added a photo that was taken in either 1989 or 1990. Notice the Daley for Mayor bench.

ILTEXMOARIA on February 3, 2018 at 3:20 pm

I lived in the neighborhood and remember they had a “Fun Show” for kids on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning in the summer from around 1964 to 1967. They would play a kids movie and cartoons. They also gave away prizes with called out numbers on a pamphlet you were handed as you went in. In an ironic twist, one neighborhood friend, “Bob”, pushed in ahead of another friend, “Ted”, and bewailed that Ted won the big prize, a portable B&W TV!

Balcony was usually closed unless they had a lot of people. They would advertise on the marquee that they had air conditioning to keep cool. Also tried to fight cable TV becoming more widespread with saying “Fight pay TV.”

Double features with an intervening cartoon were the norm in the early to mid 60’s. I also recall prices at 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children, but this quickly changed to 95 cents or 1.25 for adults and 50 or 75 cents for children.

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