Will Rogers Theater

5641 W. Belmont Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60634

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Showing 1 - 25 of 79 comments

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.

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.

DavidZornig on May 8, 2017 at 12:33 pm

1984 photo added credit David M. Feller.

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.

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 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?

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.

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.

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.

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 October 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm


BobbyS on July 19, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Great photo btkrefft….I went there many saturdays in the 50’s as we were “dropped off” as parents visited relatives who lived 2 blocks away. It is sad how so many great neighborhoods have changed for the worse in Chicago.

rivest266 on June 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm

September 5th, 1936 ad uploaded here in the photo section.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 8, 2012 at 4:33 am

The October 17, 1936, issue of Boxoffice featured a brief article about the Will Rogers Theatre, with a single photo of its Streamline Modern auditorium. The exterior had some Art Deco flourishes, but the auditorium was almost austere, nearly the sole exception being the florid upholstery on the seats. The scan of the photo is a bit blurry, but it serves to show the overall sleekness of the design.

marysal on November 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Thanks for the response, Riverview!

Roustabout on November 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

The Sound of Music played exclusively at the Michael Todd from 1965 to 66.
It was released to the neighborhood theaters in early 67.
The movie had a two month run at the W.R. from Friday July 28 to Thursday September 28.
Best Wishes.

TLSLOEWS on October 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Nice Marquee on this one.

marysal on September 13, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Does anyone remember seeing the Sound of Music at the Will Rogers Theater? What year(s)?

Roustabout on July 19, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I grew up in the BC area and going to the WR with the neighborhood guys was a Saturday afternoon ritual.
In the early 60’s, I remember Sword and Sandal, Bible and yes, Walt Disney movies. They were later replaced by Pink Panther, Elvis, James Bond and others that were popular from that decade.
It was during this time that I was introduced to 3-D. There was a sci-fi or horror movie (mild by today’s standards) playing that afternoon. The employees were handing out those glasses with the cardboard frames and cellophane lenses. Talk about a movie that came alive!
One Saturday, I went with my mother, aunt and cousin to see the Ghost and Mr Chicken. My relatives are all deceased now. Every time I see that movie on video, I remember that evening at the WR.
One Saturday evening in the 70’s, I went with my mother to see a movie that dealt with the highly theological question of life after death. The movie was not really eerie but it did make people feel a little bit on edge. I can’t remember the name of it but as it came to a close, a big chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling and came crashing down to the floor. I believe no one was hurt, thank God. A few people screamed and there was a big rush for the door. There was some pushing and shoving and I was worried about my mother if this thing turned into a stampede. Luckily things did not escalate any further. (I wonder if the local churches had higher attendance the next morning?)
I believe the last movie I saw there was an 80’s midnight Saturday showing of Risky Business or maybe Apocalypse. The theater was packed but I just had a sense the doors would be closing permanently in the near future. I did not read or hear anything, it was just a feeling I had.
I made the rounds of the other theaters in the area; the Luna, Portage, Gateway and Patio (read the site about the Patio and the endeavors to reopen those doors, good luck) but for me, none of them could compare to the WR.
My mother and I continued to live in the area and one Saturday afternoon I went to BC to do some shopping. I could not believe my eyes when I looked west on Belmont. Half of the WR was demolished, mostly from Parkside. The screen, many of the seats and the balcony were still there. The afternoon was cool and overcast, a lttle misty. I got as close as I could to the building and just stood there mesmerized. I felt like I was standing in a different part of the universe. All those memories, fun times and this theater was a big part of it. I wish I would have taken some pictures. When I returned the following Saturday, the whole thing was in rubble.
I continued to live in the area until my mother passed away in 1990. I still live in Chicago and went back to BC a few years ago. The store my mother worked at is gone and that infamous strip mall is there. Yes, it is a high traffic area but for those of us who remember BC during its heyday, there is no comparison. Time moves on, things change and I guess that is the natural progression of things whether we like it or not.
This is just my opinion but when neighborhood theaters and department stores were replaced by multiplexes and malls, we lost a little bit of Americana in the process.
Excuse me for rambling a little bit but I came across this site about a week ago and I have been strolling down memory lane ever since.
Anyway, thanks for all of your comments, pictures and best wishes to you all.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on April 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

The Will Rogers, looking just as I remember it:

View link

dmk on March 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm

My mom used to take me there in the 70’s to see Disney movies. The things I remember most about the theater was the red carpeting, that the balcony was always closed, and how the popcorn containers had a spot on them where you would peel back the paper to see if there was a star underneath. If there was a star you won a prize.

wolfmanslick on March 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

now i don’t know this as a fact, but from being an employee there for its last few years i think that the will rogers' demise may have come from the fact that there was damage to the structure (the rumor was that it happened years before when they were showing a movie in sensurround, the movie version of the original battlestar galactica, I believe). i had been there personally a few times when the building inspector had come and talked about it but it was always able to squeak by. my guess is that eventually the building didn’t pass the inspection.

DavidZornig on February 22, 2009 at 4:21 pm

I agree, not unusual. Just disturbing when it comes to theaters.
I understand the no-compete thing. I just think that when it’s applied to old movies houses, it’s pretty much the kiss of death.
The amount of money to prep a place for live events only: code upgrades, insurance etc., versus just firing up the projector again to get folks in the door, would be vastly different. Mixed use would at least give a new owner a chance to utilize the theatre as is, until they could get all their ducks in a row. Continue to run films until they found their new niche.

Broan on February 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm

That’s not an unusual covenant. That’s why you’ll see abandoned wal-marts, grocery stores, etc when they build a new one in the area. Also why theatres often go live instead of showing films. In this case, it was Brickyard.