54 W. Randolph Street,
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The Woods Theatre was opened March 11, 1918, and constructed on the site of the Borden Block, an 1880 structure which was the first design by the firm of Adler & Sullivan. It was razed in 1916 to make way for the Woods Building. The Woods Theatre originally featured a mix of legitimate theatre, vaudeville, and films.
The theatre was named for Col. J.H. Wood, a theatrical manager and showman who died in 1900, whose Wood’s Museum at Randolph Street and Clark Street, was a popular attraction from the 1850’s until its destruction in the Great Fire in 1871. The museum, a collection of “curiousities”, was also a venue for live entertainment.
The exterior of the Woods Theatre was designed in Venetian Renaissance style, while the interior was a mix of Middle Eastern and Oriental styles.
The Woods Theatre sat over 1,100 patrons, and though not as large or glamorous as many of its neighboring Loop theatres like the Oriental Theatre, United Artists Theatre or the Garrick Theatre, which sat just a few steps down W. Randolph Street, the Woods Theatre was an immediate success. It was designed by Marshall & Fox, the firm which also designed the legitimate Blackstone Theatre in Chicago (now known as the Merle Reskin Theatre), as well as the Rialto Theatre on State Street, a burlesque and vaudeville house which ended its days showing porn (razed in the 1970’s). One of the firm’s best-known projects was the Drake Hotel, still one of Chicago’s finest hotels.
By the around 1960, the Woods Theatre was part of the Essaness chain, and remained so almost for the rest of its years in operation.
By the 1970’s, the Loop was no longer drawing the the crowds of theatre patrons and nightlife seekers it had been for decades, and like its neighbors, the Roosevelt Theatre and United Artists Theatre, the Woods Theatre began to decline, both in its appearance and in the films which it played on screen, showing mostly action and horror films.
When Cineplex Odeon bought the Woods Theatre in the mid-1980’s, it attempted to clean it up, and began showing first-run fare there for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, it was too late for the Woods Theatre. It closed in January of 1989, and the last films on the marquee were “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and “Hellraiser II”.
Although the idea of converting the Woods Theatre into a concert venue in the mold of the Chicago Theatre was toyed with after it closed, nothing came to fruition and the Woods Theatre was razed in 1990, with plans to build a large office tower on the site (which never happened). It wasn’t until almost a decade later that the property finally became developed after many failed prospects, and today is part of the site of the new Goodman Theatre (which replaced its original home next to the Art Institute), along with the facades of the razed former Harris Theatre and Selwyn Theatre, further down Dearborn Street.
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