Woods Theatre

54 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Woods Theater

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The Woods' Theatre was opened March 10, 1918, and was 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 Woods' Museum at W. Randolph Street and N. 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 N. 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 S. Dearborn Street.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 108 comments)

DavidZornig on October 3, 2015 at 7:37 pm

6/09/78- 7/20/78 photo added, photo credit Jesse Williams.

DavidZornig on October 15, 2015 at 5:52 am

Added an opening photo to the Photos Section. Although the photo is dated 1917, all sources including Variety linked below say “Friendly Enemies” opened the Woods Theatre March 11, 1918. Photo image credit Geroge Krejci.com

So the opening date should be changed as well as the spelling of “Theater” to “Theatre” in the Overview and page top. The building may have been constructed in 1917 but did not open until 1918.


DavidZornig on October 15, 2015 at 5:55 am

Just found a few other book sources that confirm March 11, 1918 was the opening date of the Woods Theatre.

DavidZornig on October 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Thank you CT Admin’s for updating the Woods page. Here is further confirmation that 1918 is the correct year for the Woods opening.


rivest266 on November 14, 2016 at 4:32 pm

Found on Newspapers.com

March 10th, 1918 grand opening ad in the photo section. 2 screens on May 16th, 1986.

DavidZornig on May 22, 2017 at 9:06 am

East elevation of the Woods on the left.


Khnemu on July 13, 2017 at 5:50 am

This theater is listed as the RKO Woods in Film Daily Yearbooks from 1929-1931, as well as stories in Variety and Motion Picture News during those years.

DavidZornig on July 15, 2017 at 6:01 pm

“Citizen Kane” Opening 1941 photo added courtesy of Chuck Kuenneth, who managed the Woods in the `70’s. Also an October 1976 photo added credit Allan Zirlin.

DavidZornig on September 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

1959 photo in below Flickr link.


DavidZornig on September 20, 2017 at 4:49 pm

02/06/76-02/19/76 photo in Flickr link below.


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