54 W. Randolph Street,
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The Woods (technically Wood’s Theater) was opened in 1917, 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 originally featured a mix of legitimate theatre, vaudeville, and films.
The theater was named for Col. J.H. Wood, a theatrical manager and showman who died in 1900, whose Wood’s Museum at Randolph and Clark Streets, was a popular attraction from the 1850s 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 was designed in Venetian Renaissance style, while the interior was a mix of Middle Eastern and Oriental styles.
The Woods sat over 1100 patrons, and though not as large or glamorous as many of its neighboring Loop theaters like the Oriental, United Artists or the Garrick, which sat just a few steps down Randolph Street, the Woods was an immediate success. It was designed by Marshall & Fox, the firm which also designed the legitimate Blackstone Theater in Chicago (now known as the Merle Reskin), as well as the Rialto Theater on State Street, a burlesque and vaudeville house which ended its days showing porn (razed in the 70s). 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 was part of the Essaness chain, and remained so almost for the rest of its years in operation.
By the 70s, the Loop was no longer drawing the the crowds of theater patrons and nightlife seekers it had been for decades, and like its neighbors, the Roosevelt and United Artists Theaters, the Woods 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 in the mid 80s, 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. 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 into a concert venue in the mold of the Chicago Theater was toyed with after it closed, nothing came to fruition and the Woods 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 Theater (which replaced its original home next to the Art Institute), along with the facades of the razed former Harris and Selwyn Theaters, further down Dearborn Street.
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