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 Theatre and Office Building. The Woods Theatre originally featured a mix of legitimate theatre, vaudeville, and films and was opened officially as the A.H. Woods Theatre, but was always known simply as Woods Theatre (although some earlier listings of the theatre spelled it Woods' Theatre).

The theatre was named for Albert H. Woods (1870-1951), a theatrical manager and showman, who also built the Eltinge Theatre (later Empire Theatre) on W. 42nd Street, New York City.

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 originally sat over 1,300 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 S. 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.

From the late-1920’s into the early-1930’s, the theatre was known as the RKO Woods Theatre, as that circuit operated a few Loop houses at that time in addition to the Woods Theatre, including the Palace Theatre, Grand Theatre, and their flagship in Chicago the State-Lake Theatre. 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 110 comments)

DavidZornig
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
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.

http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1918/03/10/page/65/article/news-and-comment-of-the-theater

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on May 22, 2017 at 9:06 am

East elevation of the Woods on the left.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mss2400/34415081506

Khnemu
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
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
DavidZornig on September 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

1959 photo in below Flickr link.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/98205045@N06/32529944451

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on September 20, 2017 at 4:49 pm

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ceebop/27809876491/in/dateposted-public/

rivest266
rivest266 on December 26, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Article from the Tribune

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 15, 2018 at 8:39 am

Photo added.
Snow shovels at the ready, four City of Chicago workers trudge north on Dearborn Street to clear another corner, Jan. 14, 1979. Photo credit Ernie Cox -Vintage Tribune.

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