RKO Grand Theatre

119 N. Clark Street,
Chicago, IL 60602

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1953 photo courtesy of Mike Tuggle.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Grand Opera House opened in 1880 on Clark Street between Randolph and Washington Streets, a total renovation of the 1872 Hamlin’s Theatre building by the firm of Adler & Sullivan. It originally could seat about 1,500.

By the 1910’s, it was taken over by George M. Cohan, and renamed Cohan’s Grand Opera House. After Cohan, it was operated by the Shubert Organization. The Grand was modernized in 1926 by architect A.N. Rebori.

In 1942, the Grand became a movie house. A year later, the theater became the RKO Grand Theatre, and operated until March 1958. It was razed a month later. The Chicago Civic Center (renamed the Richard J. Daley Center in 1976) was later constructed on the site.

Contributed by Brian Wolf, Ron Salters, Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

Broan on November 30, 2006 at 12:21 pm

The building was built in 1872, by the Hamlin family, originally snake-oil salesmen. The site had been a theater since 1860, called Beyan’s Hall, renamed Hooley’s Opera House in 1870 and then the Coliseum before falling in the Grat Chicago Fire. In 1873 the theater was added, originally a 30-table billiard hall. 1874 the billiard hall was enlarged and altered into an amusement hall with fountains, waterfalls, and refreshments; in 1878 it was converted into a theater proper, called Hamlin’s; following further renovations in 1880 by Adler and Sullivan, completely redecorating and partially rebuilding, it became the Grand Opera House; it was leased by the famed George M. Cohan in 1912; in 1926 following extensive modernizations by architect A.N. Rebori it was to become “The Four Cohans”, but a covenant in the lease said that whatever name it would tak had to include “Grand Opera House” and so for six months it was “The Four Cohans Grand Opera House” before being named back as Cohan’s Grand Opera House, later passing to the Shuberts; it became the RKO Grand in 1942, closed in March 1958 and was demolished the next month.

KenC on November 30, 2006 at 7:57 pm

To markdereng: If you live in the Chicago area, or ever vacation here, check out the Corner Bakery Cafe on Randolph just west of Dearborn street. On the east wall of the restaurant, you will find a rather small black and white photo of the RKO Grand. Looks like it was closed at the time; there is nothing on the marquee. There are many other photos of downtown movie theatres in the place, from the 1920s through the 1960s. The Grand played many westerns.On Saturday, Feb. 16, 1957, Robert Wagner was in the lobby to promote his film “THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES”. The co-feature was “THE DESPERADOS ARE IN TOWN”. This information comes from the Chicago Sun Times movie directory, Friday Feb. 15, 1957.

Broan on December 2, 2006 at 4:38 pm

Good catch, Warren. It was indeed the Grand Theatre in its first year as a movie house, 1942-1943.

Englewood on December 15, 2007 at 1:54 pm

On Wednesday, Christmas Day, 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” had it’s Chicago premiere at the RKO Grand Theatre.

kencmcintyre on October 25, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Cliches come to life, from the LA Times on November 24, 1909:


CHICAGO, Nov. 23 – Fire in a hotel adjacent to the Grand Operahouse tonight caused the audience to leave the theater. A panic in the theater was averted by theater employees stopping a policeman, who ran into the building shouting “Fire, fire, there’s a fire in the building”.

kencmcintyre on March 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm

There was a small photo of the marquee in Boxoffice, March 1947:

KenC on July 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for sharing that great pic, Bryan. Never got the chance to attend the Grand as a kid ; never saw the outside. (The photo I saw at the Corner Bakery Cafe doesn’t count…yours is much better). And now I know where “RED PLANET MARS” opened first run! lol…Thanks again.

justinterested on September 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm

When i was young during the WWII, i went to The Grand to see Guadalcanal Diary, i saw that film 13 times at 13 different theatres, the first being the Grand. I guess you could say i loved the movie.

KenC on February 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Thanks to all who shared photos of the RKO Grand. In one of the pics, the marquee states OPEN ALL NIGHT AND ALL DAY. Just like the Clark theatre- about 1 block away, and, around the corner on Randolph- the Woods theatre (MIDNIGHT SHOWS EVERY NIGHT TO 6 A.M.) Back when downtown Chicago was busy almost 24/7.

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