Marbro Theatre

4110 W. Madison Street,
Chicago, IL 60624

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Marbro Theatre Exterior 1929

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Marbro Theatre was designed by Edward Eichenbaum for the firm of Levy & Klein, whose other notable Chicago theatres included the Granada Theatre and the Diversey Theatre (better known by its later name, the Century Theatre), for the Marks Brothers chain (hence the theatre’s name).

Located on W. Madison Street and S. Karlov Avenue, not far from the spectacular Paradise Theatre, which would open a year later. The almost-4,000 seat Marbro Theatre was at the time one of the biggest theatres in Chicago, and not only drew its audience from Garfield Park, but the whole West Side of the city, as well as the bordering suburbs, all but stifling the competition.

Built in the Spanish Baroque style, including a flamboyant terra-cotta facade, the Marbro Theatre wowed first-time visitors with its massive stage and proscenium arch, its soaring lobby (with a two-story marble staircase and small tree-sized European crystal chandelier) and Mighty Wurlitzer 5 manual 21 rank organ.

The trade paper, Variety, wrote at the time that “…its beauty is loud, but beauty nonetheless”.

Opening day May 28, 1927 featured a parade with Garfield Park’s most prominent businessmen, the Gloria Swanson film, “The Loves of Sunya”, and performances by bandleader Benny Meroff and organist Albert Brown. Though critics warned the Marks Brothers that they’d have trouble filling the 4,000 seat theater, they were silenced when the Marbro Theatre began to draw patrons away from the nearby and longer established 3,000 seat Senate Theatre and smaller theatres in the area.

The opening of the 3,612-seat Paradise Theatre around the block renewed speculation that the Marbro Theatre would falter, but the Marbro Theatre didn’t miss a beat, and in fact, once sound films became standard by the late-1920’s, it became the favored of the two, since the Paradise Theatre was notorious for its horrible accoustics almost from the day it opened (a tragic flaw that ultimately doomed the palatial theatre).

On November 1, 1929, Marks Brothers sold the Marbro Theatre to Balaban & Katz (along with the Granada Theatre in Rogers Park that same day). The theatre continued the format of live stage shows and films through the 1940’s.

The Marbo Theatre’s huge size worked against it eventually, and by the 1950’s, with the popularity of television, Balaban & Katz struggled to keep it even partly filled. It was closed October 17, 1963 with Robert Stack in “The Caretakers” and Henry Silva in “Johnny Cool”.

Sadly, this magnificent giant was razed in 1964.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 274 comments)

BobbyS
BobbyS on March 29, 2016 at 8:26 am

Anybody have a picture of the last writing on the marquee which said “THEATER CLOSED, PLEASE VISIT THE B&K STATE”? Wasn’t lit up of course, but sure looked sad on that giant marquee.

OeOeO
OeOeO on March 29, 2016 at 2:01 pm

February 26 1964. The Marbro had a closed circuit tv event of the Sonny Liston Cassius Clay fight. The Tribune article claims 5000 in attendance.

lexington
lexington on June 6, 2016 at 5:57 pm

As a youngster in the 50’s Mom would take us to the Marbro on a Saturday afternoon…That was a real treat for us….

TerryBarbato
TerryBarbato on November 21, 2016 at 11:04 am

My mother was a big bands singer back in the 30’s, and sang at the Marbro. Her maiden name was Mamie Menolascino. She started singing at the age of 14, appeared on television and the radio. After marriage to my dad, her name was Mae Tellone. She used to go to Jack’s for cheesecake after her performance, along with her family that came to see her. Does anyone recognize this name? Perhaps the band leaders out there? Thanks!

BobbyS
BobbyS on November 25, 2016 at 10:47 am

Was there any fanfare for the last day of operation? I can’t remember. I know there were rumors in the neighborhood but nothing official.

JAYJay
JAYJay on November 25, 2016 at 11:42 am

Here are true movie Palaces…. Went many times in the 1950s, also the Paradise theater was another favorite.

SBGreig
SBGreig on February 24, 2017 at 6:11 pm

@ TerryBarbarato: “Little Jack’s” was a locally-famous restaurant on Madison just east of Kedzie, and as you noted, they were famous for their ricotta-and-raisins cheesecake. The restaurant closed around 1962, but the cheesecake recipe (or one close to it) can be found on the internet with some searching.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on March 29, 2017 at 10:43 am

1940’s photo added courtesy of Preservation Chicago.

markhn
markhn on July 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm

It was reported in the July 29, 1927 issue of Motion Picture News magazine that the Marbro did well with its first Vitaphone presentation – a musical short featuring Benny Meroff and his band and the feature “Colleen”

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on October 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

1932 photo & copy added courtesy of Bill White. Coincides with the first photo in the Marbro’s Photo Section. Both films were released in March & April of 1932.

Armed guards loading a case of money(?) onto an International A-3 armor plated truck owned by the Brinks Express Company.

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