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 Madison Street and 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 theaters in the area.

The opening of the 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 theater).

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 269 comments)

Griffinteam on February 26, 2013 at 5:41 am

My Grandfather Jean Anthony Greif was an Organist at Marbro. He also performed at other theatres. He was a composer, organist, inventor and business Man.

gabbygrillz on October 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm

wow ted most of that was before my time I came along in 64 but I grew up at off the street club and I just saw ralph last week! he is still same just older!

gabbygrillz on October 14, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Anita really made me smile! reading of ol Madison street!

amoswald on October 14, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Thanks – lots more stories where that one came from.

Scott on March 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I have uploaded a Marbro picture. Almost identical to the postcard view I uploaded previously. No doubt was taken at the same time using the same camera set up.

JoeLen on March 26, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I remember the Marbro and the nice shopping area near it pretty well. I have a question for anyone who lived near that area in the 1960s:

Back then there was a small pizzeria on the 4400 block of W. Madison St. named Sorrento’s (on the north & even side of the street). They had GREAT pizza. The gentleman who ran it (presumably his last name was “Sorrento”) also had a brother who ran another Sorrento’s, also on the north & even side of Madison St., east of Austin Blvd. (maybe the 5800 block?).

Does anyone know what happened to their pizza restaurants? When the neighborhood crime rose dramatically, they moved out, and I’m pretty sure the one on the 4400 block of Madison St. was gone by 1968 or 1969. I was curious if they relocated (as opposed to just going out of business), and if they are maybe in business in some form today.

RickB on March 27, 2016 at 6:15 pm

October 17, 1963 appears to have been the Marbro’s last day of operation; the features were “The Caretakers” and “Johnny Cool.”

BobbyS on March 29, 2016 at 10:26 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 on March 29, 2016 at 4:01 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 on June 6, 2016 at 7:57 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….

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