Southtown Theatre

610 W. 63rd Street,
Chicago, IL 60621

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Southtown Theatre exterior

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As the Depression set in, the Southtown Theatre would be the last massive picture palace to be built in Chicago. It was located on 63rd Street between Lowe and Parnell Avenues.

The theatre was designed by Rapp and Rapp and opened in December, 1931. There were 2,200 seats on the main floor and another 1,000 in the balcony. The most incredible feature was the Flamingo Pool and fountain in the Grand Lobby which had a waterfall and live fish!

The floor plan of the theatre reveals a twin box office set up, a grand lobby, a grand inner lobby (site of the pool), a children’s playing room, a women’s lounge, a men’s lounge, an exit lobby, grand stairs to the lobby leading to a grand foyer, a huge auditorium plus a gently raked balcony.

There were dioramas on the mezzanine foyer which depicted well known Chicago historical events like the Great Fire of 1871. The 4/20 Wurlitzer organ was not original to the Southtown Theatre. It was moved there from the Congress Theatre in 1931 and was used only for a few years and then mostly neglected. It was left to deteriorate and ended up a casualty to a leaking roof.

The Southtown Theatre finally closed in August 1958. It was demolished in 1991 after serving for many years as Carr’s department store and after that, a flea market. An interesting note—two plaster musician busts from the Southtown ended up in the restored Lake Theatre in Oak Park, IL.

Contributed by Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 125 comments)

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on April 13, 2011 at 1:20 am

(Southtown Economist, November 11, 1930)

BREAK GROUND FOR THEATER

1,500 PEOPLE SEE BALABAN BREAK LAND

Clubs Join in Ceremonies for $2,500,000 Movie

While a throng of more than 1,500 persons looked on, ground was broken yesterday noon at 63rd st. and Lowe Ave. for Southtown’s new $2,500,000 Balaban and Katz motion picture theater.
The beginning of construction for the new enterprise is regarded as an impetus for building operations throughout Southtown. Approximately 100 men will be employed for 240 days in the erection of the new theater. This group of workers will be made up, as far as possible, from residents of Southtown.
The event yesterday noon was marked by a community celebration in which representatives of more than a score of civic organizations throughout Southtown co-operated with the Englewood Business Men’s association, sponsor of the ceremonies for the ground breaking.

McDonnell Gives Talk

William McDonnell, publisher of the SOUTHTOWN ECONOMIST, gave the address of welcome at the celebration.
“The Balaban and Katz organization is to be congratulated for launching its building program at this time.” he said. “By actually starting construction work within four months after the site was acquired, the theatrical concern is furnishing a stimulus for a greater amount of building work in Southtown."
Barney Balaban, vice-president and general manager of the Balaban and Katz organization, explained to the gathering that his concern is doing everything possible to be of constructive worth to the Southtown district.
"Within the past 10 years our concern has spent approximately $10,000,000 in building operations in Chicago,” he said. “We believe that the Southtown area has been one of the greatest sources of patronage for our organization and we, at this time, are doing what we can to aid this territory by erecting this theater.”

Fish, Himmel Talk

Other speakers at the ceremonies were Leonard Fish, president of the Englewood Business Men’s association, Harry S. Himmel, president of the Englewood Commercial and Civic association, William D. Saltiel, city attorney representing Mayor Thompson, Alderman Walter W. Morris (18th), and Alderman James O. Coyle (17th).
Music for the ceremony was furnished by Frankie Masters, Balaban and Katz orchestra leader and his players, and the Tilden, Parker and Englewood high school bands.

Acme In Achievement

With a sum of approximately $2,500,000 involved in the huge undertaking, the new movie palace will hold the distinction of being the acme of the Balaban and Katz concern’s achievements in theater construction. The new building will have the reputation of occupying the largest theater site in the world. The ground, purchased last June for approximately $1,000,000, comprises approximately 154,000 square feet and is said to be four times larger than any other theater site.
The new theater, according to Balaban and Katz officials, was planned several months before the site was selected. It represents the ideal in theater construction of that concern, particularly in respect to sound, comfort, acoustics and stage accommodations.

To Seat 3,500

Special acoustic plastering, which has been proven effective, will be used for the walls and ceiling of the auditorium which will have a seating capacity of 3,500 persons.
The front of the new building will be featured with a grand entrance that will face 63rd st. and be designed in the effect of a great portal. It will be 70 feet wide and will extend as a wing away from the main structure to a distance of 60 feet.
Immediately adjacent to this and to the right will be a tower which is to be brilliantly lighted. The lobby or foyer of the structure will be one of the largest to be found anywhere in theater buildings. It will be known as the grand rotunda and will be 81 by 223 feet in size. This immense hall will be decorated with waterfalls, fountains, pools, garden features and retiring alcoves.
It will contain an indoor playground for children, which will be connected with an outdoor children’s playground 41 by 45 feet in size.
The new theater will contain every latest improvement of modern science for making perfect sound reception. To this end a special sounding board, said to be the latest development of the Western Electric company’s sound engineers, will be installed. No other theater in the country will boast of this newest feature.

justinterested
justinterested on September 20, 2011 at 2:01 am

Thank you all for the hard work finding information, and the pic of this beautiful old and lovely theatre. It was a joy to attend movies there. No one ever attended this theatre in the evening in jeans, all wore there Sunday best, and took their best girl there.

coyote
coyote on September 29, 2011 at 3:20 am

I remember this one well….I wonder what ever happened to the dioramas outside the balcony. Besides the ducks and the swans, I think there were two of them, the dioramas were my favorite thing at the Southtown.

justinterested
justinterested on November 6, 2011 at 11:34 pm

there may have been more than two dioramas, i do recall the 1871 Chicago Fire was one, also there was one of the Union Stockyards, there may even have been 4 of them.They were probably razed with the rest of the building, i was never in it after it became a store.

CharlesZirino
CharlesZirino on December 18, 2011 at 12:43 am

Well here I am Again!I will be 75 in March so the Southtown was only 6 years old when I was born Like a new baby.To Think that they could build a theater like that in those times right after the depression.Such craftsmen.The buildings downtown and in Englewood were also fabulous and at this Christmas time of the year there was nothing like it.Marshall Fields especially.Nothing tinny and cheap in those days and it made the holiday season fantastic for all the children.Money was tight but things always seemed to work Out. CharlesZirino

justinterested
justinterested on December 18, 2011 at 2:03 am

I myself am 78, they don’t build theatres and anything with such grandeur any more. Englewood itself was a special place, as well as the Southtown and other theatres in that area. The days are long fone, but the memories will be around forever, as long as we oldsters are living.

rivest266
rivest266 on June 28, 2012 at 1:16 am

This opened on Christmas day of 1931. Grand opening ad uploaded in the photo section.

smroz
smroz on July 1, 2012 at 12:43 am

My husband and I salvaged a few chunks of cast terra cotta from the demolition site. I think I was going to a co-worker’s shower out on the South side – must have been the same summer as the demo – and DH (bin diver that he is) drove by and scrounged whatever he could. My mom and dad used to go there; she always told me how beautiful it was. I hope this site stays alive – I found it through a search for the Peoples theater (47th & Ashland) where we went as kids in the ‘50s. My girlfriend and I would walk from 55th and Hermitage to the movies on Saturday – 25c for under twelve.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Color photo of the ceramic mosaic floor in the Grand Lobby: boxofficemagazine

imquirky
imquirky on November 28, 2013 at 11:18 pm

I was taken there as a child in the mid 1950’s to see Disney films. We lived at 59th and Lowe so we just walked there.

I recall the ponds inside with ducks swimming in them.

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