Senate Theatre

3128 W. Madison Street,
Chicago, IL 60612

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Senate Theater marque 1972

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The 3,097-seat Senate Theatre was originally opened on February 12, 1921 in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. The theatre was located on Madison Street near Albany Avenue, close to Garfield Park itself.

It was built for the Lubliner & Trinz circuit but its management was taken over five years later by Balaban & Katz.

In its first decade or so of operation, it featured both live stage shows and movies as well as a 3/17 Kimball organ, but by WWII, had switched to movies only.

Larger and more luxurious theatres like the Paradise Theatre and Marbro Theatre nearby drew audiences away from the Senate Theatre, and by the 1950’s, it was already falling into decline.

During its last years, it screened Spanish-language films. It finally was closed in 1969, and torn down eight years later.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

tudnut on September 15, 2007 at 11:18 pm

My Aunt Geri, a Jewish lady (the rest of the family was Catholic…don’t ask me!) used to tell us of growing up nearby and attending the Senate in the days when it was giving out dishes and what-have-you, and having occasional Bingo meetings before and after shows.

I have to take exception to Bryan’s comments, though. Saying that the Senate lost out against the Marbro and the Paradise can’t possibly be true.

For one thing, both of those theaters closed before the Senate did. (And were sadly demolished much sooner, for that matter.)

For another, we aren’t talking about some small David vs. the big Goliaths here: the Senate was HUGE (though admittedly not the biggest theater around).

Every neighborhood back then had its theaters. And every large community was its own neighborhood. People walked to the shows, so whichever were closest were the neighborhood shows.

At Madison and Crawford (admittedly, at that time, a monstrous mercantile area) there were the Marbro and the Paradise (as well as a few smaller shows).

But the Senate was a whole mile farther east, at Madison and Kedzie. It isn’t likely that the people at that end of Garfield Park were going to walk all the way west to go to those theaters. They went to the Senate (depending on what was playing, of course! We theater lovers tend to think only in terms of visiting theaters; real people were going to see the shows!).

And a mile farther east (at Madison and Western) were the 4-Star and the Imperial, both also good sized theaters.

Given that all three locations were thriving communities, I hardly see that the Marbro and Paradise were driving people away from the Senate (no more than the 4-Star and Imperial were).

If anything contributed to the demise of the Senate (or, for that matter, to a lot of other old theaters listed on here), I’d say it was the decline of the community (along with, of course, the usual reasons of television and new theater strategies supplanting the old monster theaters). Without going into the history (or trying in any way to offend any people that live there), those areas have been virtual ghost towns for years now…and only recently have been showing signs of life again (no theaters yet, though…and of course, we’ll never see the likes of the Paradise or the Senate again!).

After all, the Senate certainly outlived both of the palaces at Crawford, and I’m pretty sure outlived those at Western, as well.

It’s kind of silly to say that a theater died because of the influence of another theater a mile away that was torn down five years before.

Love theaters or not, I think the Senate made do a lot better than either the Marbro or Paradise did. Heck, the Alex, one of the small theaters at Madison and Crawford, outlived all of them.

kencmcintyre on January 6, 2009 at 6:55 pm

This is from Boxoffice magazine in April 1962:

The Senate Theater in Chicago made front page headlines when a lion refused to carry out his feature role in a stage show which had the house filled to capacity. The lion, named Hank, had been trained to do a disappearing act in a magician program. To get the lion, Charles Gomez, owner of the Senate, had to buy him from the Animal Kingdom pet shop. When he steadfastly refused to perform, Gomez decided to raffle him off. He was won by a couple who didn’t know how to handle him and Hank was returned to the pet shop-but no refund to Gomez.

KenC on June 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

In “IMAGES of AMERICA- CHICAGO’S JEWISH WEST SIDE” by Irving Cutler, there is a shot of the Senate Theatre on page 89. It is closed, with the marquee damaged. According to the text, it was ruined after the riots of 1968. Closed March 1973.

BobbyS on January 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I bought the book and went to a lecture by Irving Cutler. Does anyone remember “Little Joe’s” across the street from the theater? They had a wonderful N.Y. cheesecake. I really believed the Marbro would outlive them all, even the Alex. It was the most beautiful and in a better central area than any of the others.

SBGreig on June 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm

You’re thinking of “Little Jack’s”. Zoom down the Street View until you see Edna’s on the left. That’s where it was. Somewhere in CTA’s photo archives is/was a picture of a westbound Madison streetcar with the restaurant (and the Senate) plainly visible.

Yes, they were legendary for their ricotta-and-raisins cheesecake (the recipe can be found on the ‘Net with some effort) and lasted until 1962, another casualty of the changing neighborhood.

This may bring back a few memories of Little Jack’s:

BobbyS on June 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Thanks SBGreig for the info. It is very nice to remember such wonderful memories where our family would visit together especially after a movie. I really did think the Marbro would outlive the Senate. I couldn’t believe when the Marbro was closed for good and the Senate was still operating!

rivest266 on June 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm

February 12th, 1921 grand opening ad with close-ups has been uploaded here.

BobbyS on June 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Thanks rivest266 for the photos plus all the rest you have presented. Enjoyed them all. I still say it was hard to understand the MARBRO closing and the demolition following and the Senate still showing pictures. Madison & Crawford area wasn’t that bad yet.

RickB on November 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

From February 20, 1977, a brief article on the Senate’s demolition, treating it as an example of the many theaters torn down in the city’s neighborhoods. There’s a picture, but it’s from microfilm and so not very good. The movie listings on the page are better.

BobbyS on November 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Thanks for posting Rick. Great to read all the movie ads of the day.

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