1710 Sherman Avenue,
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Architects: John Edmund Oldaker Pridmore
The Varsity Theater opened December 24, 1926 with George J. Lewis in “The Collegians” and Jack Holt in “Man of the Forest”. With its 2,500-seats, it was one of the largest suburban Chicago movie palaces ever built and was also one of the most spectacular. It was designed as a French royal chateau of the era of Francois I, and no expense was spared on luxury by its original owner, Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood for many years. From marble imported from Italy to antique tapestries, the Varsity Theater rivalled many of neighboring Chicago’s finest theaters. It was equipped with a Geneva-Smith Unit Organ, with an ‘Atmospheric’ style console which was opened by organist Leo Terry.
The theater was absorbed into the ever-expanding Balaban & Katz chain’s empire in the early-1930’s, and remained a popular fixture of downtown Evanston until competition from multiplexes caused its demise in the 1980’s. It closed on August 16, 1984 with Jamie Lee Curtis in “Grandview U.S.A.”. The interior at orchestra level was gutted to be converted into mixed-used retail use. Original decorative features, proscenium and ceiling still remain, but are hidden from view. By May 2020 the retail units at orchestra level had departed from the building and it sits vacant.
In January 2023 plans were proposed to convert the Varsity Theatre into a 35-unit apartment building with the ground floor in retail use. The interior was gutted in May 2023.
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