4110 W. Madison Street,
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Architects: Edward E. Eichenbaum
Firms: Levy & Klein
Styles: Spanish Baroque
The Marbro Theatre was designed by Edward Eichenbaum for the architectural 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. In 2020, the site is still an empty plot.
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