De Luxe Theatre

1141 W. Wilson Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60640

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EdBrand on July 2, 2013 at 8:57 am

For more, brighter pictures of the DeLuxe theatre from 1954 as it looked until closing go to pages 132 and 133:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm

The 1938 Boxoffice article Tinseltoes linked to back on August 27 says that the architect for the streamline modern remodeling of the De Luxe Theatre was Mark D. Kalischer.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 7, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks for posting these. I’ve never seen good photos of the Deluxe before. It looks like the original design was really a dog.

KenC on August 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm

WOW, that 1938 pic sure is nice- and brings back memories! Only a few changes over 2-3 decades. When I started going to the De Luxe in 57-58 through the 60s,the poster cases were slightly different. Each one had 3 posters- at the top, a 28" by 22" poster, and from the middle of the case to the bottom, two- 14" by 36" posters(inserts). Also, at the time, the paint around the DE LUXE sign facing Wison Ave. (light green in color, as I recall),was peeling and faded. Still, pretty impressive for a non Balaban & Katz theatre. Thanks for sharing, Tinsel.

EdBrand on November 30, 2011 at 10:16 am

A correction to earlier questions; The blizzard was actually the winter of 1966- my mother has pictures of magnolia street and the hydrants were opened in several locations around Uptown during the summers- neighborhood kids played in the spraying fountain of water. There is a picture of a “snippet” of the Deluxe online from the vantage point of the hotel across the street. Check the google map street level vantage point and you will notice the corner of the building on Clifton still has the same masonry stones as the hotel once did.

EdBrand on November 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

My nuclear family, father, mother, two older brothers and 3 older sisters moved from Alabama to join other aunts and uncles in the Uptown area in the early 60s until late 67. My 2 older brothers married sisters from West VA. My sister, just older than I were very young and attended the De Luxe regularly, usually at midweek and the Uptown on weekends. I recall seeing many horror movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon and alien movies. We lived around the corner at Montrose and Magnolia. I cannot add much more than what has been added except to say that the neighborhood was in decay the late 60s around the De Luxe with alcoholics on the Racine sidewalk drinking from paper bags and regular fights on Sunnyside and Racne involving “hillbillies” as we were referred. My father was usually one of those who were being arrested at one of the nearby bars. Around the back of the theatre, on Sunnyside, was two small stores- one was Pat’s but I can’t remember the other name. West of the De Luxe on Wilson and Magnolia was the A&P grocery where all the locals bought groceries. I think I remember buses on Montrose(along the side of Graceland cemetary)as being electric with cables.I now live in Orlando, Florida and have recently returned twice in 2008 and again 3 weeks ago. The neighborhood is really looking up with a large Target on Broadway and Sunnyside and the before-mentioned Starbuck’s On Wilson and Magnolia. The streets are filled with young students as well. The Mexican restaraunt next to the Uptown Theatre also serves good food. I really would like to see the Uptown refurbished to add to these changes. Sorry to stray from the De Luxe discussion so much. Does anyone remember the fire department opening the hydrants on Racine r the blizzard of 67?

KenC on October 10, 2010 at 8:34 pm

At the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY in Elmhurst,IL., you can see 5 really nice pics of the DeLuxe- circa 1954. A small but nice pic of the marquee: JOHN PAYNE in PASSAGE WEST & ANN SHERIDAN in(the 4th line of the marquee is mostly covered by a street lamp). Three nice shots of the lobby- one showing the concession stand, the entrance to the auditorium, the entrance to the mens washroom(above it a large banner for the film GARDEN OF EVIL), and , to the far left, what looks like a staircase leading to the balcony. Behind the candy counter is another poster: THE LAST OUTPOST. Whoever took the picture was facing southwest. Another shot of the lobby shows the exit doors-6 total- and the ticket takers stand. Above the exit doors, two posters are featured, in between a sign stating SUNDAY MONDAY TUESDAY. Above that, a square clock. Looks like the picture was taken at 4:30. The camera was facing north. One more shot of the lobby features murals and another poster case (THE UNTAMED BREED is on display). This is the east wall ; beyond it the CTA L tracks and Broadway). The last shot is of the foyer lounge, with what looks like love seats. Pretty much the way I remember the place, although when I attended, a bit less decorative. But still, VERY impressive for a neighborhood theatre.

SPearce on January 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I appreciate your effort to bring attention back to discussing the theater itself. I meant no harm, and apologize. Some of your questions were addressed in Feb. 2008.

I do remember the four lines on the side of the marquee as I would read them as I walked east on Wilson to go to work. I recall the many glass posters and the ticket taker about 10' inside. That made me think that the front 10 feet might have been open to the street earlier, and that maybe there was extra insulation back along the walls. I always noted how silent it was inside from street noise until one came close to exiting the front doors. I thought you had “north” and “south” reversed. I would have walked north into the theater, the concession stand, as I recall, was on the left, but I may be wrong about that. I know one zigged to the left and the corridor became more narrow. I recall the chandeliers. It was surprisingly elegant for the street in the early ‘60s.

I recall seeing a number of competitive westerns there in the early ‘60s which surprised me. But that was covered in discussion above. I also remember the two levels of “L” tracks simply because when I worked downtown after high school and came home on the “L,” Wilson was my stop. This was my commercial neighborhood and I was just sharing for that time period. I was always hoping people might remember more about it from earlier decades, but we do the best we can. The persons who worked in the DeLuxe were also rather nice; it was not a rowdy theater either when I attended.

It was just triggering memories; and I will try to restrain on these posts in the future.

KenC on January 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Here is a little memory test for SPearce, David, and anyone else who wishes to play.My memories of the DeLuxe: the theatre had a very boxy marquee-facing east and west was four lines showing the titles of the triple feature;facing north was the name DE LUXE in light yellow letters against a light green background.People riding the L train south at Wilson could easily see what was playing.Above the 4 line marquee, again facing east and west, was the name DELUXE in orange or green neon(can’t quite remember the color). The boxoffice faced north(overlooking Wilson Ave.),square and rather small, but somewhat larger than the Mode’s.Inside the boxoffice,taped to the window, was a small white paper titled: USE THE SUN-TIMES CHICAGO’S MOST COMPLETE MOVIE DIRECTORY. Under that heading were lines and boxes, with the movie titles, running time, and showtimes for each film. The boxoffice was not connected to the front doors;perhaps 5 to 8 feet separated the two. On both sides of the boxoffice- facing north -were two rather large display cases -under glass- showing the films playing that day. On top was a square 28 by 22 poster;under that and slightly to the sides were two “inserts” (14 by 36 posters).Just beyond the boxoffice, and before entering one of the doors, if you looked to your left or right(east or west)you would see another rather large display case -again under glass-with posters of films coming in a few days FRI-SAT on one side, SUN-MON in the other display case, for example. Same size posters, too. So -outside the theatre- a total of 12 posters could be viewed. After entering, you had to walk perhaps 10 feet to the ticket taker(who faced north). Just beyond the ticket taker, and to the right, was the concession stand(facing east). On either side of the concession were 2 pretty large cases;each one held one poster. Underneath the poster was either COMING SOON or COMING. The wall across from the stand -facing west-had two more cases. So , there were usually a grand total of 4 posters displayed in the lobby. After passing the concession stand(walking south)you had to make a slight right turn, then turn south again to reach the auditorium(no doors, as I recall) then make a sharp left to get to the seats.In spite of this design,I don’t recall being disturbed by noises or light from the lobby. Patrons watching movies at the DeLuxe faced east(toward the L tracks and Broadway).One last comment on the 4 line marquee:usually on the top line was a stars name-BORIS KARLOFF ON (then line 2,the first title)-VOODOO ISLAND (on line 3 another feature)THE BROKEN STAR(then the bottom line )G.I. BLUES. Westerns and Elvis movies were very popular at the DeLuxe! These are my memories of the theatre, most of which I stand by. Any of this ring a bell?

DavidZornig on January 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I vaguely remember this theatre, though I was very young. It was more visible from the lower CTA track to the West, than from the main ones up top. The lower track was used for express trains to go around others that were standing at Wilson. I also remember the many items that patrons of the Hotel for Men would routinely stack on their window sills facing the “L”.
There was a small, long time snack shop in between the two sets of tracks at street level. Just East of the De Luxe.
Even further East was a steak house of sorts at Broadway & Wilson. The CTA website has several photos of the Wilson Ave. station over the years. But none that look West towards the De LUxe.
Maybe Truman College has pictures of the De Luxe and/or it’s marquee in their archives.

SPearce on January 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Thank you Lts and KenC. A friend asked me to visit their relative with them one time at that hotel. It was utilitarian clean inside (I guess it had to be) but my recollection is that there was an open entrance from the hotel lobby into “The Wooden Nickel.” The renters could go to the bar without walking outside, and most were alcoholics on state aid, was my impression, and/or had been in state hospitals. The equivalent of federal Medicaid, I guess. I would hope that such set-ups are not in play anymore. Renters tended to just pass away there, so it was not uncommon to see police and ambulances parked in front of the hotel and under the L tracks.

The restaurant in the McJunkin Bldg. at Broadway and Wilson was packed always, something of a glorified coffee shop until it closed on its own about 1960. I can’t remember its name, but it kept the intersection lively and I think many customers also came in before and after going to the neighborhood cinemas.

I was glad to hear I may have been too hard on the Uptown neighborhood in my coments though I drove all over the area twice last April as that was my neighborhood from 1959 to about 1966-67. I am glad to see the Starbucks and other establishments that are shoring it up and some buildings still active. Too bad about the independent restaurants not holding on. Some of it is nostalgia on my part; everyone I knew is gone, but we all age – it has to be this way. I wish younger persons would blog on this site while they remember details.

I had heard there was race conflict for a decade or two afterward in the Uptown area. It seems there are plenty of persons now keeping a watchful eye on “community” and “neighborhood” and trying to save whatever “marble” and “terra cotta” is there or to be unearthed.

The 1950s were so quiet – no one did much about the deterioration or downturns they witnessed, except move out of the neighborhood. Maybe that has changed as people understand they must speak up to protect their interests even as to private commercial venues. Many people moved to Florida and also this was where the seasonal workers from West VA congregated then returned to their homestate regularly; I would think there are memories amongst residents in those parts
to this neighborhood and the Deluxe, but how to recruit them for this website, I don’t know.

KenC on January 12, 2009 at 9:33 pm

If you ride the CTA Red Line-heading south from Lawrence Ave.-you can see VERY faded lettering on the side of a wall: WILSON CLUB HOTEL FOR MEN-as your train is pulling into the L station. That’s probably the welfare hotel LTS mentions above. It’s been there for decades; I remember seeing it in the late 50s-early 60s while riding the CTA. At the time, next to the FOR MEN, was DAILY RATES 75c to $1.00. The hotel is at 1120(1124?) Wilson, just west of the L tracks. In the 1960s, a little further west , was a notorious bar called The Wooden Nickel (1140 W. Wilson?)which would place it directly across from the DeLuxe. From what I’ve heard over the years, the place was rowdy…fights, police called on a regular basis, etc. I think some of the bar patrons made it to the triple features at the DeLuxe.Finally, back in the 1980s, a guy told me his brother worked at the firehouse on Wilson and Racine. Supposedly a man came staggering out of the DeLuxe theatre in the late 60s with a knife in his chest- and collapsed on the sidewalk near the boxoffice .Yes, the area was wild and crazy at times-and is considerably better today.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

The welfare hotel on Wilson is still there, if it is the building I am thinking of. Based on what I know of apartment hotels I’m guessing it must be crazy in there. If Uptown continues on the upswing I have to imagine the welfare hotel’s days are numbered.

Uptown still has shady elements to be sure. But it is pretty close to night and day compared with twenty years ago. There were no trendy bars and twenty-something recent college grads walking around back then.

SPearce on May 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm

I visited the neighborhood on April 30th. Though I was impressed with much of the revitalization of the north side areas I visited, I cannot say that was so for the Uptown area. The Harry Truman College was impressive, but Broadway and its shops on the east side of the street, the old theater area, and the non-blended strip malls north of the Uptown up to Devon were disappointing. It was nice to see some churches saved. The McJunkin Bldg. is still impressive though. I hope the Uptown Station is preserved. It seemed odd – as if aldermen in this ward either sold out too soon, or didn’t negotiate for the best interests of the ambience of the neighborhood, as it appeared to be negotiated for on W. Diversey and around that area. Just my observation. I hope the Riviera and Uptown receive their due; they could really anchor that intersection with just some life added to them.

SPearce on February 7, 2008 at 11:07 pm

KenC- You are correct. I became confused and didn’t check the map. Since I resided west of Ashland, I walked east from Paulina where I lived, along Wilson, to Clark, but I am having trouble vizualizing Wilson from Clark to the Deluxe and Broadway.

Your post is helping me remember. I defer to you and the other posters above as to the condition of the seats. I remember now that toward the end of my viewing days there, I and a friend would have to check the seats carefully to see if there were two adjacent that were not slashed, ripped or torn.

I do recall something about a “pink” clock (which I think was over the corridor toward the back, but not all the way back), and also that there was a lot of gold leaf. The foyer in front was wide and more narrow toward the back.

I remember that the features changed a few times during the week, and I recall the midweek films changed on Thurs. If I noted a film showing in the middle of the week that I wanted to see, I had to plan to see it by Thursday, as the bill would always change then. That’s why I saw so many films there, I guess; that’s when the best films were shown, I thought. At first, I wondered why management did not extend those films through the weekend. I understand now. They were drawing their best audience on Wed and Thurs from the neighborhood, and let the weekend take care of itself. We always thought that it seemed to compete with the Uptown and maybe the Riviera that way, too; by showing better films in the middle of the week only.

There was a welfare apt. hotel across from the Deluxe which went downhill fast and took the neighborhood with it; also another around the corner on Racine. There was a small diner adjacent on the west side of the Backstage from around 1964-6 with a door inside that opened into the burlesque theater. I think the manager used to sit behind the front counter of the diner at the cash register, read the newspaper all day, and smoke a cigar; happening by, one would see him through the window; he put me in mind of Jack Ruby. That intersection changed fast. By 1966 I was gone, and rarely happened through there.

KenC on February 7, 2008 at 7:52 pm

SPearce- In a few of your sentences, I think you mean Broadway rather than Clark St. The DeLuxe was west of Broadway, and just a few steps west of the CTA L tracks. The theatre was east of Racine Ave.(1200 West) and a few blocks east of Clark St. (about 1500 West at that point). In the late 50s through the mid 60s, I, too, went to the DeLuxe a number of times. You’re right, the lobby was VERY nice… I remember the marble and gold leaf; very bright and clean. My memories of the auditorium are quite different: rather shabby looking with just OK to so-so seats. Some of the patrons had seen better days. I remember Groucho Marx , on his TV show “YOU BET YOUR LIFE”, talking with a contestant from Chicago. Wilson Ave. was mentioned, and Groucho ended the dialogue by saying…I’m paraphrasing…“You meet a lot of strange people on Wilson Ave.” I saw more than a few heated arguments , and even one ground and pound (MMA style) fight near the boxoffice. Yes, the neighborhood could be wild. Back inside the lobby: If memory serves, above the exit doors-facing north- was a square clock with a pink background.Also, in that same general location, was a sign with a yellow background stating DOORS OPEN 1:30 DAILY in black letters. The DeLuxe had a 4 change a week policy: Sun. and Mon.,Tuesday (ADULTS ONLY),Wed. and Thurs., and Fri. and Sat. Mostly triple features(just like the Mode theatre). The DeLuxe did not show trailers-I don’t even recall intermissions- a feature ended, the next one started immediately. And the burlesque theatre you mentioned- THE BACKSTAGE. It was east of Sheridan Rd.and, indeed, on the south side of the street.

SPearce on February 4, 2008 at 5:28 pm

In the late ‘50s and early '60s, the DeLuxe…was. In 1962 when I was in high school, I worked at F.W. Woolworth, which was located around the corner on N. Clark St. One could still enjoy a surprisingly nice theater experience at the DeLuxe then. It was well decorated in a way that kept it still well suited in the Uptown area of theaters. Not as large as some, it was, once inside the doors, remarkably first rate then; I saw many films there.

I would walk east about half a mile on W. Wilson to Clark St. to my job. Because of the oncoming blight on W. Wilson, however, plus the L station being a reluctant host to many drinkers hanging about, the street began to deteriorate before the theater. Also, up to about 1960 there was a first rate diner, with highly lit chandeliers that really lit the southwest corner of Clark St. and Wilson (can’t recall the name). It was constantly packed; then the proprietors, shortly after having renovated it, closed it and that was the end of the diner, and the corner.

Anyway, W. Wilson deteriorated then for a block or two west of Clark St. and even east of Clark where a burlesque theater was going strong in the mid-60s, a half block east on the south side of the street. (I don’t know the name of that theater, or what it was in the past, if anything.)

Some of the apt. hotels in the area, especially south of Wilson, began to rent to drinkers who essentially lived on state support, and the environment they created permeated W. Wilson. Nothwithstanding, the area near the Uptown Theater a block or two north still drew a neighborhood movie crowd.

I stopped attending films at the De Luxe by probably 1963-64; the neighborhood had deteriorated rapidly by 1965. It is true about transient workers settling in the immediate neighborhood of the De Luxe from Appalachia, and those who stayed, sometimes contributed to the drinking environment. I once took a taxi driven by a former governor of WVA, who worked from that L Station, who had left his career due to alcoholism and migrated to this area of Chicago. He had been identified to some in the area (I began the great adventure of life, listening to the stories of people while clerking at F. W. Woolworth). Then, a WVA traveler took his taxi one day, thought he had rediscovered him, reported it all to the newspaper, and the taxi driver/governor quit driving, and shortly afterward died. A little De Luxe atmosphere.

Broan on June 11, 2006 at 5:32 am

The De Luxe was designed by the firm of Huehl & Schmidt, who were also responsible for Chicago’s Medinah Temple (now Bloomingdale’s Home Store). Former THSA president Joe DuciBella has remarked, “The De Luxe… was not”. I’d imagine it only became a misnomer when faced with such great competition, though.

TeddyG on May 7, 2004 at 2:13 pm

My father owned the theatre from the 30’s thru the 60’s when he closed it. When the projectionist union demanded two men in the booth for theatres over 1000 seats, he removed 200 seats. It was remodeled in early 40’s with a modern lobby and canope.Re:SPENCER above;the reason the lights never went up was there was always a double feature playing.Also,except on weekends the show didn’t start until 5:30 PM,and the theatre was policed to keep the drunks out.
Another reason for its demise was that the Uptown & Riveiera were owned by Balaban & Katz,who along with the movie distributors were keeping the independants from competing with first run movies.Years later they were subsequently cited as anti-trust,and sued by the independants.

davester47 on October 7, 2003 at 11:08 pm

Actually, the Deluxe was still showing second run films in the 1960’s when i used to frequent the Uptown & Riviera up the street, but the Deluxe had a bad reputation by then, and was off-limits to me, for safety’s sake. It WAS demolished in 1972, and was replaced by Truman College, one of the city Colleges of Chicago.

HughSpencer on June 17, 2002 at 2:35 pm

The latter information is not correct. The DeLuxe was still open in the early 1960s, though it had fallen on hard times,as had the neighborhood – – Uptown was filled with recent immigrants from the South. It was showing three third-run features for 50 cents. The lights never went up between features, for good reason; many of the seats were missing and when you arrived, you had to feel to make sure there was a cushion. One could also see day-long patrons passing the bottle back and forth. When the DeLuxe met its end, the space became part of Truman College.