Congress Theater

2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Balaban & Katz Corp., Lubliner & Trinz, Publix Theaters Corporation

Firms: Fridstein & Company

Functions: Concerts, Live Performances, Special Events

Styles: Adam, Baroque, Italian Renaissance

Previous Names: Teatro Azteca, Vincente Fernandez Theatre, Cine Mexico

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Congress Theater

A mix of architectural styles (including Adam and Italian Baroque), this theater has an elaborate large domed auditorium and is covered with decorations in stone, terra-cotta, and plaster. It remains remarkably intact, down to the original light fixtures and marble wainscoting.

The 2,904-seat Congress Theater was built for the Lubliner & Trinz chain. On its opening day, September 5, 1926, there were parades, band concerts, and a bathing beauty contest. The first movie shown at the Congress Theater was “Rolling Home”, a Reginald Denny comedy, as well as five Orpheum vaudeville acts. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer 4 manual 20 ranks organ. In November 1929, the Congress Theater was taken over by the Balaban & Katz chain.

In the 1970’s, the Congress Theater was renamed Teatro Azteca, and screened Spanish-language films. Movies continued to be shown through the 1980’s when it was known as the Vincente Fernandez Theatre. By the 1990’s, the theater hosted live Latin acts, boxing matches, and an occasional film.

In 2000, the theater was threatened by demolition (for proposed condominiums), but the neighborhood rallied to the its defence. On July 10, 2002, the Congress Theater was declared a Chicago City Landmark.

This splendid survivor of the movie palace era functioned as one of Chicago’s grandest concert venues, and was closed for refurbishment in 2013. In January 2018 the Congress Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In early-2020 work on the renovation/restoration of the theatre was halted, but restarted in May 2021.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 82 comments)

Trolleyguy on February 27, 2020 at 11:30 am

An update on that last story is not very positive:

DavidZornig on September 1, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Another update that is not very positive…

DavidZornig on November 30, 2020 at 8:02 am

Update on legal issues.

DavidZornig on May 25, 2021 at 8:04 am

Yet another update.

HowardBHaas on June 29, 2021 at 4:14 pm

that seems to be an update on an outdoor fountain.

DavidZornig on June 29, 2021 at 4:26 pm

Ha, right your are. Here is the real update on the update.

RickB on December 13, 2021 at 6:15 pm

Venue was renamed the Vicente Fernandez Theatre in the late ‘80s. Chicagopedia group on Facebook has ads from 1988 (Stand and Deliver in Spanish) and '89 (Leonard-Duran III bout on closed-circuit) billing it as such.

DavidZornig on March 7, 2022 at 4:10 pm

Dare I say update, again…

DavidZornig on April 27, 2022 at 8:22 am

2017 Urban Remain piece with photos.–Q2KpKKp-nhJgTgrm9JWVQhF5zVL99ab0VSA

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 9, 2022 at 9:01 am

Was over that way the other day. Didn’t seem like there was any activity.

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