Oakland Square Theatre
3947 S. Drexel Boulevard,
3947 S. Drexel Boulevard,Chicago, IL 60653
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This description of the Oakland Square Theatre was featured in an article about the Ascher Bros. chain that appeared in the March 10, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World:
The theater must have gone back to screening movies as the Oakland Square after its days as the Affro-Arts (with a double f, circa 1968-69), as a February 28, 1971 story in the Tribune notes the arrest of two gang members for trying to shake down the theater manager. They allegedly wanted $75 a week not to stage demonstrations in front of the theater. The theater does not appear to have advertised in the Tribune at this time.
Uploaded a photo of the auditorium. Looks like this was one of Ascher’s oddball “cornerwise” theaters, with the screen off in a corner.
After closing as the Oakland Square, the theater was known for a while as the Afro-Arts.
Photo of it as the Afro-Arts in this article:
The opening description for this theater also needs to be amended. This was far more than a hangout for gang members. As the “El Rukn Fort” it was on the evening news frequently in the 1980’s. Documentary here:
The El Rukn leader attempted to make a terrorism deal with Libya and ended up locked in Supermax somewhere.
As negative as it all is, this is a large chapter in Chicago’s history.
I remember going to this elegant little theater when I was a child, back in the early ‘40s. We lived at 3702 Lake Park Avenue, and my parents would give my older brother (11 years old) money for our tickets, and he would run ahead to buy them before the prices changed. Oakland Square itself was a fascinating place to me then.
March 4, 1916 grand opening ad posted here.
Fort exterior, 1987:
Inside the auditorum while it was under gang control:
According to this blog post a spacious private residence has been built on the Oakland Square site.
There’s a photo in this sunday’s (1/29/06) Tribune Magazine of the theatre while the El Rukn gang controlled it. Pretty lovely building.
It apparently was rather innovative when the project was announced; it was noted to contain “no wall seats” (boxes, I presume), held extra-wide seats, and was apparently both the city’s largest all-movie theater at the time, and “the first theater over 1,000 seats without a stage”. Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1915.
Thes was the headquarters of the El Rukin Street gang in the 1980"s, they called it the fort. It was a fortress windows blocked up, gates on doors and escape tunnels.