Nortown Theater

6320 N. Western Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60659

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culcune on August 15, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Update to my long-winded post above where I went down memory lane. Was just in Chicago the other week with my 17 year old daughter and 9 year old son. My aunt lives very close to where the Nortown was (she’s lived there since 1991) on West Granville just west of California. We were leaving her condo to take a run to downtown and my kids were hungry. “What do you want?” I asked. My daughter looked up food nearby…“Wendy’s” she replied. “It’s just up Granville, and make a left at Western.” Yep, went to the site that used to be the Nortown…

culcune on June 17, 2021 at 11:42 pm

I was born in 1969, and we moved out of Chicago in 1979 to settle in Los Angeles (my parents still live in the same house). However, the 10 short years I grew up on the Northside of Chicago (remembering probably 7 or so years), I recall this theater. I only recall two of the several movies my dad or both parents brought us to see–‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ in 1978, and one year prior–the grandaddy of sci-fi films…STAR WARS (or whatever you youngsters know the OG film as?). I do not recall the theater EVER having a light on. There seemed to ALWAYS be a film starting. The 70s were still the days one could go to a movie and not have any sneak previews. The downside was that if the showtime was, say 7:30, the actual movie started at 7:30. The good thing about it was the old-school projectors were two of them–the projectionist would load up the second projector, and on the cue, start it up, which led him or her to load up the other projector. That way, if you missed several minutes of the film, you simply stayed seated (like I said, I do not recall the lights ever being on) and the film would start over. You missed 11 minutes, you stay to see the next showing for 11 minutes. My friends and relatives stayed on the Northside (they all later moved to the suburbs) through most of the 80s, so it was always nice to see the old neighborhood including the Nortown. There was a hobby shop I used to go to as a kid on Devon and Western catacorner(sp?) to the Nortown. It closed sometime in the later 80s. I never did catch a film on any of the return visits which was a shame. As the years ticked on, I recall no one living out that way, so only saw the Nortown once again in either 2000 or 2001. I recall my cousin pointing out all the taxis parked outside, as it had become a mosque by then. I was discussing Star Wars with a friend, and it reminded me of the Nortown. Funny enough, over the years, I had thought it was named the Town and Country, but I think that was another, newer theater not too far away. I recall seeing what I believe to be a re-release of Fanatasia in the mid-70s, but that is another story for another theater’s discussion, lol. What I do remember is the Nortown was quite grand and regal and definitely had its old-school charm. Oh, and I recall it was a one-plex with a balcony (used as a smoking section, and the, I believe, Town and Country also had a smoking balcony).

LouRugani on May 20, 2020 at 8:17 am

Old Nortown Theater Lot on Western Avenue To Become a Wendy’s –
by Linze Rice, January 28, 2016

WEST RIDGE — The site where the old Nortown Theater was built in 1931 along Western Avenue will soon become a Wendy’s fast food restaurant, according to records. In December, city officials approved a building exception for the drive-through restaurant, sponsored by Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), and the Wendy’s website lists a new location coming to 6324 N. Western Ave. Officials with the burger chain did not respond to requests for comment.

The property at 6324-46 N. Western Ave. was the home to the Nortown Theater from 1931-90 and was known for its nautical architectural themes — complete with mermaids on its facade — before trying to transition into the multiplex movie theater scene in 1984. The theater even housed a Wurlitzer organ before it was demolished in September 2007. The lot almost became a six-story condo building with retail and parking, property records show.

In January 2007, property owner and Dunkin' Donuts mogul Amrit Patel hired VOA Associates for work on the lot. By December 2008 VOA said in court documents it had “satisfactorily performed services” — but was still owed $90,746 by Patel. Patel also built the Monsoon Plaza across the street, which he planned to develop before the market crashed in 2008. The plaza was recently bought by BMW dealership owner Joe Perillo, though it’s not expected to become a car lot.

In May 2012, the property was foreclosed upon (in 2009 alone Patel faced 14 foreclosures and more than $28.4 million in owed fees — including $8.8 million for Monsoon Plaza’s construction) and by October it was bought by developer Adrian Tudor. Tudor was sued by the city in February 2013 for various code violations at the site, and in April he signed the building over to the city.

In October 2013, the city settled with Tudor, who agreed to pay $748 in fines and litigation fees, and legal documents show Tudor admitted to storing and parking vehicles at the property since December 2012.

DavidZornig on November 29, 2017 at 7:27 pm

1931 photo added credit Theatre Historical Society of America.

whtesoxfan56 on September 29, 2017 at 9:54 pm

To SarahFreeh212, I only saw one movie here ever. I think it was in the late 80s/early 90s, when I recall seeing a kiddie movie of some sort that was playing here. Wish I could’ve visited this theater more than once, since it was an amazing theater. It’s a major shame it wasn’t saved from the wrecking ball. :(

DavidZornig on September 24, 2017 at 9:03 pm

Mid `80s night photo added courtesy of Michael Murphy‎.

DavidZornig on August 15, 2017 at 7:12 am

1934 photo added courtesy of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society Facebook page.

DavidZornig on August 15, 2017 at 7:09 am

Auditorium photo in below link.

RickB on January 28, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Ultimately, the occupant of the Nortown site will be…a Wendy’s.

SarahFreeh212 on October 30, 2014 at 8:19 am

I wish I could have seen this place when it was still operational.. I was privileged to be able to go in 2007 to assist in some of the salvaging. We found so many remarkable things in there. It was pretty cool to find the old candy wrappers, ticket stubs, matchbooks underneath the seats as they were coming out. It was beautiful inside even half torn down.

Batwoman on June 23, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Jayne, would you mind scanning and uploading the pictures? I would love to see them.

Shelly77 on June 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Going there as a youngster in the early 1950’s I remember the ceiling with twinkling stars, my first screening of Wizard of Oz, “Charge at Feather River” in 3D, George selling KarmelKorn in the store next door.

Jayne1955 on March 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Worked there eight years. Just got a large collection of photos from one of the former managers. Miss that place madly. It was very cool and when I worked there in the 70[s and early 80’s it was in pretty good shape.

Batwoman on July 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Yes, very sad to see it go. :(

At least there’s hope for other aging theater palaces. The Genesee theater was fully restored several years ago and is absolutely beautiful! I saw a concert there last year and because I had volunteered to run the merch tables (got me in for free), I was in the lobby during the opening act. I was talking to the workers and a guy that works there knew of Nortown. I forget if he said he worked there too, but he was telling me how they fought to save the Genesee from the wrecking ball and literally managed it as the wrecking ball was outside, waiting to take a swing the next morning.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

There is still no new development on this property. Can anyone say: Pop goes the bubble?

In all fairness I’m not sure what future an aging, run down movie palace had in a middle class ethnic neighborhood. The end was probably just sped up by the real estate frenzy.

Whatever the eventual outcome it was sad to see it go.

edoggy99 on July 14, 2011 at 5:36 am

Cool Site.Worked at Nortown from 1978-1982 thru High School. Lied about my age at 15 and worked as an usher. The first movie for me was The Black Hole.Had a mickey mouse trailer to begin flick. I can tell you there are catacombs underneath which I explored. I think it was part of old ac process. We would go under and freak out patrons by moaning loud. Met alot of fun people there. When I was 13 I walked 3 miles to see Star Wars in 77. Anyhow see you all later Ian

Batwoman on January 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Life, yeah I was there in ‘09, stopped by to see the old place on my way back from checking out Le Cordon Bleu and I was surprised at how small the lot was. I remember the building being HUGE and then the stores next to it went up to Woolworth, or at least it seemed like it. It’s funny that I don’t even remember that alley access, growing up.

I took a few pictures with my cell phone of the lot and the ads that were painted on the buildings, hidden away for close to a century. The pictures are on facebook right now but can upload them to flickr if anyone’s interested.

DavidZornig on November 21, 2010 at 11:14 am

Yeah, all of the above.
Plus I’m sure the cost of heating & cooling such a large structure year round took it’s financial toll.
The basic overhead of such utilities was less of an issue back in the day when these old palaces had full houses.
I mentioned this of some of the downtown theater pages as well.

Nortown on November 20, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Too little public parking (only a small lot across the street), and changing neighborhood demographics.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on September 16, 2010 at 4:19 am

Lot is vacant. No coming soon signs for the development project. The theatre seemed so big, but the vacant lot seems so small. It’s amazing how much they fit onto a limited piece of property.

mp775 on December 18, 2009 at 6:48 am

Google Street View shows the Nortown half-demolished. You can see into the balcony from Western Avenue.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 25, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I don’t think anything has been built on the site yet. I saw it from Peterson Ave. not long ago.

DavidZornig on April 25, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Cool. I actually saw “Tron” at the Nortown.
And “Flashdance” co-starred Chicago's
own Kyle Heffner. Whom I worked with in Evanston just 2 years earlier. He was part of the Practical Theatre Company on Howard Street too.

Sally’s Stage was across the street from the Nortown. We covered this on one of the other CT pages. The organ they had in the restaurant/bar may or may not have come from the Nortown. I think someone said it was smaller.

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 1:17 pm

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