Sheridan Theatre

4036 N. Sheridan Road,
Chicago, IL 60613

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BobBill on May 28, 2022 at 6:51 am

Sorry for typos…!!!

BobBill on May 28, 2022 at 6:49 am

A majestic theater, which I as yougin never appreciated…

Walked bonlyy its front many time on way to school and other things.

Sat in every area and recall the mezz but main floor was popular.]

Myself and MH but not always with, used to sneak around exploring…every place, from behind the screen to box seats…never climbed roof…scared me…

We check out every theater in area: from wee Mode, to Uptown, Rivera, Granada, Portage, and the only one with double seats, over by the Rainbow Arena, where Chief Don Eagle wrestled, a block south of Sheridan road as it swing east to Inner Drive, by Outer Drive and Park.

Back in the “uncroweded” day, when few people worried about being out after dark.

Sheridan, Uptown…magnificent theaters.

LouRugani on October 28, 2020 at 7:19 pm

(Chicago Reader, June 20, 1991 by Peter Strazzabosco) Now featured at the Sheridan Theatre: squatters, politics, and two plans for rehabilitation —– Once one of the finest theaters in the country, the Sheridan Theatre now serves as a premier playhouse for vandals, the homeless, and the curious. The front doors now stand open for months at a time, even though the theater has been closed for years. Reckless renovation, fires, and public dumping have all but destroyed the building’s original magnificence. There were plans to resuscitate it a few years ago, but strangely enough they were scuttled by the city. Now two organizations have submitted competing renovation proposals to the city, and if officials think one of them is feasible, the street people may finally have to move out.

The 2,469-seat theater at 4038 N. Sheridan was built by Ascher Brothers in 1927 to accommodate stage shows and first-run movies. It was a breathtaking if expensive structure. Doric columns topped by gigantic Grecian urns soared above the street, and theatrical bas-relief figures highlighted the pediment. The facade, which recalled a Grecian temple, was a gem, marred only by the ground-floor retail shops. Inside, the architect, J.E.O. Pridmore, showed little restraint in his neoclassic design. He put in statues, chandeliers, and coffered ceilings, Corinthian columns and archways. The auditorium was topped with a canopied dome encircled by an intricate frieze of Roman charioteers. Lounges and smoking rooms catered to the elite clientele, and a bellowing four-manual Wurlitzer pipe organ shook the patrons in their seats.

But the Sheridan had to compete with Balaban and Katz’s Uptown Theatre just a mile north. This behemoth’s 4,320 seats made it the largest theater in the world when it was built, and the quality of its stage shows was hard to beat. The neighborhood surrounding it also offered more parking.

Unable to profit in such a shadow, Ascher Brothers eventually gave up the Sheridan to the William Fox chain. But Fox didn’t do any better and finally sold the theater to Balaban and Katz–who were plagued by the same problem. The public did little more than trickle in.

Balaban and Katz held on until 1951, when they accepted an offer from the Anshe Emet Synagogue, which refurbished the building for religious services. The refurbishers removed the ornate interior friezes and artwork and dismantled the outside facade, leaving a generic veneer. The Solomon Goldman Auditorium, as it was called, lasted a remarkable 15 years, and then the synagogue moved to new quarters. The building stood empty for a brief period before becoming the now infamous Palacio Teatro, where Spanish films were shown. “No fumar” signs were added to the Jewish symbols.

By 1987 the building was vacant again. Pyromaniacs torched the place repeatedly. One aspiring entrepreneur took over the lobby and tried to sell used hotel furniture, the remnants of which are now strewn about the building. The lobby’s floors and stairways are covered with the charred remains of mattresses and clothing, making it almost impossible to walk in some areas. Curtains from above the stage have been pulled down and burned, and about a third of the seats have disappeared. But at the top of the auditorium, where the dome used to be, there is still a gigantic likeness of a menorah.

Most of the small rooms seem like studio apartments, complete with food, beds, chairs, couches, tables, and clothing. The people who live on the fourth floor have a penthouse view, but their feces foul the air.

The Sheridan saga is not without blood and violence. Late last year the torso of an adult male was discovered in the alley behind the building. When police arrived, they found additional body parts scattered about the area. Panicky neighbors demanded action, and a community meeting was held with 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller in a vacant apartment just north of the theater.

The 20 or so people who showed up to voice their fears were dismayed when Shiller told them that the city itself had thwarted plans to renovate the building after the Palacio folded. In 1987 the Sheridan was set to become the new home of the Uptown library. It seemed like a perfect idea at the time; it would provide the neighborhood with a sorely needed library, preserve what was left of the Sheridan, and rid the community of one of its biggest eyesores. The deal seemed like a sure thing. The county had seized the property after the owner failed to pay the property taxes, and the city planned to acquire it at a scavenger sale through a prearranged noncash bid.

But then Cook County treasurer Ed Rosewell mysteriously decided to sell the building for the back taxes to Lou Wolf, who was on the cover of Chicago magazine two years ago above the headline “Chicago’s Worst Landlord.” Wolf did nothing with the property–he didn’t even pay the taxes–and the building fell back into the county’s hands. Through a special arrangement, the owner of a local hardware store attempts to keep it secure, though the ingenuity of the residents makes that difficult.

Now two organizations have submitted renovation proposals to the city’s Department of Economic Development, which is reviewing them. The for-profit ERTA, which already owns a handful of historically significant structures in the area, wants to put in 128 efficiency apartments for low- and medium-income elderly people, a commissary, administrative offices, retail shops along the street, and parking for 40 cars behind the building. A small movie theater might also be included. According to Bob Racky of ERTA, the Illinois Masonic Medical Center is being wooed as a possible partner. Estimates to complete the project are at $8 million.

The nonprofit Uptown Unified Arts Coalition (TUUAC) also has plans for the Sheridan. It would like to turn the building into an “education and cultural enhancement facility … available to local and regional community theater groups and other performance artists.” In the front rooms of the building, a performing-arts center would offer training and job counseling to community artists. The entire main floor of the auditorium and part of the balcony would be retained, creating a 1,500-seat theater. And a fifth floor would be built to accommodate the musicians, dancers, actors, photographers, and film and video artists who would use the facility. According to Franc Beeson of TUUAC, the building’s original architecture would be restored or replaced wherever possible. Funding for both renovation and operating costs would come from foundations, government agencies, and private philanthropists, as well as from the revenues generated by a gift shop, a restaurant, and the theater. TUUAC’s estimate is also at $8 million.

The city will have to acquire the theater from the county before either group can move ahead, but the building would undoubtedly be transferred to any developer at no cost. The city, which would have to pay around $350,000 to have the building torn down, seems eager to have someone start work as soon as possible.

The scavenger sale that would include the theater is coming up soon, yet there is no guarantee that the city will find either of the plans that have been submitted viable. And even if a plan is approved, the developer will have to scramble for financing so that he can start construction quickly. Both groups have had the structure inspected. The foundation appears to be sound, even though the basement flooded and froze last winter. Racky and Beeson agree that another winter might crack the building’s foundation beyond repair. And then it would have to be razed.

DavidZornig on April 9, 2020 at 9:22 am

1936 IDOT Collection photo. Can be enlarged within the link.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 20, 2018 at 8:13 am

I never knew that huge frieze had been purchased and reinstalled on another building. Amazing to learn it still exists after all these years. I wonder what that building is.

DavidZornig on March 14, 2018 at 3:12 pm

1947 photo added courtesy of Uptown Update.

DavidZornig on March 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Thanks. Too bad they copied the description directly from the Sheridan’s Cinema Treasures page without giving proper credit.

rso1000 on December 8, 2015 at 10:34 pm

Interesting article that appeared in the Chicago reader….

DavidZornig on May 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Halloween 1985 poster designed by and courtesy of long time Chicago graphic artist Shelley Howard added.

telliott on January 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Wow, they tore THIS down?! Shameful

BobBill on January 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I have to retract my comment about the Sheridan not looking like much from the front, after the pic link supplied by KenC MCIntyre…I forgot about the front. The reddish marble stone was part of the synagogue.

That pic does give one an idea how immense and grand the house was…

The bar that is mentioned by Ken C was the Beritz. Black reflective marble outsides…was a honky tonk joint when I live across the street…live music and more in the 40s through the 50s.

BobBill on January 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Amazing reminder…I lived about half-block south at 3955 Sheridan Road, south across Irving Park Road from the Beritz bar, across the street from the Sheridan Restaurant.

The Sheridan really did not look like much from the outside, unless you happen to go in the back of the building.

The theater was immense and beautiful. It had spacious bathrooms down stairs, a real full mezzinine, two-tiered balcony and boxes from the vaudeville period. Better then the Uptown and rivaled the Granada, maybe even the Oriental in the Loop.

One cannot begin to describe how magnificent it was…brass rails, huge chandeliers, may have had a small fountain and pool…

It might have also had its very own water tower atop in back.

I recall more, I will return and enter it…spent a lot of time there and was heart broken it close and became Anshe Emet Synagog for a time.

Our family moved north to Andersonville and sort of lost touch…

rivest266 on June 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

This opened on February 12th, 1927. The grand opening ad is in the photo section for this theatre.

CompassRose on March 1, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Photos of the Sheridan from the 1930s: Sheridan Theater.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 4, 2010 at 10:53 am

I remember how big this building looked when you stood right in front of it. Driving by the lot today it doesn’t seem like the theatre would fit on it.

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Reactivate Notification Status.

DavidZornig on November 26, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Ah, BERLITZ. I did recall it right on 8/22. I remember often seeing their bright, vertical neon from the “L” in the `70’s. Ironic that it went from being a bar to a clinic.

KenC on November 5, 2008 at 7:29 pm

To David and charles 1954: If memory serves, the club on the corner of Irving and Sheridan was BERLITZ. It did have a vertical sign with a black background and green neon letters.On the Sheridan Rd. side, it had a horizontal sign- facing west, of course.

DavidZornig on November 3, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Charles1954, sorry it took so long to post back. I must not have checked the “Notify Me” box. Yes Arnolds is on the N/E corner of Irving & Broadway.
I think you are right also about the name Barritz, but it might have also been Biaritz. Which was later an option/name of the fancier model of the Cadillac Eldorado.

It is truly amazing that you mentioned that old juke box at Arnolds.
Those were actually 8mm film juke boxes, and sadly short lived.
Here’s why I know.
My father Chuck Zornig worked at the Seeburg Juke Box Company here in Chicago in the early `60’s. It was located near North Ave. & Clybourn. Where John M. Smyth/Homemakers Furniture was years later.
Across and down the street from the tavern Weeds. The owner of Weeds should still remember Seeburg.

My father was one of three men instrumental in the design of the juke boxes that played an 8mm sound film of the artist singing their song. Done in specially shot, musical vignettes. Sometimes not by the original artist. This was the start up phase, so they needed films. The plan was to go nation wide with those models.

According to my father, Seeburg was constantly analyzing the possible success of it all. If not enough original artists would go along and film their own songs. Plus the potential legal stuff if other artists did them instead.
Which would have been necessary to fill up a juke box in order to sell the idea to a place with a regular juke box.
Supposedly one model was going to have both 45’s & sound films to fill the gap.

Then the powers that be at Seeburg abruptly scrapped the whole thing. Citing that no one was going to stand in front of a juke box to watch a performer sing, in a bar.
In hindsight, it’s possible Seeburg may have also been leery of a certain “organizational involvement” that already had it’s influence in Chicago’s coin-op/juke box distribution at the time.
The juke box itself was clearly ahead of it’s time to say the least. MTV anyone?

As my brother & I played around my father’s office, we’d sometimes screen those small reels on a Bell & Howell projector because they were just like watching cartoons. “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, stands firmly out in my mind. I wish he/we had saved all of those films.

Actual video juke boxes did make a brief appearance in the late `80’s under another name, but didn’t catch on. Coincidentally a place called Arnie’s Outdoor (now Dublin’s) at State & Maple behind the Carnegie Theatre, had one. I stopped by once and watched “Walk That Dinasour” by the band Was Not Was, on that evening.
The box was gone before I could get my father into Arnie’s to see it.

Sorry if this was all off topic. But whose lookin' up the Sheridan Theatre that often.
Thanks for wakin' up the memories.

Broan on August 26, 2008 at 5:19 am

Diner Grill is still there.

charles1954 on August 25, 2008 at 11:25 pm

e_five: thanks for all that info! David: I believe the name of the nightclub was Barritz not Berlitz but I’m not entirely certain… I remember eating at the DINER often with my dad – it was next to a store called Jerry’s Toggery back in the 1960’s. The DeMar chain of restaurants rings a bell. As does Arnold’s at Irving & Broadway. Was Arnold’s on the north east corner? If so, I was in there often too and remember that it had a video juke box in the 1960’s!

DavidZornig on August 22, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Thanks BWChicago for pointing me in the right direction. I never noticed the “previous names” search field.
The Sheridan’s incarnation as The Palacio is what I remember. Across from The Palacio on the N/E corner of Irving & Sheridan was a giant club called Berlitz or something. It had a huge vertical sign and was open well into the 70's or early80’s as a bar with bands.
I think it was originally a dance/social hall on a much less fancy level than the Aragon Ballroom.
Or Brawlroom, for those who ever made it to some of it’s `70’s concerts.

I also didn’t know the Festival was formerly the Mode. We went there in 1978 or`79, when a friend of mine had a thing for a redheaded, X-rated actress. Lisa De-something. Again, I had the car. Was I to argue??

The Festival was really pretty beat by this time, so much so that even the actress looked a little uncomfortable being there. And you’d think nothing would phase her in her profession.
I think the Festival was briefly converted into an small grocery store before it was finally torn down. (your comment here)
This would have been years before the Admiral got a significant makeover, uh, so I heard.

The diner across from Biasettis/Cordiss Bros., was just called “Diner”, when another friend of mine worked there 18 years ago. It was reportedly originally an Evanston train car. It was owned by the DeMars family who had restaurants scattered about the city. Including Arnold’s at Irving & Broadway.
The diner was home of the Slinger. Whose ingredients included eggs, burgers, chili, hash browns, etc. As the sign said. “Don’t ask, just eat it”.
A hit with the after 2am crowd.