Lamar Theater

120 S. Marion Street,
Oak Park, IL 60301

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Essaness Theaters Corp., Lubliner & Trinz

Previous Names: Oak Park Theater

Nearby Theaters

Lamar Theater

The Oak Park Theater opened in 1913, on what was then Wisconsin Street (now called S. Marion Street), which was once Oak Park’s entertainment district. Both the Warrington Opera House and the Playhouse Theatre were also on Wisconsin/Marion Street. It could seat over 1,000, and featured both vaudeville acts and movies in its earliest years. It was equipped with a Kimball 2 manual 9 ranks organ.

In 1919, its original owner, John Hodgson, collaborating with the Lubliner & Trinz chain, planned to tear down the six-year old theater and replace it with a massive hotel, theater and retail center, complete with a towering hotel and 5,000-plus seat theater, which would have been over twice the size of any of the largest of Chicago’s movie theaters at that time.

However, that grandiose plan fell through, and the Oak Park remained in operation, as a part of the Lubliner & Trinz circuit.

On August 29, 1930, it was remodeled in Art Deco style, and given a new name, the Lamar Theater, for its proximity to the corner of Lake Street and S. Marion Street. When the larger Lake Theatre opened not far away, on Lake Street in 1936, by then, that street had become the commercial center of the suburb, and the Lamar Theater’s days of being Oak Park’s leading movie house were soon to end.

However, it remained in business for decades, only closing in the early-1980’s. It was torn down in 1988.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

barryr on February 8, 2006 at 7:50 pm

I have wonderful memories of the Lake and the Lamar, but the Lamar always seemed to play my favorites—“MASH,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” and on and on. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this theater showed Indian films (don’t think they were called “Bollywood” yet) in the early 80’s.

GrandMogul on February 7, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Ad in the Chicago Tribune, Friday, August 29, 1930 announced:


Davis (formerly Pershing); Byrd, at Madison at Cicero, Lamar (formerly Oak Park)—-Oak Park’s Intimate Talkie Theater! Today door open at 1:30 pm, Warner Baxter, “Arizona Kid”; musical comedy duo Shaw & Lee, Variety Acts, Living News Events.

bobbyh on June 7, 2007 at 9:46 pm

What memories the Lamar brings back! I worked there as an usher in the mid-70’s…a new movie had just come out named “Rocky”….we had it 16 weeks…and I can still remember every line from the film. We also wore red suit jackets with the name “Essaness Theaters” sewn on the breast pocket. It was very interesting to go backstage where the lights had to be thrown on and off manually on an old stage light board…and also go downstairs back there where the popcorn was stored in what used to be the dressing rooms for the vaudeville acts of the early days of the theatre. I miss you Lamar.

Trolleyguy on November 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I wandered onto the rubble when the Lamar was being torn down. One thing I found was an empty 16mm film can for an Indian film. Interestingly enough, obviously the scenery hoisting equipment from live theater days was still in place in the old fly loft, so I was able to pick up 2 pulley wheels for my collection.

rivest266 on June 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Two grand opening ads for this theatre has been uploaded in the photo section for this cinema.

rivest266 on November 12, 2016 at 9:20 am

August 29th, 1930 grand opening ad for the Byrd, Davis and Lamar theatres from the Tribune in the photo section.

plugai on August 23, 2021 at 4:03 pm

On October 3, 1964 I walked from home to the Lamar with my sister Debbie and her friends. I was 5 years old, she was 8. I was the only guy in the entire theater that afternoon! Hundreds of screaming girls! They screamed all the way from the start of A Hard Day’s Night until the end. My ears were ringing and ringing. Great memories of being with my sister and her friends, seeing the Beatles on film, and stopping off at my fathers office at 210 Marion Street to tell him, his boss, and secretary about the film. For many years I would look at pictures at my parents home of the Lamar theater with my two sisters dressed as Girls Scouts and the old huge marquee that hung over the box office and doors that were taken during one of the Memorial Day parades on Marion street in the mid 1960’s. If my memory serves me well, the Lamar had a remodeling after my Dad took those pictures(marquee removed for good). Years later after my Dads passing, I hunted for those pictures for memories, but could not find the pictures or negatives.

plugai on September 3, 2021 at 1:27 pm

I recall now that the Lamar theater had vertical neon lights that spelled out Lamar both on the north side and south side of the sign. The neon lights were red and shown brightly as that the Lake theaters original red, now blue. Also, in the mid 1960’s I remember that the lettering would go dark on certain vowels. The big rectangular marquee had numerous light bulbs that lit up the sidewalk underneath. One could see where the paint would pull up and flake off, around each light bulb. All this great look (similar to the Lake theater design) was all taken down and replaced by the signage that lacked any personality which you see in those black and white pictures before the Lamar was torn down. Again I wish I could find a picture that showed the Lamar from 1930-1966.

plugai on December 10, 2021 at 12:58 pm

I finally found a photo of The Lamar Theater with the vertical neon lights that I had spoken of. The picture looks to be of Marion Street looking south from South Blvd( early1950’s?). This photo is part of an article about the Oak Park Theater circa 1916. This picture and the story of pre-Lamar can be read on “Tales From a Scenic Artist and Scholar. Part 931- March 14, 2020” by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, PhD.

ClassicFanatic on April 24, 2022 at 11:57 pm

I own what remains of the Kimball Unit Orchestra (theatre pipe organ) of 2 manuals and 9 ranks installed in this theatre. It was removed in 1959 by well known organist of the day Kay McAbee. Most of the pipes and console ended up in Jack Gustafsonā€™s hybrid Kimball/Wurlitzer organ, which grew over the years as it moved from Oak Park to San Jose, landing in Palm Springs. By that time it had grown to 3 manuals and 14 ranks with parts collected from other organs in Illinois. I am now restoring it to install in Seattle. From the spotty information on the original organ during its time at the Lamar it seems the organ caught fire near the end of its life and half of it was damaged beyond repair (which was the condition in which it was removed).

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