Varsity Theater

1710 Sherman Avenue,
Evanston, IL 60201

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Balaban & Katz Corp., Plitt Theatres

Architects: John Edmund Oldaker Pridmore

Styles: Atmospheric, French Renaissance

Nearby Theaters

The remains of the Varsity Theatre

The Varsity Theater opened December 24, 1926 with George J. Lewis in “The Collegians” and Jack Holt in “Man of the Forest”. With its 2,500-seats, it was one of the largest suburban Chicago movie palaces ever built and was also one of the most spectacular. It was designed as a French royal chateau of the era of Francois I, and no expense was spared on luxury by its original owner, Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood for many years. From marble imported from Italy to antique tapestries, the Varsity Theater rivalled many of neighboring Chicago’s finest theaters. It was equipped with a Geneva-Smith Unit Organ, with an ‘Atmospheric’ style console which was opened by organist Leo Terry.

The theater was absorbed into the ever-expanding Balaban & Katz chain’s empire in the early-1930’s, and remained a popular fixture of downtown Evanston until competition from multiplexes caused its demise in the 1980’s. It closed on August 16, 1984 with Jamie Lee Curtis in “Grandview U.S.A.”. The interior at orchestra level was gutted to be converted into mixed-used retail use. Original decorative features, proscenium and ceiling still remain, but are hidden from view. By May 2020 the retail units at orchestra level had departed from the building and it sits vacant.

In January 2023 plans were proposed to convert the Varsity Theatre into a 35-unit apartment building with the ground floor in retail use. The interior was gutted in May 2023.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 97 comments)

DavidZornig on April 26, 2018 at 7:59 pm

Evanston Patch article about the same.

GregoryBear on June 15, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Greetings! I just joined. I lived in the Varsity during my college years of 1974-78. Two different legendary movies every night, a world film course! I’m wondering if anyone might have any of the oversize one page monthly schedules they printed during that period, or know who to contact? Thanks so much!!

GregoryBear on December 14, 2019 at 10:49 pm

Hello again. I’m still hunting for any old monthly schedules or other memorabilia from the Varsity. I’ll appreciate any leads. Thanks!

DavidZornig on May 23, 2020 at 9:59 am

5/23/20 photo added credit Joe Agnew. The retail tenants appear to have cleared out…

DavidZornig on March 26, 2021 at 1:14 pm

Northwestern Library Digital Collections photo. Varsity marquee on the right. Image will enlarge within link.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 20, 2022 at 8:35 pm

Last time I drove by, and I don’t remember when that was, the first floor was being used by an Oriental Rug business. It was some kind of storage/pickup/wholesale facility for a nearby show room.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on December 27, 2022 at 6:59 pm

The Varsity Theatre closed on Thursday, August 16, 1984. Photo of final newspaper ad in Photo section.

DavidZornig on January 9, 2023 at 6:47 pm

Varsity Theatre to be converted into a 35-unit apartment building with ground floor retail. Evanston Round Table link below.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 12, 2023 at 9:12 pm

Building now has scaffolding around it.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on June 13, 2023 at 2:49 am

The interior was gutted a few months back.

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