Harlem Outdoor Theater

4101 N. Harlem Avenue,
Norridge, IL 60706

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Essaness Theaters Corp.

Previous Names: Harlem Avenue Outdoor Theater

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Opened in 1946, the Harlem Outdoor Theater (also known as the Harlem Avenue Outdoor Theater) was the second drive-in theater to open in Chicagoland. It stood at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Irving Park Road. With a capacity for 1,030 cars, and a large screen with the theater’s name illuminated in huge letters, the theater was quite a sight to see, in what was then mostly undeveloped land situated between Chicago and what would become the suburb of Norridge.

The Harlem Outdoor Theater remained in business until 1976, and was demolished soon after closing to make way for further retail development (the drive-in sat directly across Harlem Avenue from the Harlem Irving Plaza shopping center, known locally as “The HIP”).

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

Aakervik22 on March 21, 2007 at 9:33 am

Thanks RiiPark. I believe I have the correct Drive-in. My date was a gorgeous blond by the name of Winnie Aakervik.

ctd on April 16, 2007 at 5:29 am

I was very young when my parents would take me to what I think was the Harlem Outdoor Theatre. I vaguely remember the surrounding scenery in the mid-70s. I was wondering, was there a mall nearby it with a great, big Montgomery-Ward neon sign in ‘76?

billscessna on July 10, 2007 at 7:04 am

I was 12 years old in 1952 and went to work for the Harlem Ave Outdoor Theatre. I worked there for 2 years, 1952 and 1953, quite an education for a young teenager. I was an usher and would direct the cars from the long road where the ticket booth was and ask them to make a hard left, all the way down to the front. Most people didn’t want to go to the front and disobeyed us. It was hot in midsummer and towards the end of the season, it got cold. After the movie was over we’d turn on the bright flood lights located on top of the screen and and chase out the remaining lovers with our WWII Jeep we’d drive that thing over the humps and bumps. The jeep was never turned off. At the end of the evening we had to kill the engine by putting it in first and popping th clutch. We had occasional fights weith young teens, but we had enough ushers in white uniforms to take care of oursevles. I have a photo of the drive in but can’t post it.

MKuecker on October 26, 2007 at 10:18 am

What year did this close?

dwahl on March 14, 2008 at 6:03 pm

My first Drive In experience was at the Harlem Outdoor, we saw many triple feature horror shows here! “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” still my favorite, was seen here. I even remember seeing all 5 “ Planet of the Apes” movies here in one evening! I wish there was a photo availiable from this great Drive In. This place was huge and the Screen Tower could be seen a long way off.

dsadowski on June 18, 2011 at 1:01 am

I think probably the last movie I saw there was “Sisters” with Margot Kidder- the perfect drive-in flick, if you think about it. The good sister, the bad sister- enough to make your date want to hold you tightly.

rivest266 on June 23, 2012 at 9:45 am

August 29th, 1946 grand opening ad as well as a aerial photo posted here

fepilkington on September 19, 2013 at 8:37 am

Went here with my family when I was young (early 50’s). It seemed to be so far out in the country at the time. I remember Dunning Mental Hospital was near there. The Chicago Sun-Times had a picture of the giant screen/marquee coming down when they demolished it in the early 80’s, I believe.

DavidZornig on July 4, 2016 at 7:02 am

1951 photo added courtesy of the Chicago Past Facebook page.

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