Sandburg Theatre

1204 N. Dearborn Street,
Chicago, IL 60610

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Balaban, H & E, Lubliner & Trinz

Architects: Hal Pereira, William L. Pereira

Firms: Pereira and Pereira

Previous Names: New Dearborn Theatre, Dearborn Theatre, Surf Theatre, Playboy Theater, Chelex Theatre

Nearby Theaters

Roger in front of the Playboy, 1971

Opened in 1913 as the New Dearborn Theatre, later just the Dearborn Theatre, this theater stood at the corner of W. Division Street and N. Dearborn Street. Originally, the theatre’s main entrance was on W. Division Street (40 W. Division Street), but was later moved to N. Dearborn Street.

The Dearborn Theatre was remodeled in 1934 by the firm of Pereira & Pereira. On May 7, 1942 it was renamed Surf Theatre. In September 1964, the Surf Theatre closed and was reopened on September 29, 1964 as the Playboy Theater, which was originally known for screening eclectic and offbeat films. It also was one of the venues which hosted the Chicago International Film Festival during its early years.

On October 8, 1976 it was renamed the Chelex Theatre, and on June 3, 1977, the theatre was renamed one final time, as the Sandburg Theatre, which screened repertory films. The Sandburg Theatre lasted until April 1983, when it was closed and was demolished.

A Walgreens (their 1,000th store) was built on the site of the theatre and opened September 6, 1984 with film star Cary Grant in attendance.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 41 comments)

GTL on September 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

The films posted by JRS40 seem to be feature films only. All Night Shows are not part of the list. If you can’t figure out the film you are looking for, Grace, a plot description may help.

JRS40 on October 2, 2015 at 10:46 am

GTL – Yes my list is only for the main attractions and not the all night weekend shows.

DavidZornig on August 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm

9/29/64 photo added via Tim O'Neill.

rivest266 on November 13, 2016 at 10:04 am

May 7, 1942 as Surf, September 29, 1964 as Playboy, October 8th, 1976 as Chelex and June 3rd, 1977 as Sandburg grand opening ads in the photo section.

DavidZornig on February 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm

October 10, 1976 article by Gene Siskel about the change from the Playboy to the Chelex.
Via Tim O'Neill.

DavidZornig on May 9, 2018 at 8:10 am

The 1,000th Walgreen’s store, located at the intersection of Dearborn & Division in Chicago, opened at 9:00 a.m. on September 6, 1984. The ribbon cutting ceremony was presided over by Illinois Governor James R. Thompson and the movie superstar Cary Grant. Via the below link.

DavidZornig on March 12, 2020 at 4:37 pm

March 1978 Vintage Tribune Instagram link with a photo as the Sandburg Theatre. Couldn’t get a screenshot to add it to the gallery. Maybe someone else will have better luck.

tommyhenry on May 3, 2020 at 11:19 am

Since there aren’t enough podcasts in the world, I started one called “Chicago History Podcast” which you can find on Apple, Google, Spotify, and more. In episode one I cover this very theater. I’ll be posting some of the materials I found over the next few days. Have a listen!

DavidZornig on May 7, 2022 at 7:05 am

Re-opened as the Surf Theatre 80 years ago today. May 7, 1942. Thank you Tim O'Neill for the reminder.

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