Varsity Theatre – Evanston, IL

View from the side of the balcony.
View from the side of the balcony.

The Varsity Theater in Evanston, IL opened on Christmas Eve in 1926. It was designed by Chicago architect John E. O. Pridmore, who is also known for the nearby Vic Theatre. Clyde Elliot, an Evanston native who had worked in Hollywood before returning to his hometown to open the theater, commissioned it. Upon opening the 2,500 seat Varsity was one of the largest neighborhood theatres in the Chicago area, and the largest in Evanston beating the nearby Coronet, Hoyburn, New Campus, and Valencia Theatres.

The mezzanine level of the lobby.
The mezzanine level of the lobby.

An Atmospheric theatre, the Varsity was designed to give the illusion that you were sitting in a courtyard under the night sky and in the case of the Varsity it was the courtyard of a French Royal Chateau. The side walls featured marble imported from Italy, and the stage area resembled a lowered drawbridge. As with other atmospheric theatres, it also featured small twinkling lights in the ceiling to give the appearance of stars, with clouds projected across the ceiling from projectors located on both sides of the auditorium.

600 of the 2500 seats were located on the balcony level.
600 of the 2500 seats were located on the balcony level.

The Varsity opened with with a short serial “The Collegians” and the feature “Man of the Forest” which starred Jack Holt and Georgia Hale. In the early 1930’s the theater became part of the Balaban & Katz theatre chain, which was controlled by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, a forerunner of Paramount Pictures. A Geneva organ was installed in the theater when it opened, and the console was painted to resemble a cottage with roof tiles made of terra cotta. As with many of its contemporaries the organ did not see much use later in the theater’s life and was eventually removed. It was acquired by Karl Werner, who installed it in his home. Werner later moved to Arizona and took the organ with him, but when he passed away his family disposed of the organ.

A drop ceiling is all the separates the retail space on the orchestra level from the remains of the balcony.
A drop ceiling is all the separates the retail space on the orchestra level from the remains of the balcony.

In the 1980’s the nearby Evanston Theater, originally known as the Stadium Theatre, was purchased by the Loews Corporation, and enlarged from a single screen to a five-screen theater. As multiplex theatres became to be the norm, single screen theaters like the Varsity struggled to stay open.  The Coronet Theatre, another Evanston single screen, closed because of this in 1984, and the Varsity followed in 1988.

A close-up of some of the whitewashed plasterwork on the balcony.
A close-up of some of the whitewashed plasterwork on the balcony.

Almost immediately after the theater closed, the main level and lobby were gutted and turned into retail space, which is currently occupied by a Gap clothing store. In 2010, the City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study on reopening the Varsity as a performing arts center. In July 2011, the study concluded that given that the first floor of the theater was currently occupied by a retail store, and not available for redevelopment, that the performing arts needs of Evanston are greater than the Varsity Theatre could accommodate alone. They recommended developing a number of performing arts spaces in downtown Evanston, instead of just one central location.

A close up of the proscenium arch.
A close up of the proscenium arch.
Much of the floor in both the balcony, and the lobby mezzanine is covered with insulation.
Much of the floor in both the balcony, and the lobby mezzanine is covered with insulation.
Two projectors remain in the projection booth.
Two projectors remain in the projection booth.

Varsity_Theatre_18

Varsity_Theatre_06

Large castle turrets located on each side of the stage were removed when the orchestra level was converted into a retail space.
Large castle turrets located on each side of the stage were removed when the orchestra level was converted into a retail space.

Varsity_Theatre_13

 

Holiday Print Sale

Abandoned Theatre Pittsburgh, PA
Abandoned Theatre Pittsburgh, PA

It’s December so that means it’s time for our annual Holiday Print Sale!

From now until December 31, 8×12, 12×18 and 16×24 prints are 50% off when you use the coupon code holiday2015 at checkout.

http://www.afterthefinalcurtainprints.com/

If you have any questions feel free to email me at matt@mlambrosphotography.com

After the Final Curtain is a personal project, and all profits from your print purchases help me to continue photographing endangered theaters across the United States.

Studebaker Theatre

View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.
View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.

*Sorry for the delay. There was a slight error when this was supposed to post earlier.

Located in the Fine Arts Building in the Historic Michigan Boulevard District of Chicago, the Studebaker Theatre as it is today opened in September 1917. Built between 1885 and 1887, the building was commissioned by the Studebaker Company and designed by architect Solon S. Beman. The part of the building that would eventually become the theater was used as a showroom from 1887 until 1898 when the Studebaker Company moved to a new building on South Wabash Street.

View from the side of the balcony.
View from the side of the balcony.

Renamed the Fine Arts Building, it eventually became known as the first art colony in Chicago. Three new stories were added to the building for artist studios and offices. In 1898 the showroom was converted into two music halls; Studebaker Hall which could seat 1500 people and the smaller University Hall which could seat 700. The upper floors attracted some notable tenants during this time including; Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum and organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Chicago Women’s Club.

Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

For the first twenty years Studebaker Hall was used for plays, opera and musical acts. Klaw & Erlanger, the theatrical production company that was responsible for the Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, ran the hall for a time beginning in August of 1913. Four years later the Shubert Organization took over the hall, and together with Klaw & Erlanger, converted it into an actual theater. The only part that was untouched during the conversion was the ceiling. Samuel Insull, a British-born American businessman, took over the theater in 1927, but was forced to give it up two years later when the stock market crash caused the collapse of his business empire.

 
Studebaker_Theatre_05

The theater went through many different uses over the years including a Church from 1944 to 1950, and a studio for NBC from Feb 1950 – 1955. DuMont Television Network’s Cavalcade of Stars, one of the first live television shows, was filmed at theater during that time. The Studebaker returned to its theatrical roots in 1956, but was only used occasionally until it closed in 1982.

The ceiling is the only part of the auditorium that was not touched during the conversion to a theater.
The ceiling is the only part of the auditorium that was not touched during the conversion to a theater.

In December 1982, the M&R Amusement Company converted the Studebaker and the former University Hall, now known as the World Playhouse into a multiplex. The Studebaker auditorium became the 1200 seat Theatre 1 and the Studebaker stage was closed off to create the 240 seat Theatre 3. The Playhouse auditorium became the 550 seat Theatre 2, and its stage became the 158 seat Theatre 4. At first the new multiplex mainly showed art and independent films, but M&R sold their theater chain to Loews in 1988 it switched to playing mostly Hollywood films.

The second screen that was on the stage has been removed in preparation for the theater's reopening as a performing arts center.
The second screen that was on the stage has been removed in preparation for the theater’s reopening as a performing arts center.

Loews closed the theater on Sunday November 26, 2000 citing that the small size of the size of the theaters as well as the competition from other cinemas in the area made it no longer economical for them to continue operating it. The final films shown at the four screen theater were “Red Planet”, “Cleopatra’s Second Husband,” “Billy Elliott,” and “Dancer in the Dark.”

Studebaker_Theatre_16
Both the Studebaker and the Playhouse were restored in 2015 and are scheduled to reopen in October 2015. More information can be found at: http://www.studebakertheater.com/

If you look closely you can see the old hat racks on the bottom of the seats.
If you look closely you can see the old hat racks on the bottom of the seats.

Studebaker_Theatre_14

View of the auditorium from the stage.
View of the auditorium from the stage.

Studebaker_Theatre_04

Studebaker_Theatre_19

View from the upper box seats.
View from the upper box seats.

Summer Print Sale

Loew's Palace Theatre Bridgeport, CT
Loew’s Palace Theatre Bridgeport, CT

I’m getting married this October so I’m having a print sale to help us go on our honeymoon! Use the code “HONEYMOONSALE” at http://www.afterthefinalcurtainprints.com/ when checking out to get 25% off your order. I’ve added some images from upcoming blog posts as well as new photographs from old favorites (including some shots of the renovated Kings Theatre) to the prints page.

If you have any questions please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Kodak Professional Supra Endura Luster paper is used for all print sizes.

Kings Theatre Brooklyn, NY
Kings Theatre Brooklyn, NY
Ceiling, Paramount Theatre Newark, NJ
Ceiling, Paramount Theatre Newark, NJ
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Mezzanine, Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA
Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA

 

Hiatus

Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

Hi Everyone – Just wanted to let you all know that I’m taking a short hiatus from posting while I finish my book on the Loew’s Kings Theatre. Don’t worry though – the site isn’t going anywhere. I have a backlog of 16 theaters that I haven’t posted yet and plans to photograph many more.  For updates during the hiatus check out the After the Final Curtain Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Afterthefinalcurtain

Here’s a quick look at some of the upcoming theaters that will be featured on AFtC later this year:

UC
UC Theatre Berkeley, CA
Varsity2
Varsity Theatre Evanston, IL
Warner Huntington Park
Warner Theatre Huntington Park, CA
Fox Theatre Fullerton, CA
Fox Theatre Fullerton, CA

Holiday Print Sale 2014

Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL
Studebaker Theatre Chicago, IL

Happy Holidays! From now until December 31, 8×12, 12×18 and 16×24 prints are 50% off when you use the coupon code holiday2014 at checkout.

http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/prints

Don’t have time to get a print framed during this busy holiday season? No problem! As an added bonus I’m including eight framed prints for 50% off, too. Just use the same coupon code (holiday2014) at checkout.

http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/framedprints

If you have any questions feel free to email me at matt@mlambrosphotography.com

The Ramova Theatre

The Ramova Theatre auditorium.

The Ramova Theatre opened on August 21, 1929 in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. The 1,500 seat theater was designed by architect Meyer O. Nathan in the Spanish Revival style. An atmospheric theater, the ceiling was painted blue to resemble the night sky. A contest was held to name the theater while it was being built, and the winner named it after the Lithuanian word for “peaceful place.”

Continue reading “The Ramova Theatre”