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.

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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.

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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.

The RKO Hamilton Theatre

View from the balcony of the RKO Hamilton Theatre

Moss and Brill’s Hamilton Theatre opened on January 23, 1913 in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood. The theater was commissioned by vaudeville operator Benjamin S. Moss and theater developer Solomon Brill and designed by the prolific Thomas W. Lamb, known for the architecture of many of the Hamilton’s contemporaries.   Lamb designed the Hamilton in the Renaissance Revival style, incorporating a terracotta façade.

Continue reading “The RKO Hamilton Theatre”

The Palace Theatre

The fresco on the curtain is of a spanish villa.

The Palace Theatre opened on November 26, 1925 in Gary, Indiana.  The 3,000-seat atmospheric theater was designed by John Eberson, a renowned architect known for the design of the Paramount Theatre in nearby Anderson, Indiana. Continue reading “The Palace Theatre”

Embassy Theatre

View of the Embassy Theatre from the balcony

The Embassy Theatre in Lewistown, PA opened on Monday, October 17, 1927.  Before the Embassy was built the National Theatre stood in the same location and was partially demolished in early 1927. The Embassy was designed by A. D. Hill of the Philadelphia firm H.C. Hodgens and A.D. Hill. The firm is known for its 1928 design of The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, which is still in use. The Embassy was lavishly decorated and referred to as “the Radio City Music Hall” of Central Pennsylvania.

Continue reading “Embassy Theatre”

Montauk Theatre

The Montauk Theatre during demolition

The Montauk Theatre opened on January 30, 1924 in Passaic, NJ on the site of a former vaudeville theater — also called the Montauk Theatre — that was popular in the early 1900’s. Designed by local architect Abram Presikel in the Adamesque style, the theater sat 2,638 people and was operated by the Fabian Enterprises theater chain (which was known for showing both First National Pictures and Warner Bros. films).   Continue reading “Montauk Theatre”

Loew’s Kings Theatre

View of the auditorium from the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

 

Loew’s Kings Theatre opened on September 7, 1929 in Brooklyn, NY, and was designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp (also known for the Paramount Theater in Times Square) and decorated by Harold W. Rambush.  It was operated by the Loew’s theaters chain, and, along with the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Loew’s Paradise Theatre, the Loew’s Valencia Theatre and the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre, it was one of the five “Loew’s Wonder Theaters” in the New York metropolitan area.

Continue reading “Loew’s Kings Theatre”