When the Lawndale Theater of North Lawndale, IL closed permanently in the early 2000s, it had been in use primarily as a church. This end to the theater very much resembles its beginning — after a series of architectural control changes, it is generally believed that the design responsibilities finally fell to William P. Whitney, a local architect known mostly for designing churches. However, there is no hard evidence for Whitney’s involvement in the project. The Lawndale’s resemblance to Whitney’s Symphony Theater in Chicago suggests his influence on the Lawndale’s design.
The 2,200 seat Lawndale opened on October 19, 1927 with a screening of “A Girl from Rio.” Like several other theaters at the time, the Lawndale’s ceiling covered with twinkling “star” lights to resemble the night sky. In most atmospheric theaters the ceiling is devoid of any detail work to help further the illusion that their patrons are sitting under the night sky, but this was not the case at the Lawndale. The dome in the center was the only portion of the theater to have the twinkling lights, so in that sense it was not a true atmospheric theater.
In the mid 1930s the theater was purchased by a company controlled by Frank ” The Enforcer” Nitti, one of Al Capone‘s cohorts. During the 1940s, the Lawndale was used primarily as a movie theater, occasionally being rented out for various functions.
The theater changed hands several more times before it reopened as the Rena Theatre in 1949. During the week the Rena showed films; it had stage shows on the weekends. It closed permanently in 1961 after a gang leader was shot and killed in one of the main stairwells. The Lawndale was demolished in the summer of 2014.
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