Will Rogers Theater, 5641 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60634

Drawing Inspiration from Chicago’s  Century of Progress World’s Fair 1933, Rapp & Rapp designed the Will Rogers Theatre for the Balaban and Katz chain.  Named in honor of the late humorist and actor, the 1600 seat theatre opened in 1936 with W. C. Fields starring in Poppy.

Excerpts, Boxoffice Magazine, October 17, 1936:

“Had Will Rogers planned the new theatre in Chicago which bears his name and posthumously pays a most fitting tribute to the character of this great American philosopher and friend of mankind it might not have more fully reflected the qualities for which he is revered.

“Perhaps the greatest of these qualities-friendliness- is the most noticeable of several that have gained remarkable expression in the design, construction and outfitting of Chicago’s newest community cinema. In this respect, there is no concealment in a common design for simplicity, hospitality and those homely characteristics of honesty and humanness that endeared Will Rogers to his public.”

“Throughout this fine theatre, the influence of intrinsic values is apparent. In the unique seating plans of the auditorium for instance, provision was incorporated for the utmost convenience of patrons in locating their seats. Perfect screen visibility is possible from every position in the house, and every seat provides the utmost in relaxation and comfortable posture for the patron

“In all other details of House Appeal, the new Will Rogers Theatre sets an example of functional elegance that might well establish a standard for the more friendly theatres of the future. In its practical simplicity largely lies its elegance.”

In 1987 the theatre was demolished for a strip mall.

Top: Magazine advertisement, 1936 (publication unknown)

Bottom: 1938 photo

Both items part of the Theatre Talks Collection.

Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, chosen 2010 Best Book of the Year by the Theatre Historical Society.


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