Here is a little historical information for Chicago, especially its old theatres. I’ve also added some personal history stories of Madeline and me growing up there.
And check out my history of Illinois and Chicago for some more fun facts and insight.
We hope this helps inform your next Chicago trip!
I’m a Chicago Boy
I lived in the city until seven years old, when my parents moved to the northern suburb of Deerfield. At that time, Deerfield was a township with more trees than people. I think there were 7,000 people in Deerfield when we arrived; today its population is more than 19,000.
While a child, I frequently was dropped off at my grandmother’s apartment in Chicago Friday night. My mom and dad could spend a kid-free weekend together.
My grandmother was my tour guide and always planned something fun to do. I learned most of my knowledge of Chicago during these weekends.
We saw the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ringling Brother’s Circus, the Ice Capades, Santa’s parade and more. My grandmother had a large claw-foot tub—a swimming pool for a seven-year-old. I always looked forward to those weekends.
Dating in the City
Madeline was from Texas and moved to Deerfield in high school. When we were dating in those days, I took her to the same places. Back then, most of these places were free. We also went to see movies in Chicago’s Loop. Some of these theaters are no longer movie theaters or completely closed.
Loop Theaters we Loved
Here is a list of the more prominent theaters in Chicago’s Loop:
McVickers Theatre: It opened in 1857 and closed in 1984.
State-Lake Theatre: Opened in 1919 and closed in 1984. Now WLS-TV (ABC) operates from this site.
Chicago Theatre: Opened in 1921 and still operates as a live performance space.
United Artists Theatre: Opened in 1921 and closed in 1987.
Roosevelt Theatre: It opened in 1921 and closed in 1979.
Oriental Theatre (now the Nederlander Theatre): It opened in 1926 and still operates as a live performance space.
The Chicago Theatre is still around. Madeline and I saw Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band play there in 2018. The picture above is before Ringo began his show. We had front row seats and it was a great show.
The Chicago Theatre is a great venue. It opened in 1921 and transitioned from a movie theater to a performing center. Interestingly, when the theater opened and for roughly the first 40 years of its existence, it presented premiere films and live entertainment, primarily jazz. Madeline and I saw movies at the Chicago Theatre in the 1960s. It closed as a movie theater in 1985 and was lovingly restored and opened as an event theater in 1986 and the headliner was Frank Sinatra, who appeared in the same theater 30 years before.
Other Favorite Dates Spots
When we were in high school, we’d drive downtown and park in the Grant Park Underground on Michigan Avenue. The North Garage opened in 1954 with 1,850 parking spots on three underground levels. The South Garage opened in 1965 with an additional 1,350 spaces. It was quite convenient to park there because when you came out above ground, you were almost in the Loop and near the Art Institute and the Chicago Public Library.
From the Grant Park Underground we walked to the Art Institute of Chicago or the movie theaters. Also nearby was the Field Museum of Natural History, the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium, so we easily could walk to all of them. The Museum of Science and Industry was more of a hike since it’s located close to the University of Chicago on the South Side. There was always plenty of free parking there.
We love the city and frequently come back just to see what’s the same and what’s new. Chicago has made a real effort to preserve their historic buildings, so you’ll see something from the 1920s next door to a brand-new skyscraper. It makes taking photos very interesting the new and the old in the same frame.