Chicago Movie Theaters: Then and Now

Let’s look at photos of these five Chicago movie theaters: Rosewood, Davis, Diversey, North Center and Nortown. The theaters are listed in chronological order based upon their opening date. The photos are from the Northside Neighborhood History Collection.

The Rosewood Theatre, 1823 W. Montrose Avenue

The Rosewood Theatre began screening movies in Ravenswood as early as 1916. It served as a neighborhood movie theater until the mid-1950s when it went out of business. The building was demolished in the early 2000s as part of the CTA renovation of the Montrose Avenue Brown Line stop.

The Rosewood, 1949.

The 1800 block of W. Montrose Avenue where the Rosewood once stood, 2020.

The Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Avenue

The Davis Theater opened in 1918 and was originally called the Pershing Theater. In the 1960s, it started showing only German language films due to the large German community in Lincoln Square.

The sign at the bottom of this photo indicates that films were still being screened in German twice a month, 1990.

The Davis Theater, 1990.

In 1999, community residents led by Mary Edsey and Sharon Woodhouse successfully fought against a developer who bought the Davis and reportedly planned to demolish it. The theater was later sold to Tom Fencl, Tim Ryll and Ben Munro who completely renovated it. The Davis reopened in 2016 and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. It is still in operation.

The Davis Theater, 2023.

The Diversey Theatre, 2828 N. Clark Street

The Diversey Theatre opened in 1925 as a combination vaudeville and movie theater. Five years later, it was sold to new owners who changed its name to the Century. It continued as a movie theater until the mid-1970s when developers gutted the building and turned into a shopping mall. It is now called the Century Shopping Centre. In 2000, Landmark Theatres opened the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, a seven-screen movie theater on the top floors of the mall. It is still in operation.

The Diversey, between 1925 and 1930. The original terra cotta façade was saved during the renovation in the 1970s.

Interior of the building, 1930s.

The interior, 2022.

North Center Theatre, 4031 N. Lincoln Avenue

The North Center Theatre opened in 1926. Like other movie theaters at this time, it also served as a venue for neighborhood events such as the cooking show featured in these photos. Childrens’ programs, lectures and political rallies were also held here until the mid-1960s. The building has since been demolished.

A group of women and a small child are gathered outside the theater for a cooking show, 1936.

A second photo from the cooking show shows the ornate interior of the theater, 1936.

The 4000 block of N. Lincoln Avenue where the North Center once stood, 2022.

The Nortown Theater, 6320 N. Western Avenue

The Nortown Theater, known for its aquatic-themed decorations and atmospheric ceiling, which gave the feeling of sitting outside under a starry sky, opened in April 1931. To create an authentic experience for movie-goers, an astronomy professor was hired to place the ceiling lights in the pattern of an April constellation. The theater closed in 1990 and the building was demolished in 2007.

The Nortown, 1990.

The 6300 block of N. Western Avenue, where the Nortown once stood, 2023.

Have you ever been to any of these theaters? Do you have a favorite movie theater?