Is it curtains for Central Park Theatre?
By John Owens, Chicago Tribune reporter | Published by the Chicago Tribune
May 8, 2013
In a sea of empty lots in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood sits a faded relic that is one of the most historically significant American movie theaters still standing.
When it opened in 1917, the red-brick, three-story Central Park Theatre was hailed as a revolutionary entertainment venue — the first of the large “movie palaces” built by Balaban & Katz, and quite possibly the first movie theater in the world to feature air conditioning.
The Central Park, created by Chicago theater entrepreneurs A.J. Balaban, Barney Balaban and Sam Katz and Chicago architects C.W. and George L. Rapp, became the template for hundreds of movie palaces, from the Chicago and Uptown in Chicago to the Paramount in New York City.
“Before the Central Park, movie theaters were all like nickelodeons, uncomfortable boxes with folding chairs,” said David Balaban, author of “The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz” and grandson of one of the five Balaban brothers who ran the B&K theater empire for decades. “The Central Park was different — it had the feeling of a European opera house. There wasn’t an interest in how movie theaters looked until Balaban & Katz built the Central Park.”
Today, however, the theater in the 3500 block of West Roosevelt Road is facing an uncertain future.