Lake Theater

1022 Lake Street, Oak Park
Built 1936
Architect: Thomas W. Lamb

The Lake Theater, located on the north side of Lake Street at Forest Avenue in Oak Park, opened in April of 1936. It was built by Loew’s, Inc., and was operated as part of the Essaness circuit of Chicago area movie theaters. The first movie shown at the theater was “The Ghost Goes West,” starring Robert Donat and Jean Parker.

Lake Theater, Oak Park, March 2004

Lake Theater, Oak Park, March 2004

The Lake Theater was the product of a variety of forces, including suburban population growth, increased reliance on the automobile, and growing confidence that the worst years of the Depression had passed. The new theater attempted to draw patrons primarily from Chicago’s western suburbs rather from across the entire city. Although located within easy walking distance of several streetcar and elevated lines, the theater offered free parking to patrons who desired to drive instead. Finally, its streamlined art-deco architectural design and single-level auditorium seating reflected the movie industry’s desire to reinvent itself through economical theaters that would appeal to an undifferentiated, mass audience. The sleek look of the Lake was the work of famed theater architect Thomas Lamb.

The Lake remains a highly visible landmark in downtown Oak Park. The theater’s interior, however, has been significantly altered from its original design. The main auditorium was subdivided into three separate auditoriums in 1985. During the mid-1990s, additional auditoriums were added at the rear of the original theater to permit a multiplex style of theater operation.

Image source: Author’s collection