The Adams Theater was located at 20 East Adams Street and opened in June 1921. It had a seating capacity of about six hundred persons and was initially operated as part of H.M. Ortenstein’s Vista Amusement Enterprises. Interestingly, the Adams was the subject of two notable civil rights lawsuits during the 1920s. In the first instance, in 1923, Morris Lewis, executive secretary of the Chicago branch of the NAACP, filed charges against the theater’s owner after an usher, in violation of the state’s 1885 public accomodations law, refused to sit Lewis, an African American, on the main floor. Prosecutors dropped the case only after the theater’s owner assured the court he would no longer permit employees to discriminate against black patrons. Three years later, in 1926, another African-American patron sued the theater after being ordered to sit “down front” against her wishes. A judge found the usher guilty of violating the plaintiff’s civil rights, but the theater’s owner, despite having agreed to prevent such acts of discrimination against black patrons, escaped penalty. Though yielding mixed outcomes, such lawsuits helped Chicago’s African Americans clarify their civil rights and galvanize opposition against those who violated those rights. In this way, the Adams occupied a unique position in the cultural and racial landscape of 1920s Chicago. In 1930, buffeted by the combined effects of the Depression and stiff competition from larger Loop movie theaters, the Adams switched to a strict “tabloid talker policy” of newsreels and short movie features.
The Alcazar Theater was one of three Loop movie theaters owned by Harry Moir near the intersection of Clark and Madison Streets. Moir also owned the Morrison Hotel. During the late 1920s, the Alcazar operated as an all-night movie house.
Band Box Theater
The Band Box Theater, located on Madison Street, opened in October 1915 and was managed by Jack Haag. In 1916, he instituted a “women only” policy which allowed the theater to exhibit films, such as “The Unborn,” that local censors deemed too sensational for a mixed male-female audience. “The house,” one Variety reviewer observed, “hit a [box office] gusher when it decided to bar the men, for the house has been packed every performance since it opened.” Haag later went on to become manager at the Ascher Brothers’ Metropolitan Theater.
Barbee’s Theater / Monroe Theater
Barbee’s Theater was located on the south side of Monroe Street, just west of Dearborn. In 1922, Barbee sought to install a stage so that the theater could present vaudeville, but his plans were blocked by city officials due to the lack of a sufficient number of emergency exits. The theater closed in May 1923, reportedly due to poor business. The theater reopened four months later under new management as the Monroe Theater. In October 1923, the theater’s former owner, William S. Barbee filed for bankruptcy, having incurred over $230,000 in debt with the theater.
Bijou Dream Theater
The Bijou Dream opened in 1905 as part of the Jones, Linick, Schaefer chain of motion picture theaters. It was located at 178 South State Street, just south of Monroe, next door to the Orpheum Theater. at 176 South State Street. The theater was purchased by the Keough Candy Company in 1922 for $255,000. It closed in early August 1922.
The Boston Theater opened in 1911 and was located on Madison Street near the Columbia Burlesque Theater on Clark Street. It seated 750 and was one of three Loop movie theaters owned by Harry Moir near the intersection of Clark and Madison Streets. Moir also owned the Morrison Hotel.
The Castle Theater was located on the west side of State Street, just south of Madison. It opened in January 1916 and seated three hundred. The theater was remodeled and wired for sound in 1929. In 1932, owner Clarence Beck converted the Castle into Chicago’s first all-newsreel movie house, presenting thirty-minute shows for a fifteen-cent admission charge.
Five Cent Theater
The Five Cent Theater was located at 172 South State Street and had a capacity of approximately 325 persons. The theater opened no later than December 1907 and was thus one of the earliest movie theaters to operate in the Loop.
The Lyric Theater was located at 252 South State Street and seated about 290 persons. It was one of the first movie theaters to operate in the Loop, having opened no later than December 1907. In early 1910, the Lyric became the first theater in Chicago to employ women as ushers, a move to reduce labor costs that later drew criticism from aldermen who claimed women were incapable of acting calmly in emergency situations.
The Pastime Theater was located east of Clark on Madison Street. The theater’s management made news in 1917 when it hired four African-American musicians to drum up new customers by playing jazz in the theater’s tiny lobby.
The Rose Theater was one of three Loop movie theaters owned by Harry Moir near the intersection of Clark and Madison Streets. Moir also owned the Morrison Hotel. During the early 1920s, the Rose was demolished to make way for expansion of the Morrison.
The Star Theater opened in July 1914 and was located on Madison Street between Clark and Dearborn. When it opened, it was one of at least four movie houses located within one block of one another on Madison Street. The theater was purchased by the Jones, Linick, Schaefer movie theater circuit in 1921 for $40,000. In 1922, the circuit sold the theater to the Harding Company, which reportedly planned to convert the theater into the newest of its string of Loop coffee shops.
The Unique Theater was the fifth movie house opened by the firm of Jones, Linick, Schaefer on State Street. It opened in November 1919 and was located on the west side of State Street between Adams and Van Buren, just north of the Rialto Theater. The theater had a seating capacity of three hundred.
Sources: Billboard, 7 Dec. 1907, 52; 12 March 1910, 7; 19 March 1921, 25; 28 Aug. 1926, 8; Variety, 22 July 1911, 16; 31 July 1914, 18; 22 Sep. 1916, 62; 3 Nov. 1916, 23; 10 Aug. 1917, 34; 31 Oct. 1919, 24; 16 June 1922, 28; 7 July 1922, 62; 11 Aug. 1922, 37; 8 Sep. 1922, 46; 29 Sep. 1922, 26; 10 May 1923, 19; 12 July 1923, 26; 1 Nov. 1923, 22; 28 Feb. 1928, 44; 16 Jan. 1929, 60; 26 Feb. 1930, 72; 5 Apr. 1932, 7; Motion Picture News, 30 Oct. 1915, 155; 31 July 1920, 935; Chicago Defender, 24 March 1923, 6; 5 May 1923, 4; 9 Jan. 1926, pt. 1, pg. 1.