4642 North Sheridan Road
Built 1918, demolished 1962
Architect: Walter W. Ahlschlager
The Pantheon Theater, located at 4650 North Sheridan Road, was one of several movie houses that contributed to the Uptown neighborhood‘s bustling entertainment scene during the 1920s and 1930s.
The theater was designed by architect Walter W. Ahlschlager and cost an estimated $750,000 to build. With seats for nearly 3,000 patrons, the Pantheon at the time of its opening the largest movie house in the city. It opened for business in September 1918 with a showing of “The White Lie,” a mystery film starring Bessie Barriscale. Among the Pantheon’s early attractions was its massive double-console pipe organ and performances by Alexander Zukovsky’s thirty-piece orchestra.
The Pantheon was initially managed as part of the Lubliner and Trinz movie theater circuit. In 1925, Balaban and Katz, operators of the Uptown, Chicago, and several other of the city’s largest movie palaces, gained control of the Pantheon along with sixteen other Lubliner and Trinz theaters. At the time, the deal was one of the biggest in the city’s history and significantly increased Balaban and Katz’s dominance over the nation’s second largest movie theater market.
During its early years, the Pantheon also served as a meeting space for the People’s Progressive Church. Founded in 1912 by the charismatic Dr. Preston Bradley, the People’s Church had formerly met at the DeLuxe Theater on Wilson Avenue, but moved their services to the larger Pantheon shortly after its opening. In 1923, while holding services at the Pantheon, Dr. Bradley arranged to have each week’s worship service broadcast on local radio, launching what became the oldest continuous church service broadcast in the United States. The broadcasts continued into the late 1960s over radio stations WJJD and WGN and extended Dr. Bradley’s ministry far beyond the city of Chicago. The People’s Church continued to hold services at the Pantheon until 1926, when it moved into its own church building at 915 West Lawrence Avenue.
Although located within one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods and hottest entertainment districts, the Pantheon closed in early 1928, much to the mystification of Uptown movie fans. The theater remained dark until December of the following year, when the Essaness Theaters corporation signed an 8½-year lease with the United Cigar Company, owners of the theater building and several adjoining stores, to operate the movie house. Essaness made $100,000 worth of upgrades to the theater, including the installation of a state-of-the-art sound system for “talkies” and a new $10,000 electric marquee. “In all respects,” stated an Essaness official, “the new Pantheon will be refreshed from its front to screen. There will be charming new decorations in [the] foyer, lounge and auditorium; deep pile carpets and tasteful furniture; improved lighting fixtures and seats.”
The Pantheon Theater remained in business until the early 1960s, when it and the adjoining stores and offices were acquired by the Cosmopolitan Insurance Company, located to the south of the theater at 4620 North Sheridan Road. As part of an office expansion project completed in 1962, the insurance company remodeled the theater’s front end and adjoining storefronts into offices and demolished the theater auditorium at the rear of the property. On the site of the theater, the company installed an employee parking lot.
Photograph: “Intersection of Wilson Avenue and Sheridan Road,” with Pantheon Theater in left background, 1929 [Library of Congress]
Sources: Variety, 13 Sept 1918, 47; 13 May 1925, 26; Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 Feb 1925, 26; 30 Nov 1929, 24; 12 Aug 1962, I:1; City of Chicago building permit records.
Image source: “Pantheon Takes Place Among the Leaders,” Motion Picture News, 14 Dec 1918, 3586-3587.