Today’s special featured historical photo set! The feature is:
Visiting Inside & Out Architecture + History – The Biograph Theater (Victory Gardens Theatre) in Chicago, Illinois

Here is today’s special featured historical photo presentation and history of a famous and historic venue. To let the year of 2022 really shine, I am featuring fine photos and histories of great architecture, so we go on continuing to honor the brighter side of life again this year. In my first presentation of architectural history and photos is the historic Biograph Theater, now known as the Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. in Chicago, Illinois. The theatre is opening up for the first time after the pandemic later today! There are many preserved items related to the history of The Biograph Theater at the National Archives.

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The original design of the Biograph Theater was completed by architect Samuel N. Crowen in the year 1914. The Biograph is a building is finished with red pressed brick with white-glazed terra cotta, and has many of the distinguished characteristics of movie houses from the period of years. The Biograph Theater has an architectural history under various owners, and had multiple series of renovations over its 107 year period of existence. None of the renovations were quite exquisite like the facelift that was completed in July 2004.

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It has a recessed entrance, a free-standing ticket booth, and exquisite canopy marquee for its facade.

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The lower lobby and theatre is retrofitted to be is friendly for wheelchair access to the mezzanine level the main theater is located on. The theater had a major facelift with an $11 million renovation project by architect Daniel P. Coffey in fall of 2006, when a proscenium-thrust stage was constructed and seating for 299 people, and the theater named the Začek McVay Theater.

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A new stage with the specifications of thirty feet deep by thirty-two feet wide, with sixteen feet of wing-space on the exit stage going both left and right. There is also an eight foot trap space below the stage to assist in theatrics, although there is only limited fly space above stage.

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The original grand staircase was restored in order to lead up to the second floor, which houses its 135 person second studio theater called the Richard Christiansen Theatre with the facility for rehearsal and multiple purpose space.

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The theatre has two dressing rooms and a green room behind the stage.

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It has a grand lobby (concession area) that is was expanded to a storefront-width size, much larger than it was in the movie theater days.

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The facilities had gone through an expansion and renovation as well. Lastly, the facade was repaired and cleaned up with the marquee being rebuilt to resemble it’s authentic appearance. The words “Victory Gardens” replaced “Essaness” over the neon-lit section of the “Biograph” name. The Biograph Theater is a Cultural Venue and has landmark status registered with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as a Chicago Landmark (see list)” on March 28, 2001. You can check out the official Chicago Landmark page HERE.

The Biograph Theater opened originally on September 5, 1914, and originally had a total of 942 seats all on a single floor and came equipped with a Weickhardt organ, featuring cinema typical of the era. The Biograph Theater was owned and operated in the 1930’s by the Essaness company.

The theater gained early notoriety on July 22, 1934 as the location where bank robber John Dillinger frequented. The day he was shot, Dillinger was leaving The Biograph Theater after enjoying the movie “Manhattan Melodrama” starring Clark Gable. He was leaving the theater with brothel madam Ana Cumpănaș, aka. Anna Sage–“The Woman in Red”, and Polly Hamilton. He was shot dead by FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis, when Dillinger’s whereabouts were leaked to the FBI–because Cumpănaș became threatened of deportation to her birthplace of Romania, and then whereabouts were reported to authorities. While being apprehended, Dillinger attempted to pull a pistol and flee into the crowd after he saw authorities, but ended up getting a lethal shot.

The Biograph Theater continued to be a very successful movie theater all the way through the period.

THE 1970’s INTO THE YEAR 2001:
During the 1970’s, the The Biograph Theater went through a renovation that added a second floor of the building with an additional two small screens. The original décor in the original main auditorium was mostly lost, cut the theater continued to show movies, but also start doing double-time when it became the center in Chicago for midnight shows, especially the considerably boisterous costumed cult following of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Biograph Theater continued to show movies all the way until 2001.

The Biograph Theater is also shown in the 2000 film “High Fidelity”, a comedy film starring John Cusack about a record store owner. The theater reopened in 2002 as the “Village Theatres” chain, which operated in a period of time with a severe decline of movie-goers. In July 2004 The Biograph Theater, after 90 years as a movie theater under various owners–and undergoing the shear of less attendance to movie theaters, was purchased by the located down the street Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater. The Village Theatres operated under the mew ownership only a couple months until September 2004, when it again closed. Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater presented a very large renovation, and changed its use as a live venue. The name changed to the “Victory Gardens” name at the Biograph with its new opening. In 2008, The Biograph Theater was leased as adjoining businesses and the theater redressed to appear as it did in 1934 for the film “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp.

September 28th, 2006, starting out with Charles Smith’s drama, “Denmark”, Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater has operated as a venue for plays and theatre for the whole period. By 2017 the theater has two auditoriums, the original theater seating 259, the second with 109 seats. In March of 2020, COVID-19 happened. The theatre, like a lot of local and national businesses are trying to reopen, despite hard times and a lot of criminal activity caused by the wave of organized criminal activity.

The current future looks really great, with the opening of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater later today! They are starting off with three shows for the interim of 2022, with “Queen of the Night” starting today, January 29th until March 13th. Then later in spring, they have the world premiere of “In Every Generation” running starting April 2nd until May 1st. Then for summer “cullud wattah” will run June 11th until July 17th. There is more information about Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater 2021-2022 season HERE. More venues will be revealed in coming months, and into the future. You can join the Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater website for more information on the  of future events.

My photo set here shows Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, formerly The Biograph Theater. It’s great architecture really shines though!  is architecture like Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater formerly The Biograph Theater, that make up the origin and roots of the City of Chicago–and among unique examples of the great staples throughout the City of Chicago!

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All Above photos taken with a Samsung Galaxy A71 with the factory Quad camera Standard-wide: 64 MP 1/1.72-inch sensor with 0.8µm pixels and 26 mm-equivalent f/1.8 PDAF lens Ultra-wide: 12 MP sensor with f/2.2 aperture lens. (Photos taken on 9/3/21)

Another fine inside & out architecture photograph set and history to follow soon. If you would like your architecture featured, please forward a contact request form (See below*) for the selection process to begin.


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6 thoughts on “The Biograph-Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, Illinois – Special Featured Photo: Visiting Inside & Out Architecture + History

  1. Really cool pics and posts. As a history fan the thing that is most interesting to me is how much of it there is to be found. No matter what there is always some form of history from large to small and usually a small piece of history is actually much more than you’d know. It never ends as you can connect one thing to the another.

  2. Seeing the pix of these old theatres can make me cry for the good old days. The Biograph reminds of grand old movie theatre we had in the Bronx, :Loew’s Paradise, on the Grand Concourse at Fordham Road. It was gorgeous, google it and look at the old photos.

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