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TODAY

Tuesday, May 21

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Airbags

It was better than Highlights Magazine. Before the movie, my brother, sister and I passed the time by finding the hidden pictures in the mural on the ceiling of the theater. Craning our necks back, we pointed out the objects ("I see an airplane!" "I see a face!") until our mother told us not to point.

We were at the Pickwick Theatre at 5 S. Prospect Avenue in Park Ridge, where, for just $5, you can experience the era of filmgoing before the multiplex.

The Pickwick Theatre is an Art Deco treasure. It was the only theatre designed by architects Roscoe Harold Zook and William F. McCaughey, who designed residences in Park Ridge and nearby Chicago neighborhoods such as Norwood Park.

Completed in 1928, the plan of the theatre, some historians believe, is meant to resemble a Mayan temple. The building includes a 100-foot tower with recessed stain glass windows, capped by a distinctive iron lantern. This image from the Digital Past project of the North Suburban Library System shows the fašade of the Pickwick as it appeared on a postcard from 1951. The theatre appears very much today as it did then.

Inside, the 1,400-seat auditorium was described last year by the Chicago Tribune as the "largest, oldest and one of the best preserved in the Chicago area." The auditorium was designed by Italian-born sculptor Alfonso Iannelli, who came to the United States and was active in Chicago in the early part of the 20th Century. Iannelli was a student of Gutzon Borglum. He also worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, executing sculptures for the Midway Gardens restaurant and dancehall in Chicago, demolished in 1929.

Iannelli also designed the Pickwick's flamboyant marquee. The marquee gained nationwide recognition when it appeared for many years in the opening credits of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's "At the Movies" television program.

In addition to its design, the Pickwick Theatre is renowned for its Wurlitzer 3/11 manual pipe organ, rare because it is one of the few Wurlitzer theatre organs still in its original home. Ironically, after the Pickwick opened in 1928, the organ quickly fell into disuse with the advent of talking motion pictures. But in the 1960s the organ was restored with help from the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts. In fact, you can view some photos of the Pickwick organ, past and present, at the CATOE website.

In 1975, the Pickwick Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its cultural and architectural significance.

In 1990, three additional movie screens opened in a separate building behind the original auditorium. The new screens allowed the Pickwick to maintain its business vitality and diversify its film offerings without altering or destroying the historic auditorium.

In 2002, the Pickwick made headlines for its 33-week run of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which broke attendance records for the theatre.

The Pickwick also hosts occasional live theatre events and concerts. A couple of months ago, fans of the recently cancelled "Angel" television series had a chance to see actor Christian Kane, who played Wolfram and Hart lawyer Lindsey McDonald, perform with his band, Kane, at the Pickwick. Kane was in town for a nearby Buffy/Angel fan convention.

In other words, the Pickwick Theatre continues to draw crowds and act as a vibrant community gathering place. Last year the theatre celebrated its 75th anniversary. May it last another 75.

Resources

Visit the official website for the Pickwick Theatre Council.

Find out more about other notable sites in Park Ridge and other nearby suburbs in A Native's Guide to Chicago's Northern Suburbs by Jason Fargo (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1999).

Chicago Authors: First Lines

"Chicago's LaSalle Street, like its New York counterpart Wall Street, makes an amazing transformation after the lawyers, bankers, and brokers jam into the last buses and trains at the end of the workday. For the first time, sounds from the Loop &emdash; the calls of traffic cops, the cadence of elevated trains, even boat whistles &emdash; can be distinguished. Within minutes, LaSalle becomes a world of elderly security guards. Armed only with sign-in sheets and stacks of tomorrow's newspapers, they keep watch over the old giants of buildings."
-- from Richard Cahan, They All Fall Down: Richard Nickel's Struggle to Save America's Architecture (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994)

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Comments

Maureen Block / August 14, 2004 9:09 PM

I also love and admire the Pickwick. Thanks to the fine owners and operators of this theater, I still enjoy movies on the BIG screen. Nothing can compare. Yet the stupid city council in Park Ridge is making the owners live's miserable by threating to take over the theater and put this fine family business out of business. This is an example of government WAY overstepping their boundaries!!!!

Jim / August 16, 2004 9:26 AM

I work in Park Ridge right by the Pickwick and it is a beautiful theatre and a fun place to see movies. You are right, though, and the Park Ridge community council/chamber of commerce are out of their minds. They seem to do everything they can to PREVENT businesses from running in their town.

Regardless, the movie theatre is beautiful and the past few summers they have been showing GREAT Godzilla/Gamera/Kaiju movies in the summer as part of G-Fest. Horray!

Linda and Jaime / August 16, 2004 8:10 PM

We love the Pickwick on a Sunday evening! We appreciate the historical and architectual beauty the movie theatre offers. Glad to be part of the Pickwick and the neighborhood.

Linda and Jaime

 

About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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