gone but not forgotten
The Dupage Theatre section is dedicated to the theatre's heros who fought so diligently to save her, but they themsleves never lived to see her demise:

Mark Barry, Joan DeStephano, and Doug Christensen

 
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DuPage Theatre
109 S. Main St.
Lombard. IL

1928 - 2007

The DuPage Theatre was a movie palace built in 1928 and its destruction in 2007 earned Lombard the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois’ inaugural Onion Award.

Although the Village of Lombard trustees acted selfishly to destroy a prominant and historic village landmark, the DuPage Theatre and Shoppes, its memory will live on. This part of our website documents the history of the DuPage theatre, and we hope to provide preservationists with insight into our community's struggle to fight the actions of untrustworthy trustees.

Please click the links within the text below to see more details.   You will find pictures, old documents, or authentic vintage Lombard Spectator newspaper articles about the theater. Some of these articles have been enlarged, digitally cleaned or retyped for clarity.

(note: the sources for articles that are linked to below, were taken from issues of the Lombard Spectator, other newspapers as credited, or unknown publications of the corresponding era)

Pre-Theatre Property:

The corner of Main and Parkside was the location of a victorian home of the Elkin's family. Mrs. Elkins was a movie critic for the Chicago Tribune under the pen name of "Mae Tinee". The mansion and victorian gardens, which were once home to "Rastus" (the bronze dear) were damaged by fire. Several years later, R.J. Roath purchased the property and destroyed the remaining structures in July 1927 without notifying safety officals of the time. This caused quite a stir. Rastus managed to escape and has resided in Lilacia Park ever since. With the land now cleared, Roath's plans could proceed for the building of a theater that became the DuPage.

Early Years:

On Thursday July 26, 1928 a spectacular and much-anticipated event occurred.  It was at 5 PM that Fisher’s Paramount Theaters (Company) first opened the beautiful DuPage Theatre to an enthusiastic crowd who gave the theatre rave reviews. After considering several different names for the theatre, the DuPage Theatre was settled upon,  named after the county (for wider appeal) in which Lombard resides.  The opening date had been pushed back several times but now people finally got a chance to see this awesome structure.  After a short dedication ceremony, the opening program featured  “The Yellow Lily”, a movie staring Billie Dove and Clive Brook.For more images of Bille Dove, click here.

This was no small event.  For a town of several thousand people, this massive ornate moving picture house was quite the topic of conversation.  The exterior of the brick building had an amazing amount of ornamental terra cotta. The first thing to catch your eye on the interior was the free standing ticket booth.   As you walk over the terrazzo marble floor in the promenade lobby, one would notice the Renaissance decorated side panels. You would next walk into the cross lobby where the theatre aisles began, taking you into the wonderful auditorium.  Lighting played a very important part throughout the theatre. Beautiful star lamps were displayed on the side walls in the auditorium, while iridescent globes provided gentle lighting in the outer aisles. The Spanish mission motif on either side of the stage displayed bell lamps, while the balconies glowed with their own type of bells. In addition, the starlite night sky ceiling provided the finishing touches for an outdoor experience, inside the theatre. This lighting enhanced the unforgetable experience of this atmospheric theatre.   More pictures of the theatre will be posted in our gallery section.

Fisher’s Paramount Theaters, started in 1909, has enjoyed through the whole of its activities the reputation for integrity and consistent progress, starting in a store theater in Chicago and gradually expanding.  In 1928, they operated theaters in a dozen different cities throughout Wisconsin and Illinois.

The DuPage was considered to be a superb example of the 1920’s atmospheric theater design by R.G. Wolff of the Rapp & Rapp architecture firm of Chicago, Illinois. Made famous by John Eberson and often integrating other styles of the time, the Atmospheric style was designed as a beautiful optical illusion that enhanced the theater-goers experience with the sensation of being transported to a beautiful Spanish Patio courtyard.  The effect was complete with villages and lands brought forth through murals, blue sky with twinkling stars, staircases, lanterns and much more.

Patrons might even think on occasion, that the “sky” show was more interesting than the performance.   Not to disappoint the audience, experienced manager George Aylesworth kept a steady flow of live stage shows and movies coming every week with something for everyone. 

Performances included benefit shows, choral concerts, New Years Eve parties, WLS radio stars appearing on the WLS Showboat, Barn Dance, Mike & Herman, Amateur performances, opera, and more. There was even a contest held where the winner won a pony that was awarded on stage. The first movies shown at the DuPage were silent.  However, there was usually an orchestra or organ accompaniment to enhance the picture.  The first organist chosen to play on the newly installed Barton pipe organ was Travis Nesbit.  Other popular organist were Henri Keates and Ken Widenor.  When sound movies or “talkies” were introduced, the DuPage quickly got on the band wagon. During "Lilac Time" the Lombard Lilac Queen of the year was named on the stage of the DuPage; and the Lilac Parade used to go through downtown right past the theatre.

The theater was constructed at a cost of $300,000 and originally held a seating capacity of 1,400.  In later years, seating capacity was reduced to about 857 to gain greater width and comfort.  The site also included a large, adjacent parking lot of approximately 31,000 square feet.  In total, the property site was 416-512 feet long with a depth of approximately 260 feet.

This building housed the DuPage Theatre and seven small attached shops. One of those shops was Butler's Delicatessen, which at least on one occasion had a prize drawing for a toy airplane. Other shops included a shoe store, drug store, hat shop, Glenbard Radio, real estate company, and a candy shop.  The candy shop, Ida Lee Candy Shop, was where theatre patrons could stop in, buy their treats, and proceed into the theatre.  The DuPage Theatre initially did not have a concession stand until later in its history. Each store gained attention because of their proximity to the theater.  Several apartments and offices existed above the shops. A gas station shared the northside lot and later was occupied by Parkside Motors.

The DuPage Theatre and Shops property consists of 2 ½ acres of land and was located in the heart of downtown Lombard on the SE corner of East Parkside and Main Street. The site included a 2-story architecturally significant structure, with a three (3) story theater entrance roof line, including a 14,000 square foot atmospheric theater, four (4) store fronts facing Main Street and three (3) store fronts facing Parkside Avenue with an entry for the second-story apartments also facing Parkside.

This part of town was a bustling hub in its day.  Across from the theatre on Main Street was the quaint Pure Oil gas station. In later years this was home to a Mexican restaurant, a bank, and currently a small commuter parking lot.  Just a little further West on Parkside was the short lived Parkside Theatre.  Other area stores included the Alexander Lumber Company, Bradley’s Drug Store, a dentist, Hammerschmidt Lumber and Fuel Company, and later The Grove restaurant.

Over the decades, thousands of movies were shown to attentive audiences of all ages. Double features were quite popular.

In no particular order, here is a list of some of the movies from the earlier years:

Alibi, The Argyle Case, Avalanche, Bare Knees, Behind That Curtain, Ben Hur,The Benson Murder Case, The Betrayal, The Black Watch, The Blue Danube, Bringing Up Father, The Boys From Syracuse, Broadway Melody, The Butter And Egg Man, Caught In The Fog, Caught In The Kitchen, City Lights, The Cock Eyed World, Coconuts, College Coquette, Cossacks, The Covered Wagon, The Desert Song, Dance of Life, Dangerous Curves, Diamond Handcuffs, The Divine Lady, Dr Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, Easy Come Easy Go, Escape To Glory, Excess Baggage, Fantasia, Fast Company, Fast Life, Follies of 1929, The First Kiss, The Foreign Legion, Forgotten Faces, The Four Fathers, Four Walls, Frozen River, The Gamblers, General Crack, Glorious Betsy, The Girl In The Glass Cage,Golddiggers, The Golden Calf, Gone With The Wind, The Grip Of The Yukon, Harold Teen, The Head Man, Heart Trouble, Hell Divers, Hired Men, Honky Tonk, Hot News, His Tiger Lady, The Idle Rich, Illusion, Jazz Mad, Just Married, Kit Carson, Ladies of The Mob, Louisana Purchase,The Love Doctor, The Love Parade, Lucky Star, Madame X, Madonna of Avenue A, Man Woman and Wife, Masks of the Devil, The Michigan Kid, The Midnight Taxi, Men Without Women, Montana Moon, The Night Bird, The Night Watch, No No Nanette, Obliging Young Lady, One Stolen Night, On Trial, Out Of The Ruins, Our Dancing Daughters, Our Gang comedies, Oh Kay, Over the Hilll, The River Pirate, Say It With Sables, The Phantom City, The Patriot, The Phantom of the Opera, Ramona, Red Lips, Right To The Heart, River Of Romance, The River Woman, Say It With Songs, Seven Days Leave, She Couldn't Say No, The Sky Hawk, Small Talk, Smiling Irish Eyes, The Singing Fool, Submarine D-T, Such Men Are Dangerous, South Of Suez, Speedway, Stark Mad, Steamboat Bill, Sorrel and Son,  The Show Girl, State Street Sadie, Take Me Home, This Is Heaven, Thunder, Time Place Girl, Tin Pan Alley, Torpedo Boat, The Trial of Mary Dugan, Twin Beds, Voice of the City, Wagon Master, Walking Back, Warming Up, The Waterhole, When Tomorrow Comes, The Whip, Win That Girl, The The Winged Horseman, Wizard of Oz,Woman Trap, The Wolf Song, and The Wright Idea, Young Eagles.

To see what movies played on the following dates, please click the date for the original newspaper advertisement, which to the best of our knowledge appeared in the Lombard Spectator

August, 2, 1928
June 9, 1932
September 1928 October 27, 1932
April 25, 1929 November 3, 1932 
May 9, 1929
September 1933
May 11, 1929 September 15, 1933
May 16, 1929 October 1933
July 19, 1929 February 1, 1934
August 9, 1929 April 19, 1934
August 23, 1929 April 9, 1936
August 30, 1929 December 7, 1939
September 6, 1929 February 19, 1942
September 1929 February 26, 1942

September 13, 1929

March 26, 1942
September 20, 1929 September 3, 1942
October 4, 1929 November 19, 1942
October11, 1929 April 15, 1943

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Later Years:

The building was remodeled in the late 1950’s. During the summer years of the 1960's, the DuPage Theatre featured a free matinee on Tuesday afternoons.  Tickets could be obtained from most businesses in the downtown Lombard area. These free matinees were such a wonderful idea for us kids as it was always cooler in the theatre. Area merchants benefited from this idea by getting people into their stores. The theatre profited from the free matinee idea  by having a popcorn machine running (one could not ignore the aroma) and offering drinks and other treats at their well stocked concession stand. The popcorn machine was located in the red-carpeted cross lobby. Ah yes, those were the days for a kid on summer break!

During these later years, the DuPage Theatre played hostess to children's events such as Christmas programs and visits with Olde Saint Nick, and prompted wholesome activities such as stamp collecting.

The building achieved status on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.  The Dupage remained a formidable entertainment and commercial complex throughout the Great Depression and World War II.  Different shops came and went.  As a kid, I remember there being a barber shop, hobby shop, real estate agency and a restaurant.  That was Art and Vi’s Blue Plate Café that had the famous blue and white EAT sign on the corner.

From approximately the 1970's the theatre was partially occupied with periodic vacancies up until 1998. At times it was boarded up or simply closed for lack of occupancy and village code violations.  This was a time of neglect with only basic building maintenance done by some dedicated volunteers. Art and Vi's remained opened during this time as well as other shops coming and going.

In 1998, the Big Ideas Company purchased the building.  Remember VeggieTales and Penguins?  The Big Idea Company produces fine Christian value DVDs and related items.  Their intent was to save the theatre auditorium and use other space for their office, development and production facility.  They invested a lot of time and money in the building, including cleaning, repairs and gutting the entire upstairs for reuse.  Long story short, they eventually decided that this facility was not big enough for their needs.  They kindly donated the land and building to the Village of Lombard.  This is when things started to go “south”.

Even before the Big Idea Company, there were groups of individuals interested in restoring and preserving the building.  Most notable was the Friends of the DuPage Theatre (FODT). Visit them for more history and their current direction. 

 

The Beginning of The End:

The FODT worked hard and in good faith with village officials (!), developers and the community to come up with a working restoration plan.  There were fund-raisers, rallies, an entry into Lombard’s annual Lilac Parade, a fantastic 75th anniversary party, annual birthday parties, tours, work days, articles in the local paper the Lombardian, and so forth.  There was a plan for funding and a grant from the state. Thousands of man-hours went into planning and attending Village meetings. But in the end the theatre could not be saved. There were various reasons that contributed to the theatre's fate. We will have more pictures in our gallery that depict various events held to raise funds and awareness for the DuPage Theatre.

Funding restoration of any type can be a difficult issue.  In the case of the DuPage Theatre, there was a plan in place.  A total of about eight to ten million dollars was required for the entire project.  Fortunately, this amount could be raised in stages, and restoration would likewise follow in stages.  Once some of the front end shops were restored and occupied, they would return revenue into the project.  The possibility of raising local taxes was not an option.  Instead, additional revenue was to be sought from various county, state and federal agencies. Hundreds of residents showed their support for the restoration plan, not only with financial support, but also by displaying yard signs that showed their support.

Further funds would come from grants specifically written for historic restoration and to promote local tourism.   The theatre was only one block from the local train station.  Grants totaling over one million dollars  designated for this project were turned down by the village of Lombard.  (They just never wanted it) 

Private donations and fundraisers were also to play an important part of the overall picture.  Prior to demolition, several very successful fundraisers were completed, raising thousands of dollars. 

One of the easiest and most effective ways for a town to partially fund redevelopment is through a tax increment financing (TIF) district.  Here is how this simple procedure works.  In the case of the DuPage Theatre and Shoppes, the Village of Lombard would declare all the theatre property a TIF district.  Since the land only has a shuttered building in need of repair on it, the value of this property is low.  This “low” value is then frozen.  After a few years of renovation and the opening of some or all of the front shops and or the theatre itself, the property value increases considerably.  This same land is now worth more than it was before.  As the village collects the increased taxes on this property, the money is put in a special fund that can only be used for projects in that designated TIF district.  Therefore the money is reinvested into the restoration project.    It’s a simple idea that many towns have used again and again.  Most importantly, it works.

TIF is not difficult to understand.  Yet sadly, Trustee Steven Sebby of Lombard’s district four (where the theatre was) did not seem to understand this principal. How can any active town trustee not understand TIF?    Is he serious?  (Remember - he was never in favor of restoration)  See for yourself.  Click here for a short YouTube video of Trustee Steven Sebby talking about TIF and questioning how it works.    

The Village owned the theatre, not the FODT.  For whatever reasons, some of the Trustees always opposed restoration and preservation from day one.  They had their agenda.  Good faith negotiations did not seem to be on the table.  Perhaps the Village wanted the land for another purpose.  It did not matter how nice and sound the developer's plan was.  The most recent and final plan included the restored theatre along with ground floor retail space and luxury condos above. It would have been the most attractive building in village and certainly the pride and joy of the downtown area.  The proposed plans were never good enough. Some reasons were the proposed building was too tall or too close to the sidewalk. Yet within a block or two you will see just as tall buildings, some right up to the sidewalk. 

After about eighty years of entertaining the community, standing through WWII and so much 20th century history, the theatre could not prevail against the Village of Lombard officials.  Demolition took place in two steps.  In January of 2007 the stage, fly house and auditorium were leveled. Theatre supporters then hoped to save the remaining facade to use as a springboard for a new, but smaller theater. During the local spring 2007 elections, the residents of Lombard decided they had enough of the local politicians and voted in new trustees who were dedicated to saving the theatre. However, in May 2007, two weeks before the new trustees were to take office, the demolition restraining order expired and within in minutes the old group of trustees had the bulldozers on hand to reduce 80 years of history to rubble.

Some loyal theatre followers still gather at the site on the anniversary of the theatre's demolition and birthday.

Lombard will never know how great a loss this is.  Sadly, some don’t care.  Lombard could have been such a better town than it is. The DuPage Theatre was an architectural treasure, unlike anything else around.  For those of you reading this that are working to restore your town’s old theatre, think of the lessons here.  Learn from our loss. 

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Struggles and Triumphs of theatre preservation in other towns.

Other towns across this country, many even smaller than Lombard, have successfully restored their old theaters, which are the centerpiece of the community.  Many of these restored theaters were not nearly as ornate as the DuPage. Yet those towns appreciated what they had and saw the value in restoration.  Those towns deserve our respect and support.  Their local government and citizens realize the importance of restoring old theaters. You will find images of the theaters we have found on the "theaters" page.

Other villages' officials do not have a problem understanding the concept of TIF funds. For a very good comparison of how TIF funding was used in Elmhurst’s downtown verses Lombard’s downtown, please click here.    It is amazing to see how the York Theatre in Elmhurst used TIF money to expand, and then they paid it all back!  Sadly this is not the case in Lombard.  Bad government just yields bad decisions and then bad results.  Too bad for Lombard!   You had your chance to be something great but threw it away.

 

Want to help restore an old theatre?  While Lombard threw away their chance, there are many towns that are currently in the restoration process that welcome support.  One of our favorites is the Colonial Fox Theatre in Pittsburg, Kansas.  Built in 1920, this theatre in owned by the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation and they have made remarkable restoration progress so far. 

In fact, a little bit of the DuPage Theatre now lives on at the Colonial Fox. The Friends of the DuPage Theatre donated the marquee letters to the Colonial Fox Theatre (its marquee takes exactly the same letters as did the marquee on the DuPage Theatre). Local TV coverage of this donation.

The Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation board has a vision and are moving forward.  This theatre will be a shining gem when restoration is complete. Here are several pictures. Visit them at www.colonialfox.org anytime.

More information about the DuPage Theatre as well as other old theaters will be listed as time permits.  Be sure to check back as things are changing.

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