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Varsity Theatre

Varsity Theatre

Evanston, Illinois, United States

First Opened: 24th December 1926 (95 years ago)

Atmospheric Style: French Chateau

Architect: John E.O. Pridmore

Status: Repurposed

Address: 1710 Sherman Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201 Link opens in new window


Overview

The Varsity Theatre is the only known example of an atmospheric theatre designed in a French style. More specifically, the theatre was designed to represent the courtyard of a French chateau “of magnificent coloring and rare charm”. The sidewalls represented castle walls, abutting the proscenium with turrets and buttresses hiding organ chambers within. The proscenium arch formed “a massive arched gateway with flying flags and pennons” and suggested the view out over a lowered drawbridge from the castle courtyard of the auditorium, out onto the stage beyond.

The theatre was commissioned by Evanston native Clyde Elliot and designed by local architect John E.O. Pridmore.

At 2,500 seats, the Varsity Theatre was one of the largest suburban Chicago movie palaces ever built, and was also one of the most spectacular. The cerulean blue sky dome featured twinkling stars, floating fleecy clouds, and a delicate crescent moon which sailed slowly overhead during the performance.

The theatre’s 3-manual, 26-rank organ, built by the Genevan Organ Company, was quoted as having an “atmospheric console”, designed to look like a mini French chateau complete with turrets and windows all mounted on a seemingly rugged stone base.

Noted scenic company Sosman & Landis were credited with creating the auditorium’s elaborate French interior.

The Varsity closed in 1988. Almost immediately after the theatre closed the main level and lobby were gutted and turned into retail space.

According to the After the Final Curtain website Link opens in new window, in 2010 the City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to conduct a feasibility study on reopening the theatre as a performing arts center. In July 2011, the study concluded that given that the first floor of the theatre was currently occupied by a retail store, and not available for redevelopment, that the performing arts needs of Evanston are greater than the Varsity Theatre could accommodate alone. They recommended developing a number of performing arts spaces in downtown Evanston, instead of just one central location.

As of 2021, the theatre’s main floor retail space has been vacated by the previous tenant (a Gap store) and remains empty.

Further Reading

Online

Historic Photos & Documents
Pre-opening full page feature as printed in the 22nd December 1926 edition of <i>The Evanston News-Index</i>, digitized by, and reproduced with kind thanks to, the Evanston Public Library (3.4MB PDF)
Pre-opening full page feature as printed in the 22nd December 1926 edition of The Evanston News-Index, digitized by, and reproduced with kind thanks to, the Evanston Public Library (3.4MB PDF)
Pre-opening full page feature as printed in the 23rd December 1926 edition of the <i>Evanston Review</i>, digitized by, and reproduced with kind thanks to, the Evanston Public Library (3MB PDF)
Pre-opening full page feature as printed in the 23rd December 1926 edition of the Evanston Review, digitized by, and reproduced with kind thanks to, the Evanston Public Library (3MB PDF)
The Varsity Theatre in 1926 (JPG)
The Varsity Theatre in 1926 (JPG)
Exterior in 1944, courtesy <i>Lou Rugani</i> (JPG)
Exterior in 1944, courtesy Lou Rugani (JPG)
Exterior in January 1960 (JPG)
Exterior in January 1960 (JPG)
Varsity Theatre in 1983, courtesy Russell B. Phillips (JPG)
Varsity Theatre in 1983, courtesy Russell B. Phillips (JPG)
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Varsity Theatre

Photo credits are noted where data was available at the time of inclusion. Photos displayed here may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media and contact us Contact Us with any concerns.

Interior

All photos by After the Final Curtain Link opens in new window unless otherwise noted. Please link to their website for more photos and further information.

Varsity Theatre: Balcony, House Left
Balcony, House Left
Varsity Theatre: Proscenium Arch from Balcony
Proscenium Arch from Balcony
Varsity Theatre: Balcony, House Right
Balcony, House Right
Varsity Theatre: House Left Sidewall
House Left Sidewall
Varsity Theatre: House Left Sidewall Detail
House Left Sidewall Detail
Varsity Theatre: Balcony from House Left
Balcony from House Left
Exterior
Varsity Theatre: Exterior, courtesy <i>Google Street View (2019)</i>
Exterior, courtesy Google Street View (2019)


Photographs copyright © 2002-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos unless otherwise noted.

Text copyright © 2017-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos.

For photograph licensing and/or re-use contact me here Contact Us.





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