Pickwick Theatre: A Modern Jazz-Age Marvel

pickwick theatre
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The Pickwick is one of those great Chicago buildings that actually transports you back in time as soon as you walk through its doors. One of the few remaining movie palaces left in Chicago still open and operating today, the Pickwick allows visitors to revel in the glamour of the Jazz Age as they take in the latest films Hollywood has to offer.

Movie palaces began popping up in the 1920s to give audiences unique, mixed-media entertainment. Although luxe in appearance, movie palaces offered affordable entertainment and drew spectators from all social circles to these extravagant entertainment centers at affordable prices. The Pickwick, located just a short train ride from downtown in the suburb of Park Ridge, has remained a popular destination for movie-goers throughout the years.

Designed and built by architecture firm McCaughey & Zook in 1928, the Pickwick Theatre began as a vaudeville and movie house. The elaborate building is a perfect example of Chicago Art Deco style, and with brightly colored stained glass windows and intricate geometric accents and paintings, it’s reminiscent of the era during which it was built. When the Pickwick was built, Art Deco was still a new phenomenon, arising on the art scene only three years earlier at the great Paris art exhibition of 1925. Chicago was one of the first cities to jump on board and begin building in this sleek new style and has since become one of the leading cities in Art Deco architecture. Many famous Chicago buildings—including the Adler Planetarium, Merchandise Mart, and the Victor F Lawson YMCA House—are examples of Art Deco architecture.

If you’re up for the trip, Pickwick Theatre is a great way to check out the latest summer blockbuster or recently released movie while experiencing a part of Chicago architectural history. You can chow down on popcorn, hold hands with your sweetheart, or sob loudly at the latest chick flick in this beautiful movie palace.

Known for its bright white and red-trimmed marquee—look closely, smiling, bearded faces adorn the marquee on several corners—and its impressive 100-foot tower, the Pickwick Theatre boasts four screens. Its main auditorium—elegantly decorated in paintings, gilded trimmings, and Art Deco geometric patterns—can hold over 1400 movie-goers. With these stunning surroundings it may be hard to concentrate on the movie in front of you as you imagine yourself transported back to the 1920s surrounded by women in beaded flapper gowns and men in three-piece suits experiencing the vaudeville performances yourself.

The Pickwick Theatre was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1975, but it’s still a privately owned, working movie house. They show new releases, movie revivals, and occasional live shows incorporating live music, including the theatre’s original Wurlitzer organ, to local audiences eager to experience movie-going the way its been since the beginning of cinema.

You may recognize the Pickwick Theatre from the opening sequence of Siskel and Ebert’s “At the Movies,” but to experience its magnificence, grab some friends, grab a date, grab the family, or head out on your own to the theatre to catch a flick and discover this piece of Chicago history for yourself.

The Essentials:
Location: 5 South Prospect Ave, Park Ridge
Phone: (847) 825.5800

Getting there:

Driving: I-90 West to Canfield Road. Go about two miles and take a left onto Northwest Highway. Street parking available.
Bus: #68
Metra: Park Ridge Metra Stop

About Molly Tranberg

Molly Tranberg loves discovering new things in Chicago–especially all of its wonderful food. She is a freelance writer and editor currently working from her very comfy couch on the Northside of Chicago. Her dream is to one day ride a segway around the city and heli-ski in Alaska.

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