Cinema in Avondale Part III: The Last Screens Standing

Later in the 1910s, larger theaters began cropping up in Avondale which would eventually replace the smaller nickleodeons. These included the Crescent (2915 N. Milwaukee), the Rose (2958 N. Milwaukee), the Milford (3311 N. Pulaski), and (in the 1930s) the Fox which was an expansion of the Elston nickleodeon at 3167 N. Elston. It is estimated that by the 1920s, more than half of America’s population attended movie screenings on at least a weekly basis, and all of the larger Avondale theaters survived into the late 1940s.

Nationwide box office revenues peaked in the early 1940s during the economic boom triggered by World War II and the use of cinema as a tool for nationalist propaganda. However, overall attendance began to decline in the late 1940s due to several factors including the suburbanization of America, international competition, and the ongoing legal battles between independent cinema operators and the theater chains. This trend was further exacerbated by the rise of the household television in the 1950s.

Mirroring these national trends, most of the remaining Avondale screens closed, with the Fox, the Rose, and the Crescent all closing their doors between 1949 and 1951. The Milford survived for several more decades, supported by the strength of the H & E Balaban circuit, adapting to Polish audiences in the 1960s, and functioning as a budget second-run theater in the late 1970s before finally closing its doors in 1990.

(1919 Chicago Daily Tribune)

Crescent (also Nita)
2915 N. Milwaukee

The Crescent was built in 1910 as an 800-seat silent movie house and stage theatre, featuring a 2/6 Wurlitzer. Around 1935, it was renamed the Nita and continued to show films until around 1950. Although the building caught fire in 1952, it still stands today.

(RR 2008)

The Milford in 1922 (Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum)

3311 N. Pulaski

(1917 Chicago Daily Tribune)

In 1917, the Milford, named after the cross streets of Milwaukee and Crawford (now Pulaski), was the last movie theater to open in Avondale. Seating 1175, it was initially run on the Ascher Brothers circuit and featured silent movies, a theater organ, and an adjacent ballroom. While the Fox and the Dale closed around 1950, the Milford was picked up by the H & E Balaban circuit and survived for several more decades.

Adapting to changing neighborhood demographics and societal trends, the Milford featured Polish films in the 1960s and early 1970s. Then, during the emergence of the two-tier cinema market in the 1970s, the Milford outbid its competitors in the second run market (the Bryn Mawr and the Des Plaines) by offering admission for 60 cents (50 cents for kids) while surviving primarily on revenue from popcorn and candy sales. In the mid-1980s it tested the Spanish-language market before closing its doors for good in 1990. Just a few years later, the building caught on fire and was demolished in 1994. Today it is replaced by CVS.

The Round-Up in 1949 (Creative Commons, Kenny1950 from Cinema Treasures)

The Rose (also Round-Up and Dale)
2858-2860 N. Milwaukee

The Rose opened in 1914 as a 700-seat theater. While enjoying a successful run for its first few decades, the Rose occasionally made the news in relation to petty robberies during the Great Depression. In 1931, the theater’s janitor found a 76 year-old woman beaten unconscious over a purse containing 28 cents. On Sunday, September 18, 1934, The Rosewas one of four theaters robbed by a group of teenagers known as the Sunday Gang.

(RR 2008)

In 1936, the theater was renamed The Dale (as in AvonDALE), and continued to endure. By 1949, when the theatre was operated by the H & E Balaban circuit, it was renamed the Round-Up and played exclusively Westerns. One commenter remembers the Round-Up in 1950:

“as a kid we would go there in cowboy attire and check our capguns at the desk where they would all be hung on a pegboard with a claim check.”

In 1950, the theater was renamed back to the Dale, but closed shortly after. The lobby was then used as a storefront, while the theater was adapted for storage. Last operating as Zacatecas Mexican restaurant, the building was demolished in 2009 in true Chicago style.

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