Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Biograph Theater - Chicago

The Victory Gardens (Biograph) Theater in Chicago has a unique history and owes as much of its longevity to real-life as to reel-life circumstances.

Probably most notable of which, is this is the site where gangster John Dillinger was killed by FBI agents in 1934.

Designed in 1914, this neighborhood movie house, typical in the extravagant design of the day, is now on the Register of Historic Places. It enjoyed a decades-long history as a movie theater, even during the 1960s and 1970s when many such movie palaces were falling into disuse or the wrecking ball. There was a period of transformation into a modern movie multiplex with the interior gutted under various owners.

The Biograph became the Victory Gardens in 2006 and found new life as a live stage theater. It’s traditional-looking marquee you see in the photo above is actually the result of another movie, “Public Enemy No. 1” (2009), which used the site in location shooting and restored the marquee for that purpose.

That movie is, of course, about the infamous John Dillinger, whose bank robbing exploits in the 1920s and early 1930s made him a Depression-era celebrity of sorts. He came to the Biograph on July 22, 1934 to see a movie -- “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934) with Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy. We discussed that movie here. Wonder what he thought of the film?

The suspicious figure in the pinstripe suit is, I believe, neither John Dillinger nor FBI agent Melvin Purvis.  Her fedora was crushed by a passing "L" train.   

Have a look at the new Victory Gardens Biograph website here.


LucieWickfield said...

Wonderful story! There are several ancient theaters in my area, and every time I pass by, I vainly hope to see something like Casablanca on the marquee.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Lucie, I know what you mean. I feel the same way. I also fantasize about sales clerks in Wal-Mart and Target coming up to me and politely asking, "Are you being served, Madam?"

Ah, well.

LucieWickfield said...

Ahaha! So true. The chances of either happening are extremely slim. However, I will continue to crane my neck at marquees and grin encouragingly at gruff clerks. Wish me luck. :D

Mick said...

How neat! I recognized the marquee from the movie, and that its a live theater. Its a shame that the interiors were gutted, the theater I work in has most of its revamped 1938- American Art Deco features still!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome, Mick. How neat that you work in a theater that still bears its classic architecture. It's nice to know there are still some out there.

msmariah said...

I grew up in Chicago, so I remember this theater well. This takes me back. Great pics!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, msmariah. I think your hometown is swell. My kind of town, Chicago is. Hmm, that would make a good song.

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