Tuesday, July 03, 2018 Nancy L. Webster

The Highland Park Theater has come down.  The Theater´s iconic sign is now an artifact, a remembrance of the once novel world of cinematic screenings.

Koster and Bial´s Music Hall on 34st Street in New York City, the first theater to show moving pictures to an audience, came down in 1901; a quindecinnial before the Pearl and Highland Park Theaters began projecting the ¨best of modern moving picture shows¨ in 1917 and 1925 respectively.       Interestingly, 35mm film inventor Thomas Edison never envisioned the public screenings that proliferated in the early 20th century; rather, he offered parlors where patrons could watch ¨productions¨ individually. It was locally, in the county seat of Waukegan, that a device dubbed the Amet Magniscope  put 35mm film on the theater screen. The Lumière brothers also patented their Cinématographe around the same time, receiving United States patent number 188,089.

William and Bertha Pearl commissioned architect William D. Mann to design their new, second ¨film theater¨ in architectural harmony with its suburban setting.  The designs also included a ¨regulation¨ stage, orchestra pit and dressing rooms so to accommodate a variety of spectacles, including vaudeville.  Rather than the envisioned ¨good old English name, ¨ the new edifice was dubbed the Alcyon.  A 15-year contract with the Highland Park Theater company ensured a stream of stage productions too

Stories abound regarding the source of this name.  Was it after a famous kingfisher at the Academy of Sciences in Lincoln Park who flew met his end by flying into a window in 1895?  After a chic French bicycle, motorcycle and car manufacturer?  Or, was it meant to be a modern Halycon of the Roaring 1920s bubble?  Certainly, the theater was intended to be both chic and modern; following the success of the Pearl Theater around the corner.

The the second Highland Park movie theater opened by William and Bertha Pearl in , boasted a 3/13" Barton Organ made in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to provide music for the melodrama projected on the screen or accompany other shows with musicians in the pit.  The Highland Park Press dubbed it ¨Beautifu Alcyon¨ when it opened September 24, 1925.

The theater´s endeavors proved successful.  According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, a January 1928 robbery netted three days gross intake of $2100.00, more than $30.000 in 2018 buying power.*  By 1930, the Alycon advertised itself as ¨all talking.¨ Features like ¨So this is College¨  and ¨Three Comrades¨ had successful runs.  Oher shows still took place on the stage including Jack and Jill Players young peoples´ theater and other traveling shows.  Art shows and Christmas parties for soldiers from Fort Sheridan also occupied the stage and theater for special occasions

The Pearls took good sound projection seriously, installing systems as technology progressed.  They received props from the Chicago Medical Society for accommodations for the hearing impaired in 1930.  In 1940, state of the art RCA sound equipment enhanced the now standard cinematic projections.

By the mid-20th century, the Pearls retired and the theater was managed and owned by the Stanley Warner Theater circuit until the Oscar Brotman and Leonard Sherman´s South Shore Amusements added the theater to its midwest portfolio in 1965.  They changed the name to Highland Park Theater and offered first run film;, the stage and film mix continued through the next decade.

In 1975, Fred Allen purchased the theater and ultimately converted it to a ¨bargain theater¨ with tickets priced at $1.50.  By the 1984, the once grand auditorium divided into 4 theaters.  The City of HIghland Park purchased the theater in 2009 in a deteriorated state and efforts to create a grand venue fell short, leading to the property´s return to private hands.

*United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

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