Wilmette Theatre Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary

Wilmette Theatre

When the Wilmette Theatre celebrated its centennial, the sold-out event showed the power of a community coming together to save an historic theatre.

More than 60 businesses donated cash, goods and services to support the event on September 13, 2014, and more than 200 people attended with many guests making donations toward the Centennial Celebration.

Now saved from being converted to a furniture store, the Wilmette Theatre has had a busy year leading up to this celebration. As with the showing of support at the gala, the community stepped up throughout the year to give this much-needed theatre some TLC.

For an entire century, the theatre has provided the community with cinematic entertainment at its location at 1122 Central Avenue. While many other local, independent theatres across the country are closing, the Wilmette Theatre continues to be a vibrant cultural hub of the community and downtown Wilmette. This will be an exciting year as the theatre embraces a digital and physical transformation made possible by generous donations and support from local businesses and families. However, as they say in showbiz, the show must go on, and now more than ever, the “little theatre that could” is relying on the community for support.

During its storied and starry 100-year history, Wilmette Theatre has undergone many changes. On May 28, 1914, the 600-seat theatre opened, showing a Mary Pickford feature for only 10 cents. In 1928, the inside of the building was renovated to boast a new magna-screen projection system and opened with “The Melody Man” starring Buster Collier, Jr. and Alice Day.

In 1951, the theatre was leased to Encyclopedia Britannica Films, which was a major presence and employer in Wilmette for 15 years. The space was used as a production facility for the educational movies shown in schools throughout the country.

Richard Stern—whose family is credited with bringing “art films” to the Chicago area at the Cinema Movie Theatre on Michigan Avenue— acquired the building in 1966 and re-opened it as a theatre. For the next 40 years, Stern successfully operated the two-screen cinema. In May 2006, Stern sold the historic building to the Dibo family of Wilmette and the Samuelson family of Evanston, thereby rescuing it from being turned into a furniture store. Since then, it’s played host to an eclectic mix of film, movies, concerts and live programs. It’s also home to the well-respected Actors Training Center, offering classes for kids, teens and adults.

Today, 100 years after opening its doors, the theatre has a lot to be proud of. To celebrate, the theatre has an incredible lineup of programs and events throughout the year.

The Wilmette Theatre continues to be a vibrant cultural hub of the community and downtown Wilmette. As a small, independent non-profit theatre, the Wilmette Theatre is successful because of the overwhelming support from its donors, supporters and patrons who keep the theatre’s doors open. With the community’s continued support, the theatre will continue to engage audiences in the arts through classes, movies, concerts, live performances, art experiences and more.

Visit our website for the latest information on our programs, and better yet, sign up for our weekly email newsletter. We always welcome your ideas and suggestions. Hope to see you soon!

Community Sponsor—North Shore Community Bank
Media Sponsor—Make It Better 

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